This week our guest blog comes from Nick Dahlhoff, who has been teaching primary school English in Beijing for the past 2.5 years – and who has no plans of leaving China anytime soon!
Here, Nick shares his top tips on what to look out for when finding the perfect teaching role in China, and why salary isn’t the only factor to consider…
As you start looking for a teaching job in China, one thing you’ll find is that there’s no shortage of opportunities. In fact, you’ll likely become overwhelmed by the sheer number of options you have.
It’s easy to try to simplify your search process by simply looking for the position with the highest salary. Don’t fall into this trap!
While salary is obviously important, it’s only one piece in a total package. There are lots of other factors to consider. We’ll get more into these other factors soon, but first, it’s important to really think about what your priorities are.
The ideal job for one person could be a nightmare position for the next.
What Are Your Priorities?
Not unexpectedly, teachers in China can have vastly different priorities which will shape their opinion on which position is best.
How much free time are you hoping to have?
We all want free time to spend with friends, travel, study Mandarin, or whatever else you enjoy doing. Are you okay working 40+ hour weeks? Or would you prefer something more laid back, perhaps 20 hours or so a week?
Of course, jobs with lower working hours tend to pay less than busier jobs. This is a situation where you need to ask yourself which is more important to you, earning more money or having more free time.
Are you hoping to travel a lot?
While pretty much any job you take in China will give you opportunities to travel throughout Asia, some positions will be more suitable than others. If you get paid summer and winter vacations, you’ll find yourself with long stretches of time that makes sense to travel. Some jobs may only include a few weeks per year of non-holiday vacation time. That’s still enough for some people, but those who are hoping to travel as much as possible would be better off looking for a job with more vacation.
Are you trying to save as much money as possible?
The possibility to save a lot of money is a big driving factor for a lot of people looking into teaching in China. You can really save a bunch of money here. If this is your priority, the vacation time and working hours may be less important to you. You could happily accept positions that the travel-focused teacher should avoid.
What kind of a teacher do you want to be?
You’re going to be spending a lot of time in the classroom. You should consider what you want this experience to be like. There’s a lot more to this than just thinking about the grade you want to teach – which can be a tough decision too!
I’ll give you an example, for the first year and a half, I taught in a public school where I taught three different grades. I had 18 different classes and saw each class only one time per week – that’s over 400 students. While there were many things I enjoyed about that position, one major drawback was that it was impossible to form close relationships with any of my students.
Comparing that with the school I taught at last year, where I had the same 40 students all year long and would see them every day. Both times I was teaching elementary age students, but the experience was completely different.
Is career progression important to you?
If you’re just coming to teach for a year or two then the type of job you get won’t have too much impact on your career progression back home. But, if you’re thinking of teaching in China long-term, some positions will help open up doors much more than others.
It’s extremely easy to find a good job teaching in China, but some of the best schools are highly competitive. These schools can pay extremely well and have a great working environment, but they’re highly selective in the teachers they’ll accept.
If you’ve been in a position that hasn’t required any growth or development of your teaching skills, it’s unlikely that they’d consider you.
Like any career, you should spend some time thinking about where you see yourself in 5, 10, or 20 years.
Things To Pay Attention To When Looking At Job Offers
Hopefully, now that you’ve thought a bit more about your priorities, you’ll have a better idea of what you’re looking for in a teaching position. Let’s now look at some things you should pay attention to when deciding whether or not to accept a position.
Salary – Yep, salary is still really important. It’s easy to look at salary as the #1 most important thing, and often times it will be, but you should remember to look at the total package for any position and not this number alone. Also, make note of whether the salary listed is pre or post-tax.
Housing – Housing prices in major cities can be very high. Whether or not housing is included could make a major difference in deciding to accept or turn down an offer. That’s not to say you should only consider jobs that offer housing. Sometimes, a higher salary will be given that helps offset the house not being provided. Some people, myself included, would prefer to find their own housing rather than end up living in whatever housing the school happens to have available for their teachers.
Location – Location of the school and apartment is extremely important. I know one teacher whose school-provided apartment was nearly two hours away from the school he was teaching at. That’s an extreme case, but it’s worth making sure everything is within a close proximity. Not only that, but you should consider how close to the city center you want to be. Will you be going out a lot at nights or would you prefer somewhere a little quieter? Is public transportation nearby? All of these things can easily be overlooked but will have a big impact on how much you enjoy your time in China.
Vacation – One of the best parts of being a teacher is the long vacations. Kindergartens and training centers often won’t have as much time off and that’s worth taking into account. Similarly, lots of schools may only pay the summer holiday if you continue there the next year or only pay half salary during the vacation period. These things are worth looking at before signing a contract. You don’t want to be surprised later on.
Teaching and office hours – Teaching is a great job, but it can also be exhausting. While 25 teaching hours per week may not sound like a lot, it actually is, especially if you have other duties included. In a previous job, I was a 1st-grade homeroom teacher. In a typical week I only had 18, 40-minute classes. Sounds pretty easy right? One thing I didn’t consider was the amount of time I’d actually be with the students – walking them to classes, break time, waiting for parents to pick them up, assemblies, and other extras. When I did the math, I was actually spending over 30 hours per week with my students. And while I had fun with them, 1st graders require a lot of energy.
Another thing to consider is the office hours. Will these be free for you to plan, or will the school have other things for you to do? In fact, is there much planning for you to do, or are the lessons already planned out ahead of time? While less common, some schools don’t actually require you to be there during office hours. This can be a huge benefit.
There’s no doubt that salary is a major factor in deciding which position to accept, but it’s only one piece of the total package.
Remember your priorities, whether that’s traveling, studying Chinese, having free time, building a career, or something completely different.
The ideal teaching position is a completely subjective thing. The perfect job for you might be one someone else really dislikes, or vice versa. Take into account your priorities and the total package that a job provides.
Coming to China to teach isn’t an easy choice but it’s something I highly recommend. I have had a wonderful experience here and am extremely grateful for the opportunity.