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Types of School: Where to work in China

Public schools are different to private schools, kindergartens different to universities. Where you work has a big impact.


Teaching kindergarten in China is similar to teaching kindergarten across many of the Asian countries. It’s far more active and free than teaching older children (as you might expect). Dancing, singing and games are most of the lessons with the focus on keeping the kids engaged.

These positions tend to have fewer hours outside of teaching, because the lessons need less preparation and often less hours in general because of the age of the children. The fewer hours tends to lead to a lower salary.

Private Language Schools

This is the most common place to teach English. Teaching English is big business in China and it’s important to remember that a language school isn’t a public institution but a business. We can split private language schools into large companies and independent schools.

The independent schools are single schools (or possibly a couple of branches) and they’re all run by the same group of people, usually in a small area.

The large companies will typically be franchises. This means people start schools and then license the brand, materials and school structure of the parent company (e.g. EF English First). Although the schools have the same brand they’re all run by different people, often with little top down control.This makes it really difficult to evaluate the company because a bad experience at one branch has no bearing on the others.

Important stuff

  • They recruit all year round because they don’t have school terms.
  • They’ll pay the best, both in bonuses and salary (often 2000- 3000 RMB more than a public school).
  • They’ll work you the hardest. Teaching hours will go to 20+ and taking into account all the prep, you may end up doing a 40 hour work week at the largest places.
  • Smaller class sizes. Less than 15, often down in the single digits.
  • The hours will be more sporadic (evenings and weekends)

Unlike a public school, there’s virtually no regulation, so salary and benefits may change wildly from school to school.

The highest salaries (10,000 RMB and over) come at the large companies like EF English First, Wall Street English and so forth. (Although this will rarely include accommodation.)

One difference to be aware of is the atmosphere, unlike a public school, in a private language school parents have paid for their child to get good at something. It’s an implicit promise and one that can create some bad incentives.

No Regulation
Private language schools aren't regulated in China, so take your time finding a good one. We go over this in detail in finding a job.

Schools want the parents to be happy with their children’s progress, parents want their children to learn. The burden of this pressure can fall on you because an un-happy parent is less likely to spend money. Sometimes private language schools can fall into the trap of trying to keep the students happy at the expense of learning, which can be really frustrating for a teacher. The easiest way to feel out this sort of atmosphere at a school is going to be talking to teachers who are currently working there.

Primary & Secondary Schools (Public & Private)

These are more predictable than the private language schools. They’re regulated and with that comes relatively standardised working conditions. The salary is lower than the private schools, usually 5000 – 8000 RMB a month, but the working hours are also less.

Interview with Richelle
We interviewed the lovely Richelle from Adventures in Asia about her experiences teaching at public school in China. Part one talks about the problems she had getting there and settled and part two talks about what the teaching experience was like.

There are two semesters in China which run September to January and February/March to July.

Important Stuff

  • They recruit in seasons, usually a month or two before the semester begins.
  • Salaries are lower.
  • There are less hours than at private schools (14 – 24 hours a week)
  • Large class sizes, often 40 -50 or over.

Because they have terms, they also come with longer holidays as opposed to the private schools who’ll run all year around. Contracts will often be 10 months as opposed to twelve to avoid paying the teachers over the summer break if they don’t renew their contract.

Unlike the American system, public and private schools have their roles reversed, in China typically the public schools are more prestigious and the private schools less so.

This happens because well off children who are unable to get into the good public schools pay their way into private education.

Colleges & Universities (Public & Private)

These are share a lot in common with the public & private schools category above.

Again the prestige of public and private universities is switched, with public universities being the most highly regarded and private universities second best.

In 1995 China’s ministry of education began Project 211, which now represents most of the prestigious higher education institutions in China. There are currently 117 of them and you can find a full list of them on the Project 211 wikipedia page

Summer & Winter Camps

If you fancy something a little shorter then summer camps may be an option. Usually between 1 - 4 weeks they can pay up to 8000 RMB for the camp, (depending on the length) and tend to be quite intense.

You’ll usually get room and board, but end up paying for the plane tickets yourself, so if you’re not in the country already it’s unlikely you’ll make much money.

Work hours can be 20+ and you might be working 6 days a week. There are a lot of other activities and duties that tend to be present in summer camps, so you’ll probably end up being involved in things outside your teaching hours.

Because they’re so short, camps can be a great way to see if you enjoy teaching, the TEFL lifestyle and Chinese culture without having the full year commitment.

Business English Teaching

Businesses sometimes want to provide specific language lessons for their employees. If that's the case they might hire someone in house (although this is not as common as in places like Saudi Arabia), or they may outsource the position to a private language company.

The jobs have a lot of overlap with private language school positions, with larger salaries and more sporadic hours, although you’ll only be teaching adults and often for a specific purpose.

Private Teaching and Tutoring

For most people teaching privately in China will be illegal. That’s because in order to work legally you need a z visa, this requires an employer to sponsor you and forbids you from working for anyone else.

That said a large number of teachers in China do teach additional classes and give private lessons. The money is good (there's no middle man) and it’s common practice in China. It’s mostly for individuals although people may also work a number of side positions at different schools.

These jobs nearly always come from personal connections, as although classified boards are bombarded with adverts, nothing will beat the personal connection and word of mouth. (There’s not really much standardisation in the world of moonlighting which does make it a little difficult to provide information.)

The obvious risk with private tutoring is if your school finds you teaching privately and wants you to stop they can cause all sorts of problems. (Hopefully it's obvious but privately tutoring students in your class is a bad idea for this reason).

Image Attribution:

"009_20100901_bt_china" by Bill Taroli is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
"middle school class" by Rex Pe is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
"DisneyEnglish.jpg" by Runawaybrain is licensed under CC BY 3.0.
"find someone who:" by Rex Pe is licensed under CC BY 2.0.