How To…. Teach At A Public School In China

In this instalment of my “How to…. China” series, I talk about teaching in a public school in China


 What’s teaching at a public school in China like?

There’s no simple answer to this question as each public school in China will probably operate in a slightly different way, and each have slightly different expectations of you as a teacher. I also have little experience in the matter, so I contacted etramping’s Agness once again to get her to shed some light on her experience  teaching at a public school in China. I’ve already mentioned how she found her job here but this is an insight into how she found the job once she arrived.

S: So, you sorted out your job, booked your flights and got your visa. You were now finally in China! Once you got to the school, could you please tell us what your first impressions of the school were?

A: I was going to be teaching in Biancheng High School, in Huayuan, Hunan province. Steven, the guy who interviewed and hired me was with me for the first few days of my adventure of teaching at a public school in China but once I was settled, he had to head back to where he was teaching in Hebei province. For the first week I accustomed myself to the school, and found that the students and staff were extremely friendly towards me, although I knew in class they could probably turn into little Chinese monsters, I just had to wait and see! The school was huge and impressive, including a stadium, a playground and outdoor play areas that I could only dream of as a child. It was fortunate, however, that all teachers and students lived on campus, so the apartment that was provided for me was never too far from where I needed to be.

Biancheng public school in China

The language department at Biancheng High School

S: What were your hours like and what benefits did you get?

A: My contract was for 16 teaching hours a week, over 3 different levels in the school, junior 1 (8-10 years old), 2 (11-13 years old) and 3 (14-17 years old). As well as my free apartment, I got free canteen food, a decent salary (6000RMB/month), time to travel and also a contract end bonus (4000RMB/semester). I was also very lucky in the fact that my school was one of the best in Hunan province.

Junior 1 students Biancheng public school in China

Agness’ Junior 1 students

S: How did you find the school once you had to start work?

A: Before I came to China I had prepared myself for a completely different working environment and a great deal of pleasant and unpleasant surprises outside of work, which most people call “culture shock”. I did a decent amount of research on the expectations of an ESL teacher in China, what duties were expected of me and what I should avoid doing in my classroom. I quickly found that the expectation was a lot less time consuimg than a teaching job in say, for example, Europe. My job was to teach oral English so my work was limited to conducting the lesson. There was hardly any paper work.

Classes lasted for 45 minutes and my school was well equipped with a projector, board, chalk and printer, so I could make my own resources as and when I needed them

My job was absolutely stress-free, nobody controlled me and I could plan my own lessons as I wanted to, I didn’t need to attend school and staff meetings, all weekends were off and I couldn’t work more than 4 teaching hours (45 minutes=teaching “hour”) a day.

Teaching Junior 1 students Biancheng public school in China

Having a Junior 1 class

There were many times that the students didn’t seem to understand what I was saying, so I used my hands and gestures to explain everything as much as possible. You have no idea how useful gestures are in class when you want to get a point across! I also learnt some useful Chinese phrases such as “Please be quiet!”, “Open your books, please”, “Let’s write it down”, “Turn the light off” and used it in case they had no idea what they were being asked of during the lesson.

To my surprise, most of my students lacked discipline. I thought the teachers in China would be much stricter with students than in Europe, but as it turned out, that isn’t true so I tried my best to maintain good discipline in my lessons by treating them like my friends and the classroom as a place where we could all have fun and relax. The students were used to eating and drinking in the classroom and they often broke the rules, for example the “no phone in the classroom” rule.

The teachers were extremely helpful though and they cared a lot about me. We spent way too much time with each other though. Sometimes I thought I spoke with them more often than with my mom. They were so funny and the way we communicated, gestures and Chinglish (Chinese and English), looked so childish and silly but at least we tried our best to understand each other.

Christmas Eve performance Junior 3 students Biancheng public school in China

A Christmas Eve performance with Junior 3 students

S: Wow, sounds good! Were there any downsides to the job though?

A: Well, I was very lucky in the fact that there was nothing that would put me off teaching there again. I mean there were too many students in the classroom, more or less 80 in every class, but that is kind of normal at a public school in China. My students always left  me speechless and absolutely exhausted but at the end of the day I really enjoyed myself. There was sometimes a lack of communication between myself and the teachers which could be frustrating. I was never informed about any schedule changes in advance and always found out only about 5 minutes before my class started.

Climate in the classroom was always a challenge too! There was neither air conditioning nor heating in the classrooms so in winter I taught with my gloves and hat on and during the summer I was sweating like a pig!

S: Yes, the Chinese seem to deal with temperatures different to their Western counterparts it seems! Moving onto the nitty gritty bit though, what had the school required from you in terms of experience and qualifications?

A: Well, first and foremost you need to be a foreigner! You may hear that a lot of schools require native English speakers, but actually, this isn’t all that true. I’m Polish, but studied in England for my Bachelor’s degree in English and Spanish, so go figure!  You generally need to have at least a Bachelor’s degree in order to get your Chinese work visa (Z-Visa) though.

If you have TEFL or TESOL then you have a slight advantage, but as most schools offer a little training, experience isn’t as necessary as being a foreigner, and especially a foreign graduate. I actually did my TESOL course online when I was in China (you can do the same with TEFL too), and had previous teaching experience from primary schools, 3 months doing English courses and private teaching whilst I was a student in the UK.

Teaching outside in China public school in China

Having an outdoor lesson

All rules and requirements are flexible especially when the school is in need of a teacher. The schools can turn a blind eye on the lack of diploma or experience but you won’t be able to obtain a working Visa (Z-visa) so it means you work illegally. No working visa means non-receipt or non-salary contract with the employer so they can dismiss you anytime, which is a bit scary and a situation you will have to allow for if you do not get a Chinese work visa (Z-visa).

S: Are there any last words you’d like to give readers interested in working at a public school in China?

A: I had a great experience with my public school in China. I was looked after very well by the teachers and students alike and I got to experience some amazing things during my year there. However, despite the fact that China has a huge demand for foreign teachers, this does not make everything perfect and easy for everyone.

One of my friends got a job at a picturesque seaside and all seemed to be great at the beginning. Nevertheless, when he got to the school, the headteacher (after seeing his first class) reproached him for a lack of energy in the classroom and dropped his salary by 50% (of course the excuse was ridiculous!) and what’s more the flat he was supposed to live in was a mess.

Another example was when my good friend got sent to three different provinces by one incompetent company and then faced many financial problems because he kept spending more and more on accommodation and travel. The schools did not pay him on time and they didn’t want to even help him with applying for visa as they had no certificate which would allow them to employ foreign teachers in the school.

There are always many scams so be aware of anything suspicious and anything that seems too good to be true. Some schools promise an excellent salary, free food and accommodation and Z visa but in reality they always find some excuses not to pay you well.

The most important lessons to learn is don’t trust anyone, always be ready for some extra expenses in case the school you are planning to work in is not competent, and make sure you work legally with your Z visa, trying not to let your passport out of your sight!

S: Thanks to Agness for providing some great insights into teaching at a public school in China!
Junior 3 students Biancheng public school in China

Agness’ male students from Junior 3

 For more on Agness’ experiences at a public school in China, take a look at this post on, where she discusses her first impressions of Biancheng High School in Huayuan, Hunan, in more detail. 
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Author: Bennett

2 years as an expat in China and now doing the same in New Zealand, Bennett sure likes to experience "slow travel!"

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  1. This post just reminded me how amazing my China experience has been. Missing my students a lot. Hope this will help some people who are planning to teach in China 🙂

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    • Thanks so much for sharing your experience Agness! I too hope it helps some people who are considering teaching in China! 🙂

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    • I am actually coming back to China in late January, so I can’t wait to see you there in person. I’ve been missing my students like crazy :))))

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      • We must organise something! (Also, I had an attack of spam recently, turned Akismet on and it thinks you are spam – it’s wrong!)

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  2. That is a great and very informative interview. Whilst I’ve never been a teacher I can certainly relate to a lot of the problems you mentioned. China can be full of promises and then chaos. The mention as well of changing timetables without notice is also a frustration I’ve endured.

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    • It’s not just China. I have a friend in Vietnam whose timetable changes at a moment’s notice. Fortunately for me, where I am now I am in charge of the timetable, so it’s a lot better. I will be posting my own experiences soon, as they differ slightly from Agness’ own experiences. They are brilliant though and she answered all the questions and more, which is fantastic for prospective teachers!
      Thanks very much for taking the time to visit my site and comment! 🙂

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  3. Great interview! I just stumbled on your blog while doing research for an article about teaching English in China, and I love it! I taught at a university outside of Guangzhou and loved my students there.

    Can’t wait to read more!

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    • Hi Jessica, thanks for commenting and I’m so happy to managed to stumble across my site! It’s such an amazing job, no?! (your comment was in spam and I’m behind with blog work which is why it took so long to reply, sorry!)

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  4. Cool post. The thing I would like to know is how you actually got the job. What website did you use to find it? Was it through a recruiter or directly through the school? What time of the year do the hire? Was it for the whole year or just the semester? How big were your classes?

    I taught in China for a bit. I always wondered about public school jobs there as I never saw them advertised.

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    • I’m not 100% sure how my friend got her job, but I would assume through some kind of recruitment website, there are a few out there nowadays, I think probably even more so that when I was in China!
      I think the major hires are for the September or February start, after the main holiday periods.

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