Teaching has been the number-one profession for foreigners in China for decades. While many expats come for just a short spell, others end up carving out careers for themselves and becoming “Old China Hands.” It’s not always easy to know what you’re getting yourself into when you’re fresh off the boat, however. With that in mind, here are some things to be sure of before taking a teaching job in China.
How Reputable is Your Recruiter?
Recruiter can be very useful when it comes to helping you find the perfect teaching job in China. You just give them your CV, your desired locations and salary scale, and they’ll start emailing you with job openings right away. One thing to watch for, however, is whether or not your recruiter is telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but.
Recruiters in China have been known to exaggerate pay and benefits, or simply make things up. As they generally get paid by the head, it’s in their interest to sign up as many new teachers as possible by whatever means. If you’re using a recruiter, therefore, take what they say with a grain of salt and confirm everything they told you with the actual school as early in the process as possible. But of course, with all the online jobs websites at your fingertips these days, you don’t necessarily need the services of a recruiter at all.
The Location of Your School
Research the location of your potential school well. Beyond the size, geographical location, weather and general culture of your city, you also might want to take a look at the typical air quality. While China has come on leaps and bounds in the air pollution stakes in recent years, especially in previously notoriously smoggy cities like Beijing, some lesser-known places, particularly out west, still have some pretty soupy air for most of the year.
Living in China’s most polluted cities is like smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, and some more sensitive residents may develop a perpetual cough. While you can of course buy air purifiers for your home, it’s unlikely your school with have them, meaning you’ll spend the majority of your time breathing in this toxic air. If that’s definitely a deal-breaker for you, it’s easy to check any city’s stats online.
Doing due diligence on location also means looking into the finer details of the location of the school itself. Is it near the city center? If not, is it near a bus or metro line that goes into the city? Is it located within easy access of a major road? Are there some decent lunch options within walking distance or will you be eating in the school canteen every day? Ask the HR person you’re dealing with about this and check for yourself on Google Street View. Some Chinese schools are practically islands. If you accept a job with one of them, you’ll end up spending most of your time on campus and with few things to do.
The Efficiency of the Administration
It’s hard to qualify exactly how well a school is run before you get there, but the treatment you receive during the hiring process can be a pretty good indicator. Are they going out of their way to help you along? Are they warm and welcoming? Are they quick to respond to your questions and do you understand their answers? Will they have dedicated staff members to help you once you arrive in China?
If possible, ask to speak to a foreign teacher or two at the school before you sign on the dotted line. Getting a straight answer out of another foreigner is often easier than with Chinese staff, and most will honestly tell you what’s good and bad about their jobs. If the administration refuses to let you speak to other teachers, this should raise some red flags.
Which Horror Stories Should be Taken Seriously
You’ll probably hear a lot of horror stories about schools in China, whether from fellow teachers or the internet: a school that doesn’t pay their staff; a school that doesn’t provide the facilities they claim; a school that nabs your documents and tries to trap you; a school that never provides you with a valid visa. I’ve taught for close to four years in China and personally never experienced any of these problems, but there are bad actors out there for sure.
However professional and trustworthy your new potential employer seems, be sure to have a good Google of them and see what kind of reputation they have. This being said, don’t forget that some complaints are made by disgruntled ex-employees that were perhaps fired for very legitimate reasons.
Also remember that school conditions may change from year to year. I once took a job at a school despite having read some angry online slander about it. I found the problems were severely exaggerated, and the boss and head teacher were quite responsive to what foreign staff needed. Again, speaking to other serving foreign teachers before you make your decision will help you gauge what to take seriously in terms of complaints.
If Your Proffered Pay and Benefits are Typical of the Market
If you spend some time perusing the job openings in different cities, and especially if you’ve already worked a few teaching jobs in China before, you’ll quickly get an idea of the salary and benefits offered and how they are effected by location, experience and the type of institution (public, private or international).
Make sure you’re not getting less than you’re worth but be mindful of the fact that while salaries will be lower outside of China’s first tier cities, so is the cost of living. Unless you are teaching in a tiny village out of love for labor, even the lower range shouldn’t be below 8,000 RMB a month these days. Larger and more modern cities should be offering around 10,000-18,000 RMB, while teachers in Shanghai and Beijing should be bringing in 20,000 upwards.
Don’t be afraid to negotiate, especially if you’ve got extra qualifications or experience. Better schools will also offer yearly bonuses, accommodation allowances and pay at least part of an airfare home each year. These little extras can make a huge difference if your standard monthly salary is slightly lower. Whatever you’re promised, however, make sure it’s signed and sealed in the contract.
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