Teaching English in Shanghai – Shanghai New Century Primary School

I highly recommend anyone looking for an opportunity to go abroad, teach, and explore to consider Shanghai as a destination. I’ll leave bullet-points below covering the pros and cons of life in Shanghai as a fresh-off-the-boat/plane English teacher.

I was sitting behind the computer screen at my desk job. I had just graduated from university and was regretting my decision to settle into this mundane routine of working nine to five. It had been a year already, and I felt the days were blurring together. These were my prime years. I needed a change of scenery. I yearned for an adventure. Some kind of excitement. It was then that I started Googling “teaching English in…”

I was reminded of a conversation I had with a friend. She had just gotten back from teaching English in China for a year. I was intrigued, and I’ll admit, I was a bit skeptical at first because things sounded too good to be true. You know how the saying goes, “if it’s too good to be true, it usually is.”

It would later turn out to be the best decision of my life so far because teaching English in Shanghai set me on a path and opened up many extraordinary opportunities.

How Did I Find My First Teaching Position 👨‍🏫?

From word-of-mouth, I was referred to CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange). This non-profit helps assist with all the requirements needed to get you from A (your home) to B (your chosen city to teach) and takes care of everything in between. The program fees seemed steep at around $2500, but the peace of mind knowing that everything would be sorted was worth the price.

What do I mean by having everything sorted?

This is a source of anxiety for most prospective teachers looking to teach English in Shanghai. I’ll go through and cover all the basics for ya’, so sit back and relax!

*Pro-tip* - If you’ve taught English before in a different country and you’re looking for ESL teaching positions in Shanghai, it’s best to go directly through a school when you’re on the ground.

Hassle-Free Visa 🛂, Itinerary 📄, TEFL 📙 and Accommodation 🛏️

Nobody likes paperwork and figuring out which thing to prioritize first can be a headache and a primary source of anxiety. Like trying to put together a giant puzzle but feeling like some of the pieces are missing.

“I need what kind of document!? How long is that going to take?”

With CIEE, everything was transparent and structured into a nice online checklist.

Progress was being made, and I was already enrolled in an online TEFL course, which is basically a competency test to determine if you understand the English language enough to teach it. For first time TEFL-takers, it’s easy and can be completed online. You’ll get a certificate which really helps with securing teaching jobs in Shanghai. A TEFL certificate and a college diploma will take you a long way. If you want to know more about ins and outs of applying to a Chinese working visa for teachers, here's detailed instruction that was written by teach.fm visa specialist (and it's for free).

CIEE linked me up with a private primary school called Shanghai New Century Primary school, and I was already chatting via WeChat with local Chinese teacher assistants who would give me advice prior to arriving in Shanghai. The Chinese assistants really go above and beyond, and even my accommodation was sorted before I arrived.

Benefits of Teaching English in Shanghai 🌆

One of the perks of working with Shanghai New Century Primary school was that when you sign a 10-month contract, you’re eligible for rent-free accommodation in an apartment. Another great thing about living in Shanghai is that you’re typically located within walking distance of a metro station, so catching the subway in the morning to get to class is a breeze (no more feeling demoralized sitting in traffic!).

Upon completing your contract, you also receive an end of the year bonus, which is an excellent extra bit of disposable income to spend on traveling. Shanghai New Century Primary school had a bonus at around $1500, which is decent compared to other schools that normally offer less (or nothing at all).

Time is money. The free time that comes with teaching English in Shanghai and especially working at New Century was a great perk. Having flashbacks to my old life working in the states and how little free time I had to enjoy life made me feel grateful. Being able to take off over a month worth of Chinese public holidays, Teacher’s Day, and the 2-month summer holiday gives newfound happiness and flexibility to truly explore and go on adventures.

Teaching at Shanghai New Century Primary school was a lot laxer than previously anticipated.

My day-to-day routine involved getting to the school (took 5 minutes), and I would teach a range of classes from 1st to 5th grade, Monday through Friday. Five hours a day, five days a week provided me with a 25-hour workweek that is typically less than first-time teachers who get thrown in the deep end and work 40 to 50 hours a week.

My starting salary was around $1800 per month, which was more than enough because keep in mind, I didn’t need to pay rent! Also, free school lunches were given at Shanghai New Century Primary, and they’re actually good!

👌 It’s All About the Process + Communication is Key

When I first got to Shanghai, I was questioning my abilities as a teacher, thinking,

“I’ve never taught before.”

“How can I handle a class of misbehaved little kids that speak Chinese?”

“How do you even teach English to a first-grader?”

“Will they even like me!?”

“What if I’m not a good teacher?”

I can say with confidence that teaching at Shanghai New Century Primary was a highlight in my teaching career, and the teacher assistants and staff went above and beyond. Most primary schools throughout Shanghai employ Chinese teacher assistants to help deal with classroom management and translations so the kids can actually learn. It’s essential to treat your TAs with respect and communicate with them regularly as they’re on your side. They genuinely want to help, and they themselves are looking to improve their English as well.

You may even learn some useful Chinese which you can incorporate in your lessons when you want to give instructions to the class later on throughout the year, so every student is on the same page (quite literally, as many of your students will be on random pages throughout the textbook, and there’s nothing worse than having an entire class of confused and lost first graders).

New Century provides the curriculum and lesson plans to make life easy. Most schools will have a curriculum and book, so some of your working hours are spent on lesson planning. Creating lesson plans as a new teacher can seem like an uphill task, but lessons should be beta tested. They’re a work in progress. Some will work, some won’t. Don’t take it personally but learn and move on. You’ll evolve as a teacher and get better over time. It’s also essential to share with other co-teachers and gather multiple resources. This will save you time and headaches when creating lesson plans.

The Ups and Downs of Living in Shanghai 🏙️️

I’ll leave bullet-points below covering the pros and cons of life in Shanghai as a fresh-off-the-boat/plane English teacher.

The Good

  • Cheap cost of living, compared to the US. See the full comparison of expenses in China and the US.
  • 📦 Fast online delivery services (Taobao can become quite addictive, and ordering food online may turn you into a lazy recluse!)
  • 🚇Amazing metro network for convenient public transportation (China has an extensive train infrastructure throughout the entire country)
  • 💳 Cashless society (just use WeChat to scan QR codes to pay for anything, even pay your utility bill or buy train/plane tickets)
  • 🖐️Local Chinese are friendly and hospitable
  • 🚖 Taxis are cheap and make you question how they’re even profitable
  • 🧔 Diverse and eclectic international community
  • ⛩️ Many tourist spots and places to go within the city
  • 🎡 Lively nightlife and plenty of opportunities to socialize with people from all over the world
  • 🍜 Plenty of food options (even Western food, so don’t worry if you want a taste of home)
  • 🏥 Good hospitals

The Bad

  • ☁️ Pollution and bad air quality over the winter months (many wear facemasks and purchase air purifiers)
  • 👣 Dense and sometimes overwhelming crowds (Shanghai has a population of 24 million)
  • 🚬Smoking indoors is allowed in some places, and nearly 50% of the people smoke
  • 🚶‍♂️🚶‍♂️🚶‍♂️ No concept of queuing in line (no personal space and locals will bump into you)
  • 🚧 Noise pollution (construction work, normal hustle & bustle of daily life, etc.)
  • 🤦‍♂️ The language barrier can be an issue with taxi drivers or venturing outside of the city
  • 🌨️ Winter months can be an unpleasant wet cold
  • 🚦 Traffic safety is bad but is getting better
  • 💻 Slow internet (many require a VPN to access Google and other sites from abroad). Try Express VPN as a solution.

Working at New Century Primary School 🏫

Even with some of the “bad” traits that come with living in a large metropolis such as Shanghai, the good outweighs the bad and paired with working at New Century, I’d have to say it makes for a good lifestyle. Below are some of the pros and cons of New Century.

The Good

  • Lesson plans are intuitive and straightforward which makes teaching easier
  • The school is located 5 minutes from a metro station
  • The Chinese teacher assistants and staff are flexible and understanding
  • The students are eager to learn
  • Great school lunches provided
  • Class sizes are manageable (around 15-20 students)
  • Nice teacher breakroom to relax

The Bad

  • Disruptive students can be a pain (especially towards the end of the day)
  • Minor confusion with Chinese teacher assistants and staff may turn into an ordeal due to the language barrier (the Chinese business culture of not losing face and saying “yes,” when they really mean “no” can be a source of pain and confusion for most foreigners)
  • Sometimes the younger students just want to play, so it can be distracting when you’re trying to teach
  • Last-minute changes to your teaching schedule
  • School admin may be more focused on student scores and feedback to give to the parents as they’re typically more overbearing.

Pack Your Bags and Come Out to Shanghai!

All in all, I would have to say teaching English in Shanghai, and especially working at New Century, has left a lifelong impact on me, and I’ll always cherish the memories. I highly recommend anyone looking for an opportunity to go abroad, teach, and explore to consider Shanghai and New Century as a destination.

Trying to choose the best location for teaching in China? Compare the cities in Shanghai and Suzhou and take a look at how a teaching life in smaller city like Huzhou might look like.