How do I get a teaching job in China?

The most important thing I took away from my first few months in China and years living here is that knowing why you're coming, where you're going, and what sort of institution you're entering is crucial. You can usually decipher this code by knowing the three points below.


Looking for a teaching job in China from England, I fell into a trap that many newcomers go into. In my opinion, China was one big mystery and adventure, therefore I searched for “a teaching job in China.” I didn't realize that, as in the UK, teaching jobs varied greatly depending on location. Just because I was given a job didn't guarantee the location was perfect for me.

When I initially began teaching in China in the early 2000s, I accepted a position in Dawufeng, a little industrial town an hour away from Tianjin. I was the sole English speaker in town, and the next expat was at least an hour distant.

While this may be wonderful for others, it was a huge obstacle to my pleasure. I probably wouldn't have accepted the job if I had done more study on the area.


Even though my social life in Dawufeng was less than ideal, the challenges I experienced were nothing compared to those I faced at work. I taught in public elementary and middle schools with over 40 pupils each class.

In elementary school I had an English-speaking assistance, but in middle school I was entirely alone. Even the Chinese instructors designated to teach English could only achieve the bare essentials, which is why they needed me. The entire thing made me feel overwhelmed and just miserable.

Foreign instructors working in China's public schools and colleges, particularly in less developed areas, have similar stories. But everything is not lost. The position in Dawufeng was plainly not for me, but it may have been for another foreign instructor. Maybe he was more patient, liked his own company, or thrived when pushed out of his comfort zone.

Before working in a public school in China, consider the holidays and the pay. Public school pay are often minimal, particularly in second and third tier cities or rural areas. Universities pay a bit more than schools, and both commonly include flats, which frees up a lot of money. Remember that living costs are cheaper in less developed areas.

In exchange for low pay, Chinese public schools give generous vacations, frequently spanning three summer months and several weeks around Spring Festival. This allows international instructors to travel across China and the area.

In China, there are two sorts of foreign instructors. The first are inexperienced instructors who value vacation time and flexibility above pay. The second type is respectable instructors who really wish to improve China's grassroots education system. These folks were probably better instructors in their native countries than I was in Dawufeng. They would also like being “immersed” in Chinese culture and language.


Private schools, foreign schools, and language training centers are available in China. Educators have more expectations on them than students. Workers at training centers put forth their best effort late at night, on weekends, and on holidays.

This area attracts people willing to work harder for greater money. For their part, several of these private schools and firms have evolved into huge organizations, able to provide high salaries and true career development prospects that match those in the West. This sector tends to draw mid-career and older educators wishing to grow or establish themselves. As instructors gain experience in China, they generally move from the lower end of the market to the more paid top end.

My Dawufeng experience taught me that everyone has different reasons for traveling to China to teach, and I was in a bad position since I didn't understand mine and the variations in the jobs available. To become a teacher in China, one must first identify why they are going and then choose a career, location, and institution that represents this.

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