Teaching English in Shanghai: A job-hunting guide for foreigners in China

Shanghai Living

Foreigners who have been around China for a while (and are ostensibly in the know) will tell you that there are lots of “opportunities” here now — and what with the WTO and all, things are only bound to get better! Such optimism is a natural response from expats who have obviously found something worthwhile that has kept them in China this long. Seriously though, it really isn’t too difficult to land a job. But it’s also true that at first glance, the mainland China employment scene may seem somewhat limited in scope. Eager to teach English? No problem. Beyond that, the search for gainful employ is a bit more challenging. It’s also rather daunting if you don’t have any prior contacts in China and you’re starting from scratch. Perhaps even more so than in Western countries, connections — guanxi, usually the first word of Chinese you learn — tend to be the best ways to find out about job openings in China. But you’ve got to start somewhere, so if you haven’t landed your dream job then let the guanxi games begin…

If you are a native English speaker (or can pass for one), you’re already amply qualified for one particular set of jobs in China. Teachers are in high demand in both rural areas and big cities. In Beijing, it’s said you can stand at the railway station with a sign reading, “I Speak English,” and you’ll have a job within a day. Teaching jobs for other foreign languages like French or Korean are also available, but English clearly rules. Whether or not you have teaching experience is largely irrelevant. If you can communicate with fluency in English, then you will be hired in most cases.

One exception may be if you look Chinese or Asian. Occasionally, there are perverse forms of discrimination: Some schools have a policy of not employing overseas Chinese because they supposedly don’t speak English as well as “real” foreigners, or don’t inspire the confidence of their students. Even blondes with heavy European accents have been known to have an edge over Chinese-looking Americans or Canadians. Fortunately, it’s not a major obstacle if you are determined to teach. There are many positions out there, and the schools that are sincerely concerned about the quality of teaching will not be so dismissive. Just be warned that it does happen.

In major cities, pay is typically 80-120 yuan per hour, and schedules are fairly flexible, running the gamut from one hour per week to full-time. You also have options for tutoring individuals or working with larger classes of kids or adults. In more out-of-the-way places, wages may be less (about 2000 per month) but schools frequently offer airfare, standard housing, free Chinese language classes and a more unique experience as an entire package. It is possible to arrange these positions from abroad, either through a middleman organization or directly with the Chinese school. On the web, there are a host of sites offering information on teaching English in China…

Appalachians Abroad: Teach in China
Marshall University (Huntington, West Virginia, US) runs this program through its Center for International Programs. One and two-year teaching positions throughout China usually begin from August or March, and applications from any college graduates are welcome.

Colorado China Council
The CCC is an educational outreach organization aiming to expose Americans to Chinese culture and history. It is non-religious, non-political and non-profit group that sends college graduates to China for one-year teaching contracts.
Council Exchanges Teach in China Program
Positions teaching English to Chinese college students are available through this group.

Council on International Educational Exchange
CIEE runs several programs for studying, working, and volunteer work teaching abroad for periods of three to six months

English Language Institute/China
ELIC provides training and placement for teaching English in China, but limited to those of the Christian faith.

ESL Web Guide
The general web site is maintained by an individual named Dave Sperling, who has compiled a long list of related links.

Peace Corps China
The Peace Corps’ program in China has been going for several years. The project is recruiting teachers for middle schools in the rural areas of Sichuan province of China.

Princeton In Asia
PiA sets up internships for college graduates, including English teaching positions in mainland China. Open to applicants from other universities.

TEFL China Teahouse
This web site is specifically designed for and maintained by English teachers in China. You can also join the email list, which is a very active forum useful for advice and conversation relevant to this topic. The site also has tips and ideas for ESL teaching methods in Chinese classrooms.

Teach in China Forum
This web site and bulletin board has frequent question and answer opportunities for those is search of China information.

Volunteers in Asia
Affiliated with Stanford University, VIA offers seven week summer programs for teaching English, as well as one and two-year long teaching jobs in Asia.

Western Washington University’s China Teaching Program
CTP is based at Western Washington University and offers teaching placements in China.

World Teach
Harvard University’s program is open to university graduates in all majors. Their one-year teaching commitments in secondary schools do not require prior teaching experience, and besides English as a foreign language, subjects taught include natural and social sciences, mathematics, art and home economics. Limited financial aid is available.

Besides teaching, there are still more English-based jobs to be found, but typically only in the larger cities. Publications such as The China Daily, written in English by Chinese writers, hire native English speakers as copy-editors. The East Oriental School (Dong Fang Xue Xiao) and other private companies employ foreigners to edit resumes, personal statements, and reference letters in English. Some writing skills, but not necessarily formal experience, are typically needed for these kinds of jobs. And if you are already in China, there are also opportunities to do English voice recordings, usually for radio advertisements or for English language tapes. Recording sessions are more sporadic, but the pay is usually higher than teaching jobs. Foreign students are a frequent recruiting target for such jobs, so bulletin board postings near foreign student dormitories are good places to check for more information.

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