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