Teaching English as a Foreign or Second Language (TEFL and TESOL) is a great way to see the world and fund your travels, with the bonus that comes from living in a country of being able to really get under the skin of the place rather than just visit.
There are many different options available to you if you think teaching English might be your thing. China is becoming an increasingly popular TEFL destination, there are plenty of jobs in a variety of places around the country and for different age groups. Kindergarten teachers are particularly in demand.
I wasn’t sure if teaching was going to be for me, and I didn’t particularly want to be locked into a year long contract. So, I shopped around a bit and found an “internship” program which promised to sort me out with a job, accommodation, help with visas and living allowance stipend (NB – NOT a salary). I didn’t get to choose where in the country I went, who I’d be with or what age group I’d be teaching but as I didn’t really know anything about China when I went, I was happy to take whatever I was given and roll with it. I ended up teaching Kindergarten in a small city in Heibei province called Handan (and when I say “small,” I mean 8 million people!) with two other girls.
Small children and I have always avoided each other, mostly because I don’t understand why the under 4’s always seem to be either sticky or crying. I much prefered the classes of older kids that I taught in the evenings mostly because we could play games, and I could actually communicate with them, but also because the seams of their trousers were sewn up between the legs and they didn’t have toilet buckets in the corners of the classrooms. Yeah. Watch out for that in Kindergarten… It was an eye opening experience in many ways, and there are pro’s and con’s of signing up to a program like I did so here’s a run down as I see it, plus some other options, tips and resources. Go forth and eductate!
SIGNING UP WITH AN AGENCY OR INTERNSHIP PROGRAM
- When you sign up and pay for your program, you’ll get your TEFL training, a job, a living allowance (generally lower than if you sign a contract directly with a school or language centre) and help with applying for your visa although costs of this are unlikely to be covered.
- You’ll also have support from people who are used to bridging the gap between West and East which is particularly helpful if you don’t speak Chinese, and an automatic network of other TEFL teachers doing the same thing who you can a)go visit in different parts of the country(!) b)share tips and experiences with. You may also get extra teaching resources and shorter contracts will be available.
- You’ll be paid far less than if your contract is directly with a school
- You’re unlikely to get a say in where you’re placed and who you’re placed with
LIASING DIRECTLY WITH SCHOOLS
A friend of mine, who had done the same internship as me, six months ahead of me, returned to China to teach and decided to liaise directly with schools. In Beijing she had very bad luck – limited hours, poor rates of pay, headmasters constantly changing her schedule (without telling her) then getting angry that she wasn’t there for classes, and assistants who would have made corpses look energetic and helpful. Other friends have lovely classes, helpful assistants and headteachers who want to make sure that their foreign teachers are happy and looked after. You’ve got to have a certain amount of persistance, a thick skin and know what you are and aren’t going to accept.
- You’re in full control! You decide where you go, negotiate your rate of pay, hours, classes, and the terms of your contract.
- You’ll get paid much better than an intern or if you’ve signed up via an agency. You can find and rent an apartment independently.
- You’re in full control! You have to negotiate with a school, with someone who may or may not speak a good level of English. You also may have to deal with finding and renting an apartment independently.
In China, foreign teachers are highly valued, especially if you’re willing to go to some smaller cities so KNOW YOUR WORTH (you should be aware that as a matter of course you’ll be being paid roughly three times the salary of a Chinese teacher in your school…)
- A living salary for a westerner in Beijing is around 6000RMB/month (more in Shanghai), bearing in mind that you’ll automatically get charged higher prices than a native Chinese whether you speak Mandarin or not.
- There are plenty of forums for TEFL teachers where you can get tips and advice about individual schools and agencies – jobs will also be posted on there.
- Negotiate for your school to pay your visa costs. It’s not unreasonable. Also, a work visa is a Z visa. You can’t officially work on a tourist (L), business (F) or student (X) visa.
i-to-i have a good forum for future TEFL/TESOL teachers called “Chalkboard”, which you can use whether you sign up with them or not. Everyone on there is really friendly and ready to give you an honest opinion about what TEFLing is like.
Dave’s ESL Cafe is full of tips, resources and a jobs board for TEFL worldwide,
If you want to read more about my time teaching in China, my blog is at: www.blue-dress-and-backpack.blogspot.com