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Teaching English in China

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Hi. I will be moving to from Boston to Shanghai soon. A friend is planning to get me a job teaching English. I was wondering what the salary range is for foreign, college-educated English teachers in the major cities of China.

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    You will earn about $400 US a month, plus room and board. However, many schools that are disreputable will hire people without a TESL certificate. If you don't have a certificate, chances are you will ONLY be hired by one of these schools. Many of the English language schools only care about profits, with little respect for the teachers. Also, many of these schools are expensive so only rich Chinese can afford classes. Many of these Chinese will look down on you as a servant, especially if you don't dress in nice clothes or are not attractive. From your name, Gene Chang, I assume you are Chinese? If so, you may not have the same problems as a white or black person. I would be very careful if I were you.

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    I live in Shanghai, and my (Canadian) colleague has a lot of friends who are English teachers here, so I asked him to ask his friends about the situation in Shanghai. The main thing to remember is that China is a HUGE country, and that conditions and salaries will vary considerably, even within one city. In Shanghai alone, there are hundreds of schools that teach English, and there are probably equal numbers of ones at which you would be extremely happy or extremely disappointed.

    Shanghai is the biggest city in China, so it offers the highest salaries, but it's MUCH higher than the average the previous poster mentioned. My colleagues friends all said that the average (in Shanghai) is closer to $1000 US per month, plus a (very small, local style) apartment. They also were surprized to hear about students looking down on teachers - it must really depend on the school and the city. They mentioned that they get along really well with thier students, and feel like they are looked up to by the students. All of my colleague's friends enjoy their jobs (well, to varying degrees, like with any group!), and are very happy to be here.

    Good luck!

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    My sister-in-law who we rarely hear from went to China 5 years ago to teach English. She doesn't have a college degree, just TESL. She had no teacher training and wasn't a very good student herself. I don't know how she arranged her first job there. She ended up in a very bad situation in a school near a city in the interior. Her living conditions were pretty much like the locals--one room apartment, no heat. The head told the teachers they could only leave the compound on their day off (they were outside the city) and always had to know where they were and when they would return. After they didn't get paid for 2 months most of the teachers left, but my stubborn sister-in-law stuck it out for her year contract until she could get her money. Meanwhile she got sick and only got limited medical care.

    Thank goodness she finally contacted us and others telling us she needed help finding a new job in Shanghai or similar. We found job ads online for schools and a placement service. She landed a position with a college in Shanghai. She got a 2-room furnished apartment with kitchen in the same building as the classrooms, her salary (don't know how much), and a plane ticket home after one year. She works long hours and must come up with her own materials (she took a full suitcase of books, games, maps, etc. back last year). She says local food and other goods are cheap if you can speak Chinese. She has since changed schools again and moved to an apartment in the city (5th floor walk-up).

    We met some coworkers of hers who seemed to be happy and enjoying their work. They said most teachers last 1-2 years. My sister-in-law hasn't been happy with any of her jobs, but you have to know her to understand she doesn't like to interact with people a lot (not good for a teacher) and she's had no training. She only has the job to keep a visa to be in China.

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    I've been intrigued with the idea of these English teaching jobs to get to stay longer than just a vacation. The second hand information I've gotten from a few of people who have taught in China reflect a mixture of what has been reported here. The men seem happier than the women. (I don't know why.) Singles were happier than marrieds (two had children and didn't like the crowded living conditions and limited, expensive English speaking schools). The happiest was working for a Chinese school that has some kind of joint venture with a Canadian company--they seemed to get paid better, have fewer complications, and more modern, Western style accommodations. One complained about the 6-day work week with several classes/preps with no administrative support, no computers or other equipment, and an expectation for the teachers to mix with the students in their off hours to allow the students to practice their conversational English. Another told me of how her students (maybe the ones John refers to) didn't work very hard then DEMANDED high grades. If they didn't earn high grades it was her fault and they let her know how important their parents were and how much influence they had with the school--very unpleasant. I didn't quite know what the problem one told me was with the pay--something about being paid in local currency and unable to save to take out of the country when they left? None of them seemed to know much Chinese before they moved there and were not progressing very well on that front. I wonder if that is the source of much of their frustration?

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    Thanks for the informative replies, especially the one from Andrea. I hear that there are many scams to watch out for when looking for English-teaching jobs so I have some additional questions:

    1) What are some guidelines to use to find out if a school/company is legitimate or not?

    2) Is there a club/organization of English teachers around Shanghai that can serve as a resource for new English teachers?

    3) Are there always restrictions on how much an English teacher can convert their salary to US dollars?

    4) How are the following types of schools/institutions rated according to compensation (universities, public schools, private schools, language institutes, etc.)?

    5) What kind of things should you make sure are spelled out in a teaching contract, before signing it?

    I know this is a lot of questions. You can write to my personal e-mail address above if you like. Thanks.

    -Gene

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