Teaching English In China: The Whole Enchilada.

Teaching English in China

Every so often one of our China lawyers will get an email from English teachers in China who owed money by the school for which they work.

The letter typically states the case and then asks “do I have a case.” I nearly always answer these by saying that “based on the facts you have conveyed to me, it certainly does sound as though you have a case,” but you really need to ask yourself whether it is worth your time and money and all the hassle and stress to pursue your case for, especially since Chinese companies have a tendency to retaliate against ex-employees that complain (especially when they are foreigners).

Despite this, I every once in a while also get emails from people asking me what I think about teaching English in China. I respond to these by saying that I think it is a good thing for everyone to learn English but it can be a risky job in China for a lot of reasons. Next time I will also mention this post, Teaching English in China, on the Stupid Pig’s China Blog because it is the only thing on the web of which I am aware that talks about teaching English in China.

If you are interested in teaching English in China, please check out this post.

10 responses to “Teaching English In China: The Whole Enchilada.”

  1. I’d recommend people check out Ben Ross’s blog: http://www.benross.net/wordpress/
    He spend several years living and working in China, at least a few teaching English. I’ve found it a pretty good read, even though I have no desire to teach English in China, but I think it would be a great reasource for those who do.

  2. Well, I met a small group of American English teachers in Beijing last fall, and I got the sense that no matter how stable you think you contract is, it’s not stable. The teachers who lasted the longest adapted by holding multiple teaching jobs at once, as one tended to implode frequently.
    Also, I recommend that if you are thinking about going there to teach. Leave some savings in your bank at home, and don’t touch it. The pay scales seem to be adequate to stay in a reasonable lifestyle, not one i’d want though, but left little if not any discretionary cash for travel. So if you ever want to get home, plan your out before you go.
    Best of luck

  3. Hey Dan, thanks giving me the China Law Blog ‘bump’, though I doubt my entry on teaching English would be good for anything other than a slight chuckle.

  4. But, if I really really wanted to know about teaching English in China or if I had a case, would it be okay to ask you then?

  5. I don’t teach in China, but I’ve known many people who have. It’s possible to have a very pleasant assignment, but you can’t be too careful in checking out the employer in every aspect. Check on internet bb’s as well as ask for personal references from teachers who are no longer at the school. I once was involved in a “rescue” of a young woman who found herself virtually enslaved by an employer. I was literally contacted by one of her parents after they realized that their daughter’s phone conversations were monitored. But I also would place a different kind of warning for anyone considering an assignment at a university level: cheating is rampant and many universities have a policy that no student will fail, no matter what. I’ve personally known three university level professors who found ways to leave their posts (and I’ve heard of a few whose contracts were not renewed) after they were asked to pass every student or change failing grades to passing ones. In one case, a class began making unfounded accusations of moral impropriety against a professor after he refused to bend his standards; (this professor was just fortunate that he had a 20 year history at his European university and was actually volunteering during his sabbatical!) If you are considering teaching and you would have moral qualms about passing students who don’t meet basic standards, then be very careful because once you are in an environment where you are living on campus and beholden to an administration, life can become very complex if you refuse to comply with the unethical demands.

  6. Fact be known… the culture is “Fakery” even within the education system.. higher education seems the worse of the bunch with “private” institutes calling themselves College or University (the latter is most prevelant). The Foreign Affairs Staff are also most “fake” which won’t be apparent until you’ve committed and the Semester begins. Problems stem from Staff suggesting or outright telling Caucasin Foreign Teachers to tell students they are American! Yep.. guys from Africa, Poland, Czech, India, Latin America (Qualifies?), and others.. I was stunned when my suspicions were confirmed. Housing support is “as the Staff deems worthy”. Not working were A/C-heater, 29 light bulbs, leaking roof – mutliple locations,kitchen and bathroom leaks, Mold as result of prior leaks and severe dampness, ice block of a refrigerator, fire in the wall outlet, very dirty and not maintained housing though beautiful in appearance ONLY! And, the Chinese staff would ignore you and all complaints. I have unanswered emails and later told that Staff were told to disregard. Oh.. and the Chinese staff wish for Foreigners to teach same subjects taught previously or currently by Chinese Teacher.. as the students english level .. Sucks and Chinese interpretation is Mandatory.. yet.. they stick unknowing Foreigners into these situations! Anyways.. kids are often great, campuses appear beautiful on the outside, deplorable inside with students littering everywhere on the floors – spitting – some even smoke in classrooms when they think know one’s looking. All-in-All.. WARNING.. I haven’t losted any payments.. except at the Training schools and heard several persons tell of salary losses, horrible treatment and bullying. If you have any Police business/complaint/loss property report.. plan on the usual 2.5 hrs of sitting around in a typical smoke filled primitive office. (wooden chairs maybe with cushioning) If anyone at the Foreign Office can not speak reasonably good english..Well..this is only the beginning of the worst. Oh..many of you will already know of the food, products, and buildings “fakeries”.. well.. put on the list workmanship too.. and I know that most things in China are not Ancient but replicas and less than 10yrs old.. many within the last 4yrs in the buildings, walls, and others told to be 1,000s yrs old or older. Money and a great many things involve some or multi-levels of “fakery”.. Disception.. Dishonor.. corruption.

  7. Have the policies regarding work visas changed very recently in China? I was originally hired by a school in China in October 2008, but the school emailed me last week saying that my application for a work visa was rejected due to very recent changes in Dalian’s foreign employment policies regarding “issues pertaining to age”. (I am 22.) Also, can they do that?

  8. Hi Everyone,
    I have been living and working in Beijing, China for over 5 years. I hear and now read things like this all the time. I think most of what happens to due to the lack of cultural understanding on the teachers part, thinking that China is the United States and reasons for coming to China are questionable, but sometimes noble. I have that the people who major issues in China would also have major issues in the US.
    My best advice for teachers coming to China to work. Is not to focus on the contract but building relationships. You would never cheat a friend and neither would the Chinese. Study Chinese culture and the correct way to behave. It is not the US and bad behavior is embarrassing and unforgivable. Ask yourself why you want to teach in China? If your answer is to better yourself, challenge your teaching ability, and learn to function in another country and something about Chinese culture and what not. You will be welcomed by everyone you come in contact. If you reason deals with changing the Chinese in anyway. You should just stay home. You will only cause pain and sadness where ever you go. It will be terrible for everyone who comes in contact with you. I promise you that.
    Leave all that you know about the US Legal system at customs into China. It does not apply and only creates headaches. The first year, allow yourself to make mistakes and maybe not make a lot of money. Work hard on developing relationships and learning Chinese culture. The best reason to come and working in China is the students. The students are very hard working, serious and focused on learning. Time spent with a foreign teacher is like gold, very precious and you are treated that way. ( Now, there are a few students who are like they are in the US. They are few.)
    One other thing, don’t believe everything you read. Most of this stuff is total crap!!! Be smart and prepared.
    Best wishes,

  9. I have lived in China now for 8 months, working as a foreign teacher. I laughed when I read John’s post.
    It’s so true!
    My ‘school’ (Training Centre) is a bloody nuisance, the woman in charge of the foreign teachers is the most incompetent, fool I’ve ever worked for, the appartment is a nice big size, but the A/C is knackered (summer temp 38 -39 degrees C!), the kitchen has orange ooze appearing everywhere, despite cleaning it up and due to the humidity, the black mold thrives if you don’t stay on top of it.
    It’s proper bonkers working here.
    I LOVE IT!
    China is awesome and the people (you don’t work for) are absolutely wonderful. They are so much more hospitable than most people back home and the women in Hunan are shockingly beautiful! The people are relatively calm and placid compared to British people, who can be pretty aggressive (though I never thought we were particularly arsey – until I lived here amongst the ‘take it as it comes and just get on with it’ Chinese people!)
    The cities are mind blowing and some of the countryside is the stuff of dreams. Even the buses (the good ol’ gonggongqiche’s) are fun. The taxi rides are exciting too…!
    The language is something mad. I thought French was hard until I came here. Now Chinese (Putonghua/Mandarin) seems tricky just like French used to be for me, but French seems easy now.
    Nevertheless, Mandarin is not as difficult as people (who are not constantly exposed to it) may think. It’s more than possible to pick up the basics. I can speak some Chinese and can even write simple sentences in Chinese using the correct stroke orders for the characters. I can use pinyin on my phone to write Chinese character text messages – though reverse translation of private texts is impossible – unless your contact uses pinyin to reply or you can copy, paste and connect to Babelfish online with your phone etc blah blah blah…
    It’s a great experience actually comprehending a little simplified Chinese (China mainland’s standard characters) and is a good mental exercise too.
    You know you’re abroad when you’re in China!
    It’s FAR more interesting than doing a 9 to 5 in England which monotony I was planning to return to in order to build up another cash pot to enable me to crack on with a new business in the future after my previous business took a funny turn.
    I saw an ad in the paper for working in China as a foreign teacher and it jumped out at me. Unfortunately after a few months I discovered the agency was dishonest about the exercise and took too much of my money, so I left them behind Now I’ve got here, I’ll never need an agency again.
    Anyway, I fight with my school all the time. ALL THE TIME! Every Month, without fail. I used to be polite and helpful, but now I’m a FOREIGN MONSTER TO THE MANAGEMENT AND A JOY TO THEIR EMPLOYEES.
    As a foreign teacher, I’m so central to their business and this gives me LEVERAGE. Especially when they do what could be illegal things. They don’t want any fines, nor the rigmorole of paying for dinners (and what not) for the authorities in order to attempt to keep their own license. This gives me even more leverage…
    You see, before they only had foreign teachers who were young starry-eyed obedient graduates or college leavers. Unfortunately for them I’m not. I’m 35 and came to China to sort my head out after my old business partner did a runner with the business cash back in Britain.
    When they tell me weak lies or try to cheat me out of overtime or other daft attempts at stealing my value, I just stand up to them and tell them to sort it out or I’ll walk. I went on strike once for one hour – and that did it.
    Goodness me, they made me feel like a bad person, but it’s simply transparent hypocrisy and they DID pay me after that, so it was all talk and feeble body language manipulation attempts.
    They don’t actually want foreign teachers to leave. It screws up their business. So, for a school like mine at least, take no notice of the nonsense, power plays nor bossiness. Use your leverage and they’ll back down.
    They need you.
    If they don’t, then leave the school after pay day and hunt around for another whilst you are on your reverted 3 month tourist visa, or find another country or perhaps go home. If you decide to stay, another school will take you on and sort out the permits (as long as you chase them up on this!!).
    Living in China is just a different flavour of real life. Good things happen and bad things happen just like they do at home, so there’s no escape from life’s ball ache’s and nonsense, I’m afraid.
    China is awesome, mad and most peculiar. You cannot have any idea what it is really like here until you experience it for yourself. The western media just isn’t very accurate. Western media is as accurate about China as Chinese media is about the west…
    I love it here and am considering staying in Asia for a long time. But foreign teacher work is work and is not a holiday.
    However the Children are 90% FANTASTIC!
    But I’m sure there are better teaching, employment or business opportunities to be found (or created) here than just working in some ridiculous bu hao ‘school’. But even that is a good experience, especially with the leverage I can exert as a ‘keystone member’ of staff. Leverage which would not be possible as a normal employee in England.
    Challenge your wits and have an adventure!

  10. The industry as a whole is growing like crazy too – I’m not surprised to see the kind of friction a lot of young inexperienced foreigners have in China with unscrupulous schools.
    To illustrate the cheer number of new teacher jobs in China, see http://www.teachergig.com. they have at least 15 new posts per day. Also on eslcafe there are tons of on-topic threads for those interested.

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