Different types of schools in China

You might be thinking: what type of school and position should I apply for? Different schools definitely had a different impact on me. Here is what I learned and the pros/cons of different schools in China.

I have been teaching in China for more than eight years. Fortunately, I had a chance to teach all ages. Thanks to my first nasty employer for sending me to many different schools and special thanks to the training center where I worked for six years.

Teaching at Kindergartens in China

My first day as a teacher in China was in a kindergarten. My first employer was an agency that was in cooperation with many schools in the city. They sent me to a kindergarten to see how talented I was as a teacher. I had a lot of fun there, but one day in a kindergarten was enough for me.

Pros of teaching at kindergarten in China

  • High salary. International kindergartens are on the top when it comes to the paycheck. Very fitting if you want to save a significant amount of money in China. To be honest, I sometimes think about working at a kindergarten only because of this reason.
  • Stress-free. Working at a kindergarten is totally stress-free. Kindergartens expect teachers to make kids happy. That’s all!
  • Free weekend. While most training centers offer days off during workweek, kindergartens provide a more traditional working schedule.
  • Chinese assistant. I remember seeing two Chinese teachers helping me during the class at kindergarten. They were lifesavers when students had difficulties understanding what I was saying.
  • Easy to find. Most kindergartens do not require teachers to be super experienced. A young and dynamic teacher who is eligible for a Z-visa (work visa) is fine for them. I remember talking to many kindergartens when I was searching for a job.

Cons of teaching at the kindergarten in China

  • I don’t know if this is a con for everyone, but being a kindergarten teacher was tiring for me. Trying to be more active than 30 little kids is really tough. (You might like it very much if losing weight is your no.1 priority) That was my reason why I didn’t have a second day at kindergarten. I had only 3 teaching hours and felt very tired at the end of the day. However, I know many people who are absolutely happy there and really enjoy various activities with kids.

Teaching at public school in China

It is not very easy to find a position at public schools, but it is not impossible either. The agency I was working for assigned me to a part-time job at public school and college, so I've got first-hand experience of teaching there.

Pros of teaching at public school

  • Ease. ESL teachers in public schools do not have more than 15 teaching hours in one week. Furthermore, they are allowed to leave the office when they do not teach. Getting paid on summer and winter vacations is another plus. I was paid hourly, and I envied those who were paid while not working.
  • Engaged students. ESL teachers mostly need to grade students’ performances which give them more power to manage the classroom. It also makes students more interested in class content. Another good thing about it is it helps a lot when there are some rebellious students.
  • Good apartments next to the school. Most of the public schools provide a well-furnished dormitory for their teachers in the campus which minimizes the teacher’s expenses. As a part-time teacher, I couldn’t benefit from it; but I have seen my colleagues’ apartments. Their commute to classroom took only two minutes, while mine was one hour long.
  • Paid vacations. Some schools may pay the whole salary where some others pay up to 60%. That’s why many Chinese people believe being a teacher is the best thing to do.

Cons of teaching at public school

  • Lower salary. Public schools usually have a limit on maximum salary for foreign teachers stipulated by government. They tend to pay 30-40% less than other schools in the same city. Even though teachers do not spend a lot at the campus, it is still hard to save extra money.
  • Lack of opportunities for promotion. Normally, the job title and the responsibilities for ESL teachers are always the same. A teacher can teach the same content as long as he works in the same school.
  • Less teaching materials. Some schools do not have enough teaching materials, so they ask teachers to make their own lesson plans and curriculum. I was never given a topic nor a teaching material in these schools which made it hard to find a different topic each time.

Teaching at International Schools in China

I have never worked at international schools in China, but I had many friends working there. I can say with certainty they have much better benefits packages and a more demanding job than me.

Pros of teaching at international school

  • Academic improvement. Most of the international schools expect their teachers to improve themselves academically. My friends were preparing lesson plans, exams and following students’ progress which I believe is essential for teacher's improvement.
  • Higher salary. Teachers who are able to meet the school’s requirements can make much more than the average. It is possible to make 30,000 RMB ($4500) per month and even more. (Not every school can pay that high.)
  • Paid summer vacation. Hopefully, I can also benefit from it one day :) These vacations are the busiest time of the year in training centers.

Cons of teaching at international school

  • High requirements. Usually, schools expect you to be a professional teacher by trade. They can also ask for advanced teaching qualifications, like PGCE, QTS, or a teaching license from your home country. If you hold only a TEFL/CELTA certificate and don't have considerable teaching experience, it won't be possible to secure this job.
  • Competition. Like in every industry, high paying jobs at international schools attract many applicants and make teachers hold onto their jobs. The number of available positions might be scarce.

University teaching positions in China

Years ago, I had a really good time at the university where I was teaching part-time. Students were more like friends to me. Some of them were only three years younger than I am.

Pros of teaching at university in China

  • Campus life. I love living on the campus and being with students. It really makes me feel I am a part of the society of the future. It is always nice to be with creative and young people.
  • Motivation. University students are more motivated to have English classes than primary school students. They know what their needs are. When I was teaching there, I had to think faster than many of the students in order to increase the efficiency of the classes. Some students were extremely good and they were very demanding. They made me improve myself faster as a teacher.
  • Low living costs. On a university campus, everything is made for the students and their budgets are taken into account. Nearly everything you buy or eat at the campus is cheaper than elsewhere.
  • Available positions for non-native English speakers. While it is hard to secure a position at a training center or public school when you are not a native speaker of English (please check the requirements to teach in China), at universities you can teach your native language or other topics.
  • Good opportunity for older teachers. Other types of schools, especially kindergartens and training centers are looking for edutainers and may not accept older teachers. For universities, your ability to jump around the classroom to make your students engaged is not a key.

Cons of teaching at the university in China

  • Hard to find. It is really not easy to find a university teaching position because the demand is very low. I wouldn’t be able to work at a university if my company didn’t send me there as a part-time teacher.
  • Lower Salary. Most of the time the salary is low due to a very small amount of teaching hours. You might expect to teach 10 to 15 hours a week and have the rest of the day for preparation.

Teaching at Training Centers in China

I have spent the majority of my ESL career in a training center. To be honest, I loved my job because no one was telling me what to do as they saw students being satisfied with me. That made me create more and share a lot with the students. The age group I was teaching was also a perfect match for me.

Pros of teaching at Training Centers in China

  • Many job opportunities. It is quite easy for a skilled ESL teacher to find a teaching job at a training center. The only thing the teachers need to do is to pick the location they want to live. I wanted to be near Shanghai and found a training center which is only 50 km (31 miles) away from the Shanghai downtown area.
  • Prepared teaching materials. Most of the big training centers in China have their own teaching materials. Frankly speaking, that makes teacher’s life easier. I was picking the teaching materials every day and preparing my own lesson plans accordingly. That was not necessary, but that made me more organized.
  • Less stress. As an ESL teacher in a training school, I was never blamed for the students' low grades. Our training center’s main focus was speaking, which motivated me to think of different ways to improve students’ fluency.
  • High Salary. Training centers can be considered high paying. When I was there, I was making nearly 1,5 times more than the teachers at public (state-owned) schools.
  • School location. Most training schools are in the downtown area with many restaurants, supermarkets, cafes and cinemas nearby. After work, it's very easy to find a nice place to go out with your colleagues.

Cons of teaching at Training Centers in China

  • Teaching hours. As a classroom lover, I had no problem teaching 25 hours every week, but for some teachers it might be too much.
  • The difficulty of academic improvement. Most training schools in China, including ours, care more about student satisfaction rather than academic improvement. They want ESL teachers to be entertaining enough, hoping that students will bring their friends to the school. They don't care how much a teacher is dedicated to learning more about student psychology or writing academic articles.
  • Few career opportunities. At a training center, ESL teachers are mostly meant to be just teachers. Except some really organized training centers, it is really hard to get promoted and take more responsibility. Big chains usually give better benefits, good opportunities to learn and grow, and also a fair career ladder. Usually, it looks like this:
    Teacher - Senior teacher - Headteacher/Trainer/Mentor - Assistant Director of Studies - Director of Studies - Product Manager
  • Days off. I didn’t mind having a day off on Monday and Tuesday, but some teachers may prefer to rest on weekends.

Teaching at Chinese Online School when living in China

I don’t know if you have noticed, but the online teaching industry is also booming in China. I'm teaching online in my spare time. However, I should admit that it doesn’t give me the same feeling that I used to get when I was teaching in a training center.

Pros of teaching online in China

  • Easy to find a position. It is really easy to find an online teaching job in China, especially for native speakers. There are a lot of Chinese schools that are mainly focused on online teaching. Some of them are key players in the industry. Simply googling "online teaching jobs in China" can open a special door for everyone, as it opened to me. Check the online jobs section at teach.fm as well, there are plenty of opportunities to kick start your online teaching.
  • Flexibility. The best part of being an online teacher is being able to make your own schedule and work at your own pace. Online teachers are paid hourly.
  • Connection speed. Being in China helps a lot while teaching online. Teachers who live in China like me barely have connection issues; but many online teachers that live outside of China have some difficulties which decreases efficiency and stability of the job.

Cons of teaching online in China

  • Environment. If you enjoy working in a classroom, you may find online classes not as appealing as offline teaching (at first). The screen between teachers and students makes it hard to build a close teacher-student relationship.
  • Classroom management. I have noticed that more than 90% of the students prefer not to turn their cam on during the class. They might have their own reasons, but it makes classroom management a very tough task to do.
  • Lack of colleagues. Most online ESL teachers have no colleagues. It might make you uncomfortable if you like socializing with your colleagues after work.
  • No work visa. Most online schools in China cannot provide a work visa for their teachers, which can make it impossible for them to live in China, unless their visa is issued by another company.