As tempting as it may be to just throw your laptop, flip flops and Chinese phrase book into a bag and hop on a plane it’s probably wiser to make sure that your proverbial ducks are all lined up and you’ve thought things through before accepting a teaching job in China. Teaching in China can be a richly rewarding and life changing experience but can also be a miserable, lonely disaster largely depending on the choices and preparations you make before you even taste that first noodle.
I’ve already covered how to prepare for the job interview, questions to expect and a list of what you might want to ask in this article, so below let’s look at 5 areas you should check before accepting the job.
1 – Location
As we all know China is a huge place so make sure you are clear about where you want to be located. You’ve probably had a look at where the school you are considering is on Google Maps but it’s also a good idea to check for local English magazines and websites to get a feel for what’s going on in terms of events, the expat community, places to visit nearby and these kind of things. The city of Hangzhou for example has a great magazine called More Hangzhou with all kinds of useful information.
Check the size of the city too, a lot of Chinese cities are huge with well over 4 million people. Just because it is not Shanghai or Beijing doesn’t mean you will be stuck out in a fishing village. Other things to look into are the climate, which varies greatly depending on where you are in China, air pollution and also language. The main language down in Guangdong province is Cantonese whereas all other areas of China speak Mandarin as well as a local dialect unique to each city. If you are looking to learn Mandarin Chinese (the popular one) during your time teaching in China, make sure you’re not going to be the only person speaking it in your city! We have some good cities guides here that might help.
2 – Teaching resources and support
A really important factor to take into account before taking a job is the teaching resources, materials and technology available. While it might make for some nice photos to send home teaching 50 kids with just a stick of chalk and a wheel-in blackboard the novelty will wear off after about 15 minutes. Make sure the school has a comprehensive range of teaching materials allowing you to plan varied and engaging lessons. Student and teacher books for each age group, flashcards, posters, puppets, songs, worksheets all help. These days a lot of schools also have computer labs and interactive touch screen whiteboards with content directly related to the units being studied.
Find out some details about the kind of training and support new teachers are given. Typically schools will have a week-long induction period and some opportunities to observe current teachers . The Director of Studies should also be running regular workshops and training sessions for the teachers every week or two. Ask what some of the recent topics have been and plans he/she has for future training sessions.
3 – Everything’s above board
Before accepting a teaching job in China it is very important to make sure the school is licensed to legally employ foreigners to work in China. They should be able to provide you with a legal “Z” work visa and give you information on the entire visa application process and when to expect the papers. The schools should cover these costs too. The only cost incurred to you should be the actual visa fee which you pay at your local Chinese embassy when you go there to have the visa stamped in your passport. Even then, some schools will ask you to keep the receipt and will refund you when you arrive in China. I’d advise you not to buy any plane tickets until the visa is safely stamped in your passport, just in case.
You’ll also want to have a read through a sample contract and make sure it is clear about working hours (both teaching hours and admin hours), salary, when it is paid, over-time pay, holidays, health insurance (if provided), sick leave, disciplinary procedures, taxes. If a flight allowance is provided be clear on whether it is paid up front or reimbursed over time (most are reimbursed throughout your contract and are around 9,000 RMB in total). It is common practice for teachers to actually sign the employment contract once they physically arrive at the school. If housing is provided I’d ask about who you will be sharing with, what the house is furnished with, how far it is from the school and maybe even some sample pictures. Some general details about housing for teachers in China can be found here.
4 – Your future colleagues
It’s a good idea to ask to speak with, or at least email, one or two of the current teachers at the school. This is a fairly common request so schools are likely to have already asked a few of their teachers if they would mind hearing from potential new teachers. Not only is it nice to get to know a couple of your future colleagues before you arrive, you can find out a bit more about the day to day life of a teacher at the school, things going on in the city, the housing, course material and maybe a more “real” rundown of what the school is like.
5 – Preparations
As for final preparations, be sure to find out if any medicine you take is available in China. Someone at the school should be able to find the Chinese name and check at a local clinic. If not, you can speak with your doctor about getting a large prescription and make sure to get a note from him to show at immigration just in case they ask.
If the school doesn’t provide health insurance, you’ll have to arrange cover for yourself while you are away. There might also be some products not available in China so stock up before you leave. Some of the useful suspects are: a decent selection of English novels, large size mens shoes, Western brand deodorant and a few other odds and ends.
Searching for a new job is a full time job in itself, I know. But as you are not only changing jobs but also country, house, friends and life it’s worth doing all the planning and preparation to ensure your time teaching in China is enjoyable. We’re here to help, we’ve placed hundreds of teachers all across China and work with only the best schools. Send us an application here to discuss things further, we offer a completely free service from start to finish.
Jim Althans packed up and flew to China to teach English in 2004. He has taught at kindergartens in remote villages, vice presidents in shiny offices and everything in between, enjoying every minute of it. He now works at Gold Star TEFL Recruitment helping teachers find their next job in China.