The word China written in English and Chinese on a smudged blackboard.

Photo © Yang Jun/123rf.

English-teaching jobs or university teaching jobs tend to be filled via email and phone contacts with the school directly or through a placement agency. A quick Internet search will result in numerous sites listing English-teaching jobs. Some sites are places where different schools can post their available positions while other sites are dedicated to a specific placement agency.

To find a position without the help of an agency, the job fairs for foreigners held annually in Beijing and Shenzhen are a good place to meet face-to-face with potential employers if you are already in China.

Some placement agencies match teachers with Chinese schools, provide predeparture training, and only charge a modest fee for the service. On the other end of the spectrum, some organizations, particularly those with a religious affiliation, provide the same placement service but require that their teachers raise a significant amount of funds prior to placement in a Chinese school. These funds will pay your living and travel expenses as well as health insurance, training, and ongoing support from the organization. To find a position without the help of an agency, the job fairs for foreigners held annually in Beijing and Shenzhen are a good place to meet face-to-face with potential employers if you are already in China.

International school teaching positions tend to be filled at the major job fairs each year hosted around the globe by the three main recruitment agencies: COIS, Search Associates, and ISS (check their websites, listed in the Resources section of Moon Living Abroad in China, for the upcoming fair dates and places). Candidates need a government-issued public school teaching certificate and should plan to attend the fair to participate in on-site interviews. If you can’t make it to one of the fairs, the best way to search for international school positions on the Internet is through Tie Online.

What Schools Want

English-teaching jobs typically require that you are a native English speaker and have a college degree—any subject will do; it doesn’t necessarily have to be in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) or English, though the best schools may require it. American English is preferred, but the King’s English will suffice. To land a position teaching English at a top university, you’ll probably need a TESOL certificate. Having a master’s degree isn’t necessary to get a teaching job, but it will earn you considerably more in monthly salary. In the early years English teachers primarily worked in the colleges, but quite a few high schools, middle schools, and even elementary schools and preschools (“kindergartens”) are now employing foreigners as teachers. More and more Chinese schools are also hiring foreigners to teach subjects other than English. There are also a fair number of jobs at the new private schools teaching both English and other subjects. Just be careful, though, because an unproven new school might not provide you with stable employment or make good on their financial promises.

To teach subjects besides English at the universities, you’ll need at least a master’s degree, and more and more they want PhDs for full-fledged professorial work. Much of this work is still compensated according to local standards, which is still enough to live on in China, but nowhere near what a college professor would earn in the States. If, however, you are a highly regarded scholar who can bring prestige to the school’s reputation, you’ll be compensated according to international standards. Teaching at an international school in China is an excellent option for those who already have their teaching credentials. The schools are run according to the standards in the home country, so if you have the appropriate college degree and teaching certificate, you’re qualified to teach at an international school. Husband and wife teaching teams are popular, in part because the schools can save on the money they spend for teachers’ housing.

English-Teaching Contracts

An English-teaching contract is a short document that specifies the teacher’s workload and the compensation and benefits provided by the school. The contract will probably be signed by the school principal and sent to you while you are still in your home country. Although the contract is supposedly a legally binding document, promises often go unfulfilled. Ask the school to put you in contact with people who have previously taught there so you can find out what you’re getting into before you take the plunge. As long as the contract is satisfactory to you and the school has good references, you should be fine. On the other hand, the Internet is filled with stories of teachers who were victims of a bait-and-switch scam, where their salaries were lowered, or they were housed in tiny dormitories, or their airfare wasn’t reimbursed, and so on. Using a proven placement agency can help you avoid getting scammed if you don’t mind paying the extra money for their services.

A typical contract will specify the number of teaching hours; 15 is the benchmark for full-time teaching. If you have a higher salary, you might be expected to go up to 20 hours or more, which is a heavy load considering the time spent in meetings, grading, lesson planning, and participating in extracurricular events like English Corners or clubs.

The contract will also specify the teacher’s monthly salary, which is typically paid for the 10 months that you’ll be teaching and the 11th month when you’ll be traveling or returning home. A good contract will also specify that the pay is “after tax,” meaning that the school will pay your income tax separately rather than deducting it from your salary. On a one-year contract, schools pay for round-trip airfare; for less than a year, they may pay half or less. Since some teachers have been known to leave before the contract is fulfilled, the schools prefer to reimburse you for half of your ticket when you start, and then pay you the other half when you finish teaching. Your contract should also specify free private or shared lodging, health care, cafeteria meals, and travel bonuses.

Perhaps most important, your school should provide you with the necessary paperwork to get a Z work visa. If they tell you, “just come over on a tourist visa, and we’ll work it out when you get here,” you take the risk that the school may be unregistered and you’ll be an illegal worker. On the other hand, since your Z visa will be tied to your specific employment, coming on a tourist visa buys you and your employer a little time to make sure the arrangement will be a good fit for both of you. To stay legal, however, you should have the Z visa in hand before you actually start your regular teaching schedule.

Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Living Abroad in China.