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Prospective Foreign English Teacher Self-Assessment Tool

If you are thinking about teaching English in China, then this self-assessment questionnaire is for you. The assessment is divided into two scales: employee desirability and psychosocial adjustment. The first scale is designed to give you a good idea about how desirable or competitive you will be in the China foreign English teacher job market. The second scale is designed to gauge how relatively easy or difficult your adjustment will be to life in China.

Answer each question as honestly as you can and then click on the tabs below to score your results and then to learn about their meaning to you as a prospective foreign English teacher in China.

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Discussion: Employee Desirability

Native Speaker

In terms of employability in China as a foreign English teacher, this is perhaps the most important criterion. Although non-native and non-White speakers can find work with a great deal of persistence (especially if they are otherwise highly qualified and already in China), simply stated, it is not easy for them. In addition, there is a myriad of anecdotal evidence to suggest that teachers who are not White native speakers of English will be unsuccessful at competing for the most desirable positions and, in addition, will always be regarded as third-class foreign teachers in China—in the context of teaching oral English in China.

Non-White and non-native speakers who are teaching professional courses in other disciplines, e.g., a Pakistani physician who is teaching chemistry or pathology at a medical school for their foreign medical students, will generally not face discriminatory hiring practices or organizational and social devaluation (at least not openly or in the same way). For further discussion of this phenomenon in China, it is highly suggested that you read "Teaching English in China for Non-White, Non-Native Speakers."


Prospective teachers who hail from the "big five," i.e., U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, will be most sought after. Depending on the school, especially private English language schools, some will prefer North American speakers while others will favor those from England. Generally speaking, nationality won't matter very much (if at all) at public schools and universities. With the recent fad-like craze in SAT and TOEFL exam preparation courses, American applicants will have a distinct advantage at any school that is offering such programs, while candidates from England and Australia will have a hiring advantage at schools still offering IELTS exam preparation courses.

However, prospective teachers from South Africa do face some discrimination across China and will probably not be eligible for the most competitive positions. English teachers born into countries other than the big five and South Africa will face hiring discrimination.

Background (Ethnicity/Race)

Related to the issues of nationality and native vs. non-native speakers of English, is one of skin color. In China, foreign oral English teachers are hired as much for their appearance than anything else. One needs to "look the part" and the reality is, young, attractive, and White faces are best for business. Prospective teachers who are of Asian and Black descent will face many hiring obstacles, although many are successful in finding work if they are well qualified, persistent and, especially, if they are already in China and can appear for a personal interview.

Several years ago I was working at a key provincial university in the south of China. During the week of the May 1st national holiday (Chinese labor day), I spent a great deal of time at the beach and built up quite a dark tan (which I happen to think is attractive). When my boss saw me, after we had all returned from the week-long holiday, he became quite visibly agitated. He pulled me aside and make it abundantly clear—in no uncertain terms—that I was not to get any darker and he essentially ordered me to stay out of the sun... "or else" (my contract would not be renewed). For the following two to three weeks, I was the brunt of some rather crass and offensive "African jokes." In the context of being a foreign oral English teacher in China, it was made crystal clear to me that the tone of my skin was far more important to my continued employment at this university than my doctorate, 25 years of prior university teaching experience, or even the fact that I had consistently earned sterling teaching evaluations from my students for two years running. This is a true story.

For additional reading on the three aforementioned topics, see the section titled "Issues of Race and Nationality."


Prospective foreign English teachers who are in the 22- to 49-year old age group will have the easiest time finding jobs in China. There is a great deal of anecdotal evidence to suggest that teachers in the 18- to 21-year old age group are being denied work (Z-) visas across China. However, they can and often will find work if they are already in China and can appear for a personal interview, especially at those schools that do not require a bachelor's degree.

Prospective English teachers who are in the 50- to 54-year old age group are still readily employable in China but may lose out to younger candidates especially at private English language schools. Generally speaking, middle-aged teachers will not face any hiring obstacles at universities and may even be preferred over the younger candidates.

However, foreign teachers over the age of 54 will face hiring discrimination (ageism) at private English language schools and even at some universities. Some provinces are enforcing the "60-year old age restriction," while most do not. Even in provinces that enforce age restrictions, the guideline is easily bypassed if the school really wants the teacher and has sufficient guanxi (relationships) with the proper authorities. In some cases, teachers—who are well into their sixties and even seventies—will be hired as part-time teachers (as a matter of record) but will receive a full-time salary. In such instances, the teachers will have to make private arrangements for their residency permits. Those who are married to Chinese nationals or own property in China will generally not have any difficulty finding a way to legally stay in the country.


Primarily for display or cosmetic purposes (in the context of teaching oral English), the higher the degree, the more competitive the foreign teacher will be when seeking employment in China.

This is not to suggest that foreigners with less than a bachelor's degree cannot find employment as English teachers in China: They can, especially (if not exclusively) at private English language schools. However, it is far less challenging and costly to the school to process the paperwork for those who meet the minimum guidelines set forth by the SAFEA (a bachelor's degree and two years of related work experience).

As most private schools only prefer—as opposed to require—a bachelor's degree, it is terribly unwise to apply to schools with fake, life experience, or "Photoshopped" degrees. If you obtain a position under false pretenses with a school that requires a degree, you face deportation (at the very least) if you are found out. There are still enough private English schools in China willing to hire English teachers without degrees, so this option should never be deployed. More and more schools and universities in China are discovering the plethora of online international agencies offering background checks and many will quietly check your credentials after you have been hired.

In regard to teachers with master's and doctoral degrees, there is something of a Catch-22 or paradox involved in regard to employment. Upon initial hiring, these oral English teachers are the most competitive but a great deal of anecdotal evidence suggests that they also face the greatest challenges in terms of contract renewals because they were typically brought in at a higher salary and better package than their less educated counterparts. In China, the better your conditions are when you are hired (relative to others), the harder it is to maintain them over time. At the very least, there will be renewed attempts at extracting more and more work out of you over each successive year. For a thorough discussion of this phenomenon, see the unit on contract renewal.

Field-related Degrees

Depending on the position being sought, holding a degree in education, linguistics, or a related field can be a big hiring advantage, especially at the university level and particularly if the teacher is being asked to teach classes other than oral English, e.g., reading, writing, and Western literature. Subsequently, and as a rule, field-related degrees carry less weight at private English language schools as they offer no practical advantage in regard to teaching oral English unless they also coincide with actual teaching experience (see below).

Teaching Experience

Candidates with teaching experience will always be more competitive in China than those who have never taught before, although this advantage varies considerably in weight depending on both the nature of the experience and the position being sought.

Most private English language schools are far more concerned with a candidate's ability to adjust to life in China than they are with actual credentials. A 55-year old university professor with 20 years of teaching experience in the MBA program at Harvard University—who has never travelled abroad—will be, overall, less desirable to a private English language school than a 28-year old gregarious, amicable, and pretty EFL teacher with four years of successful teaching experience at a similar school in China. So although teaching experience is important, what is more important is that the experience is applicable and relevant to the job being sought. If you are an experienced educator but the experience is incongruent with the position you are applying for, you will need to address this in your cover letter.

Primary/Secondary School Certification

Holding certification or licensure as a primary or secondary school teacher in one's native country is a big hiring advantage in regard to private English language schools and, more so, in terms of employment eligibility at international schools in China where the salaries are often comparable to and even better than what one can earn back home.

Aside from actually having successfully taught in China, prospective English teachers with a proven track record in their native countries will certainly be more competitive when applying for jobs—all other things equal. As the Chinese are credential hounds, holding state or national certification as a primary or secondary school teacher is impressive to them and settles the question as to the legitimacy of your degrees, the appropriateness of your background, and your ability to teach.

EFL/ESL Certification

All other things equal, TEFL certification can be very helpful when applying for one's first position in China, especially in the absence of any prior teaching experience and particularly for those who don't possess a bachelor's degree. Aside from its hiring value, prospective English teachers who do not have any prior teaching experience will benefit greatly from the orientation to EFL teaching that these typically four-week programs offer. However, the hiring advantage of a TEFL certificate diminishes rapidly if one has teaching experience or an advanced degree: In such an instance, the absence of it won't matter and possessing it will only provide a very small (and unnecessary) hiring advantage.

Applying Conjointly with Spouse/Significant Other

Whether applying to a private English school or a university, doing so conjointly with a spouse or significant other will provide a distinct advantage strictly from a business perspective. Getting two teachers for the cost of one apartment is a proposition that most Chinese employers simply cannot pass up.

However, having just written this, it should also be pointed out that a joint application can conceivably work against the teachers if the person doing the hiring is a Westerner. Many Western directors of studies and school managers are reluctant to hire couples because they fear that if there is a problem with one, they will potentially find themselves in the very unpleasant position of having to replace two teachers instead of the one. Nevertheless, most Chinese employers seem to overlook this potential problem and will jump at the opportunity. Barring certain private schools that employ Western managers, applying as a couple will usually provide a big hiring advantage.

Recommended reading in the guide.


About Us

Middle Kingdom Life is the premier award-winning educational website for foreign teachers and Western expats in China. It was founded by an American professor in psychology and sociology for the purpose of disseminating valid and reliable information about living and teaching in China. The site's mission is to protect and enhance the interests and social welfare of foreign teachers and Western expats in China.

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