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Softest Landing in China

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Section I: Teaching English in China continued—Teaching Employment

How to Approach Your Job Search

WARNING: An EFL website's acceptance of an advertisement does NOT constitute an endorsement of that school's credibility or legitimacy.

The best way to approach your job search is to first determine the desired location and then the school type (see units on Teaching Locations and School Types) as the type of school you are interested in teaching for will greatly influence the timing of your job hunt.

As a rule, public schools and universities hire foreign teachers on 10-month contracts commencing sometime in late August, which means they start reviewing applications during the preceding March and April of that academic year (see China’s Educational System for more information). If you are interested in working for a government school or university, your application should reach them about a week or two following the commencement of the spring semester (sometime in February or March, and certainly no later than early April, depending on the lunar calendar). Although a few universities do post advertisements on EFL job websites, most do not, so you will have to be proactive in finding listings and contact information for universities that hire foreign English teachers. Please check our EFL Teacher Resources page for a listing of EFL websites that provide such information.

Although many private English language schools are organized across the same two-semester system that public schools adhere to, just as many do hire foreign English teachers all year round, especially those that have very successful adult and corporate training departments.

However, you need to carefully consider that although a private school can provide you with the flexibility to start teaching in China at just about any time during the year you care to, doing so can be extremely self-limiting in terms of future employment. That is, if your six-month or one-year contract anniversary date falls after or significantly before August or February, you will either have to continue to work at private language schools for as long as you are in China or face the extremely troublesome necessity of having to break your contract and pay a considerable breach penalty in order to later seek employment at a public school or university (assuming the private school even agrees to let you go on good terms and most will not). Consequently, if you are a qualified foreign teacher, i.e., you have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and two years of teaching experience, you should coordinate your commencement date at a private school so that it corresponds closely to the academic calendar followed by the public school system.

Any China recruitment agency or EFL website that refers to itself as "official," e.g., Official EFL Website or "government-approved" is engaging in fraud...

We are aware of at least two highly qualified foreign teachers with advanced degrees who had no choice but to pull a “midnight runner” (leave suddenly and unannounced) in order to break free from the grasp of unscrupulous private English schools that simply refused to let them leave even six weeks earlier in order to start employment at a university. However, if you are only interested in short-term teaching employment in China, or otherwise not competitive for a teaching position at a government school or university, then this caveat doesn’t apply to you.

Exercise Extreme Caution When Choosing Your First School

By far, most people find English teaching jobs in China by reading and responding to advertisements posted on TEFL websites on the Internet. Please bear in mind, though, that acceptance of an advertisement should never be construed as an endorsement of the credibility of that employer by that website: Ads are accepted strictly because they generate income for the website owner and not necessarily because the employer is reputable (even when there is strong anecdotal evidence that, in fact, the employer is not reputable). Job advertisements are a very profitable business for China EFL websites, not a foreign teacher public service.

Although many foreigners do have rewarding experiences teaching English in China, there are more than a few teachers who have suffered horrendous ordeals. Due to the vast differences in culture, and no less so to the enormous language barrier, it is absolutely imperative you exercise extreme caution when choosing your first school in China. The reason for this is that a newcomer—who is still disoriented from his long trip with no Chinese language skills or knowledge of the local laws and customs—is entirely at the mercy of that school's integrity and legitimacy. In essence, one becomes either supported and protected or, conversely, desperately entrapped and menaced by whatever circumstances he or she just happens to encounter at that first position.

Limitations of Western Embassies and Consulates

As a rule, foreign consulates in China cannot get directly involved in contract as well as other civil disputes. Aside from providing common citizen services such as renewing passports or providing official documents (such as those required for marriage), your consulate will not be able to intervene in employment disputes, despite what many foreigners who have never traveled before tend to think.

Keep in mind that if and when you do call your consulate in any city in China, you will not be initially speaking with a fellow native but, rather, with a Chinese clerk who has received training in fielding and answering the majority of questions callers typically have.

Beware of Wolves in Sheep's Clothing (Warning About Recruiters)

Sleazy Recruiter

Another method for finding employment in China is to seek the services of a recruiter. Although a few people have reported favorable outcomes through recruitment agencies, the vast majority have reported horrific experiences including outright fraud and last minute changes in location, teaching assignments, and salaries (after arriving in China). Consequently, using a recruiter or recruitment agency is highly ill-advised unless you have it on excellent authority (from a personal friend or colleague) that the recruiter or agency in question is entirely trustworthy.

For starters, you need to appreciate that the school, not you, is the recruiter's client: You are just a commodity in this transaction. Second, there is no such thing as an “official” recruitment agency in China. There is both a business and recruitment license required for agencies to legally recruit foreign experts but there is absolutely no agency in China that can honestly tout itself—or any of the items being sold on its website—as “official," although in fact many do. The oldest recruitment agency in China, founded in 1954, is and it is the only one specifically recommended and linked to by the State Administration of Foreign Expert Affairs (SAFEA). For 30 years they were the only recruitment agency in China. Now there are hundreds upon hundreds of such agencies, many claiming to be “official” or “government approved.” Any China recruitment agency or EFL website that refers to itself as "official," e.g., Official EFL Website or "government-approved" is engaging in fraud, owned and run by unethical people, and should most definitely be avoided. Reputable people in the China EFL industry do not refer to themselves as official or government-approved.

Barring special "all-in-one" cultural exchange programs that offer certification training in addition to job placement (see sub-heading below), a reputable recruitment agency will never charge the teacher a fee at anytime. If an agency or recruiter asks you for money at any point in the process, you need to cease all communication with that recruiter immediately.

Legitimate agencies and individual recruiters clearly identify themselves as recruitment agencies upfront while non-reputable agencies and individuals will attempt to deceive prospective teachers by using official sounding or academic types of names that suggest they are educational facilities, "not-for-profit" organizations, or even government agencies, e.g., East China Research Academy, International Cultural Cooperative, and Harbin Institute for Foreign Studies, etc. (by the way, these are not real names but fictitious examples).

In addition, legitimate agencies respect and adhere to the advisory guidelines set forth by the SAFEA, which include a bachelor’s degree and two years of work experience (without shoving volumes of meaningless laws down your throat in an attempt at appearing "official"). If you find an agency that specifically claims to specialize in placing foreigners who do not meet these basic guidelines, that could suggest that you are dealing with an illegitimate agency and you might be headed for a lot of heartache. The reason for this is that recruiters know that the less qualified a teacher is, the fewer employment options he or she will have and, therefore, the teacher is less likely to complain or run when confronted with an abusive situation. Although provinces and municipalities are free to adopt their own set of rules regarding the hiring of foreign experts, most government officials do consider the possession of a bachelor’s degree and two years of work experience to be the de facto, if not de jure, set of minimum requirements. Schools may petition the local foreign expert bureau for special dispensation to hire foreign experts who do not meet the minimum requirements that have been officially adopted by the local or provincial government agencies.

Reputable agencies are simply acting as brokers, such that your actual contract will be with the school itself and not with the agency. However, non-reputable agencies will attempt to solicit foreigners on behalf of schools that are not licensed by the SAFEA to hire foreign experts by either: 1) attempting to convince the teacher that it is perfectly legal to enter China on a tourist or business visa with which to begin employment or; 2) by using a third-party’s license number with which to process the foreign expert work certificate and letter of invitation (also referred to as the "Official Invitation Notice" or "Visa Notification" as of summer 2009). Unless you have excellent reason to trust the source, it is unwise and potentially risky to enter China for the purpose of earning income on anything other than a Z-visa (see the next chapter The Z-visa Debate).

Finally, if you have used a recruitment agency to obtain a job, be absolutely certain to verify that the name of the hiring institution that is listed on the letter of invitation (visa notification) is the same school that you have been promised. Many agencies will even attempt to sign you up as an employee of the agency itself and will then sub-contract you out to the highest bidder each week or month: This is most definitely a situation you want to avoid at all costs.

Another rather interesting and creative ruse engaged in by several individual Western recruiters is to obtain a foreign expert recruiter’s license under the name of a privately owned “not-for-profit” foreign or cultural exchange "organization," i.e., an organization of one. Of all the questionable tactics engaged in by recruiters in China, this is probably the lowest and most deplorable because it is deliberately the most misleading and disarming. That is, the “not-for-profit organization" status is intended to create the impression that the single owner of the organization, i.e., the president, is recruiting teachers as a public service and is acting without bias in the best interests of the foreigner. In fact, these sole proprietors earn anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 yuan per teacher. Recruiters employing this mendacious ploy should be avoided like the plague because: 1) They are clearly being dishonest in how they represent themselves, and; 2) They are usually working for a very small group of schools (sometimes just one) and, therefore, will deliberately steer you away from far better opportunities in the same municipality.

You need to know that many (if not most) recruiters in China commonly use a “bait and switch” tactic of mass mailing advertisements to anonymous e-mail recipients—through several TEFL sites they have subscribed to—that describe very promising positions with unusually high salaries. Of course, once the recruiter is in possession of the recipient’s real name, e-mail address, and application materials, these positions never seem to be available (the teacher is informed that either the school just withdrew the position or that it’s already been filled). The applicant is then offered a much lower-paying and far less desirable position in exchange for the promise that he or she will be given priority the next time a better position comes along, but, of course, it never does. One of the most frequently cited offenders of this unethical tactic, as well as perpetrator of other egregious acts of exploiting foreign teachers with abusive employment arrangements and inadequate housing, was the Beijing Epoch recruitment agency owned and operated by a Leslie Dong (she apparently modified her business name in the summer of 2009). Unfortunately, she is not alone in her flagrant and infamous exploitation of foreign teachers and, therefore, it is safest to avoid any recruiter or agency that has attempted to contact you through unsolicited and anonymous bulk e-mailing, particularly because once the word is out and business falls off, the agency simply changes its name and e-mail address (and individual recruiters will simply adopt a new Western name) .

The strongest case for using recruitment agencies can probably be made for those teachers who are having enormous difficulties finding work on their own due to the fact they are not White native speakers or under the age of 60. For such teachers, using a recruiter makes sense because they are allowing the agency to engage in all the pre-screening leg work instead of wasting their time sending out one application after another only to have them discarded out of hand. For everyone else, especially for those who are highly qualified, using a recruiter is entirely unnecessary and should be avoided.

All-in-One Cultural Exchange Programs

Finally, there are several "all-in-one" types of genuine and long-standing not-for-profit cultural exchange programs—most of which are based in the United States and often affiliated with universities—that provide screening of both candidates and schools, training (leading to TESL or TEFL certification), orientation, Chinese lessons, and guaranteed job placement for fees ranging anywhere from $1,000 to as much as $3,500 per person. For those who are capable of conducting their own due diligence (with the help of this Guide) or feel that TEFL certification would not provide them with any distinct hiring or vocational advantage, e.g., in the case of a career educator, these comprehensive orientation-training-placement programs will not be worth the considerable expense. However, and on the other hand, they may be ideal solutions for those who will definitely seek TEFL certification prior to applying for jobs and want to maximize their chances of working for reputable schools only. Unlike other recruiters and agencies, these types of programs are accountable to their teachers after they are placed. Three examples of such programs—that were simply gleaned off the Internet and are listed here for informational purposes only—are the China Colorado Council, Appalachians Abroad Teach in China (sponsored by Marshall University in West Virginia), and the U.S. Chinese Culture Center.

Unfortunately, the very best teaching jobs are rarely advertised because they are filled through word of mouth and by personal referrals from teachers already employed at and known to the school or university. In addition, competitive positions located in the three most developed cities in China (Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou) almost always require a personal interview. The schools can insist upon this as a prerequisite to employment because these three cities house the largest number of foreign teachers—which is to say, the best teaching positions are typically available only to those who are already living and working in one of these cities and can appear for an interview on demand.

Please visit our page on China EFL Teacher Resources for a listing of websites that advertise TEFL positions.

How to Apply for a Job (to maximize your chances of being contacted)

Once you've found a few job advertisements you are interested in, you'll need to formally apply for the positions by sending e-mail correspondence. To maximize your chances of receiving a response, your application should contain all the attachments and suggested information discussed below.

All scanned digital copies should be in jpeg (jpg) or gif format only. Do not embed copies of your degrees and photos inside Word, Powerpoint or other types of documents or include links to online copies of them. Keep the image size the same as the original but be sure to reduce the file's resolution to no more than 100 pixels. This will reduce the size of your documents considerably so that it will take far less time for you to send them as well as for the employer to receive them. If you don't have a graphic editing program such as Photoshop, you can use anyone of several free resizing utilities available on the Internet. Your résumé should be submitted as a Microsoft Word document, version 2003 (or below) or, in the alternative, as a PDF file. If you don't have the full version of Adobe Acrobat, you can use a free conversion utility called PDFCreator. The advantage to converting your Word to a PDF file is that it will look the same regardless of which system fonts the recipient may or may not have installed. Related, limit your use of fonts to those included in a standard installation of Microsoft Word only (unless you are able to convert the entire document into a PDF file).

The following advice is predicated on the understanding that you are sending your documents directly to a school or business domain address, e.g., This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Do not send personal documents to public e-mail addresses, e.g., This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it UNLESS you can verify that the e-mail address does belong to a legitimate school owner or FAO, e.g., the public e-mail address is listed on the school's website.

The following is a list of items you should absolutely include in your application with advice about how to approach the cover letter.

  1. A digital copy of your valid passport with at least six months validity from the date of expiration.

    You will need to make a digital (scanned) copy of your passport cover page that shows your photo, place of birth and age. Unless you currently have a valid passport, no school will even consider you as a serious candidate because: 1) they have no way of knowing if, in fact, you will ever be able to obtain a passport and; 2) they use it to verify nationality and age.

  2. A current and professional-looking résumé or curriculum vitae.

    If you don’t already have a résumé or CV, you will need to create one. It must include dates of attendance and completion for all incurred experience and degrees earned, respectively. Many older foreign teachers will attempt to obfuscate their age by omitting dates that could be used to calculate their approximate age. This is rather pointless as your age will be verified against a digital copy of your passport and if that is not sent along with your résumé, your application will not be considered.

    Be clear, direct and, perfectly honest about your credentials and qualifications. Don't count on cultural differences and the language barrier to veil your attempt at masquerading, for example, vocational certificates, real estate, stock broker and business licenses, years of in-house training, or memberships in business organizations, chambers of commerce and trade associations as formal tertiary education or accredited academic degrees (poor spoken English is not tantamount to stupidity and, in many private schools, the directors of studies and managers are in fact foreigners). Keep in mind that the Chinese, more so than any other nationality perhaps, are keenly aware of and sensitive to the status and rank of academic institutions not only in China but around the world. Virtually every Chinese high school student you meet can rattle off the names of the eight Ivy League schools in the states as if their names were required curriculum (even if they can’t otherwise speak another word of English). If the possession of a real degree from an accredited university is important to the schools you are applying to and the FAOs cannot recognize the name of the academic institution or the titles of the credentials you are calling upon to qualify you, they will simply use the Internet to investigate them—and they won't appreciate the effort if it was all for naught.

    A functional résumé (one that organizes your experience primarily by skill, role or function) tends to be more effective in China than those organized solely in reverse chronological order because it allows the employer to easily pinpoint and clearly identify your qualifying experience at a glance. For an example of a functional résumé (that also incorporates the chronological format) we consider to be highly effective, please click on the link and feel free to use it as a guide for writing your own.

    When writing (or rewriting) your résumé, keep it focused on those skills or experience that presumably qualify you for a teaching position (if at all possible). Older applicants should feel free to eliminate years of experience that have no relevance to teaching or training whatsoever (unless there isn’t anything else to list). Carefully review the caliber of the English to ascertain that it is both relatively simple and concise. Avoid the use of idioms, slang, professional argot, and highly technical words or phrases.

  3. Copies of your highest degree and teaching certificates.

    Be certain to include digital copies of your highest degree earned as well as any acquired teaching certificates, such as TEFL. If your original transcripts are available, it would also be a good idea to include those as well, as very few applicants do and they serve to validate the authenticity of the degree.

  4. A recent photo.

    If you don’t have a professional-looking photo that flatters you, you should have one made. Do not send casual pictures of yourself at a park or beach, or ones in which you are playing with the dog or feeding the kids (you'd be amazed just how many people actually do precisely this). Put on a suit or dress and find a relatively inexpensive photo studio (or, in the alternative, passport photos are just fine for this purpose and you will need them for your visa application anyway).

  5. Names of Two Work References (or, even better, digital copies of signed letters of recommendation from former and current employers) to be included in the cover letter.

    Although not every employer will specifically ask you for work references, it makes your application far more competitive if you volunteer them. At the very least, in the absence of two letters in hand, you should include the names and e-mail addresses of one current and one former employer.

  6. Cover letter.

    The "cover letter" does not need to be attached as a separate document but should be included as the message content of your e-mail. You need to keep this short, simple, and to the point. Do not repeat what’s already been included in your attached résumé and do not use the cover letter as an opportunity to market other skills you may have. There is no point in boldly pronouncing how helpful you know you can be in redesigning the school’s curriculum, rebuilding their website, training staff, marketing the school, or helping them start a franchise when what they are really looking for is an oral English teacher. Not only does this not help your application, it often works against you as it appears you’d like to do anything else but teach. In this particular instance, more is definitely not better. It is enough to simply list any additional skills or talents you think might be desirable in your résumé and leave it at that. If the school has an interest in or a particular need for those additional skills, you can rest assured that they will most certainly question you about them.

    Do include dates of availability and do make mention of any “Asian experiences” you might have had in the past. Briefly state why you believe you are a good teacher and summarize any notable successes that you have had, especially in China. If you have no prior teaching experience (either back home or in China) or if your teaching experience is limited to an entirely different student population (e.g., in the instance of a retired college professor with no experience teaching in a foreign country or a foreign teacher with only university teaching experience in China who is applying to a private English language school that only teaches kids) then you absolutely need to address how it is you believe you are qualified to teach at all or, in the latter case, an entirely different population of students than you are accustomed to. Many schools actually do concern themselves with this question especially if they are seeking more than just an attractive White face. One such applicant went on for three long paragraphs in his cover letter about his PhD in business administration and, in major detail, his more than 25 years experience as a Fortune 500 company consultant and professor of marketing without ever once mentioning how he personally thought his education and experience might have possibly prepared him for teaching the New Super Kids language series to a bunch of seven- and eight-year old Chinese primary school students. If you are either blatantly over-qualified or "mis-qualified" (or both) for a teaching position, you need to specifically address how it is you think you would be appropriate for that position and why you decided to apply. If you approach your applications from the mindset that none of the aforementioned matters because all that employers in China are really looking for is an attractive White face, preferably with a degree, then those are the only positions you will ever receive replies from.

    If you are married or otherwise coupled and your partner will be moving with you, you should especially make mention of that fact from the very beginning, even if he or she has no intention of ever teaching. There are two reasons for this. First, married teachers or those in committed relationships are perceived as far more stable and reliable than those who are single. Second, the hope will be that eventually your partner may warm up to the idea of teaching at some point in the future and two teachers for the price of one apartment is a very enticing proposition for most prospective employers. Foreign couples who apply conjointly have a much better chance of being contacted than single applicants for precisely these reasons.

    In addition, and this should go without saying, make absolutely certain there are no spelling or grammatical errors in your cover letter or résumé. Despite their relatively poor speaking and listening skills, the Chinese have spent up to 12 years learning English almost exclusively by memorizing rules of grammar and long lists of vocabulary words and so they can spot errors in grammar and spelling a mile away. Such errors would automatically eliminate your candidacy if the position is a highly competitive one or if the school is looking for more than just a native speaker of English. Always use a word processing program with a "spell checker" to write the cover letter first and then copy and paste the content into the body of the e-mail only after you are convinced that your spelling and grammar are perfectly correct.

    Click the following link for an example of what we consider to be a simple yet effective cover letter. In addition, we've attached a job application organizer that you might find useful for keeping track of your applications and school correspondence.

How NOT to Apply for a Job Teaching English in China

Schools advertising extremely competitive positions in highly desirable locations will probably receive well over 100 applications over the course of a single 30-day ad placed on a busy EFL job website.

If you want to be seriously considered for a highly competitive EFL position in China, the following is a list of what you should definitely not do. Each point, below, has been derived directly from actual teacher correspondence based on a recent pool of EFL job applications.

  1. First and foremost, do NOT withhold or fail to send all requested information and supporting documents.

    Approximately 35 percent of all job applicants actually do precisely this and it is the number one reason they never hear back from the employer. If the school has gone through the trouble of listing exactly what they want before they will even consider your application, then either provide it to them or don't bother to apply at all. If you don't have all the requested documents, then collect them before you apply.

    Some foreign teachers are reticent, for one reason or another, to send the cover page of their passports. The reality is, in China, the passport cover page is the very first document the employer will look at: It verifies current nationality, specific place of birth, and age. If you omit the cover page of your passport, the chances are great that your entire application will be sent to the trash folder. However, you should only send personal documents to legitimate school and business domain name addresses. NEVER send personal documents to public e-mail addresses, e.g., This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

    Having verified that the applicant is a native speaker and "the right age" (and that varies considerably depending on school type, position, and location), the next document that will be opened is the recent photo. Assuming you look the part (that is, you look White enough), then, and only then, will most Chinese employers even look at your résumé. Personally, I don't recommend attaching candid casual photos of yourself that were taken while you were giving the baby a bath in the kitchen sink or that were taken at the beach or park. Although these could be perceived as indications of "friendliness" (or that you love kids), they could also suggest too much of a casual attitude or disrespect, depending entirely on the sensibilities of the individual employer. Generally speaking, passport photos (head shots) taken in business attire are best for this purpose.

  2. Do NOT throw away your only chance at making a good first impression by asking for pre-application assurances.

    Using your initial correspondence to ask if you should really apply for the position is complete waste of the employer's time as well as yours, e.g., "I don't have a degree yet because I had to drop out of college when my father got sick. Your ad says that you want a degree... is that really true? Should I bother to apply anyway? I don't want to waste your time or mine so I'm waiting for your answer."

    As it is true that many employers in China do regard a degree as far more of a preference than a strict requirement, apply for the job if you are interested in it and then address in the cover letter why you think you can still be a valuable teacher even though you don't currently have a degree—just don't be shocked, annoyed or discouraged if the school doesn't reply.

  3. Do NOT send "teaser" or lead-in e-mails.

    "I am a highly qualified EFL teacher with five years of award-winning teaching experience in China. I have a degree and a TEFL certificate and I've worked with all age groups. I can provide sterling letters of recommendation. If you are interested, please contact me at your earliest convenience and I'll send you my information."

    If you are genuinely interested in the posted position, then just apply for it outright. How much additional time does it take to attach the few documents that have been requested? This approach just leads to a lost opportunity in most cases.

  4. Do NOT make preliminary contingency demands in the first e-mail contact.

    "I'll consider applying if you can guarantee a minimum salary of 8,000 RMB per month and an apartment within one block of the main branch."

    One such "pre-applicant" actually sent a checklist of conditions and indicated that he would only apply for the position if and when his checklist was completed and returned to him. His e-mail was promptly deleted by the school's owner.

    If the advertised job sounds good to you, then apply for it unconditionally at first and explore details later. It doesn't make any sense at all to start listing demands until after the school has expressed an interest. Most advertisements specify a salary range. Indicating in your initial e-mail that you will only be interested in the position if you are offered a salary at the very top of the range (or, in one case, a salary greater than the posted maximum) is the same as asking that your application be discarded.

  5. Related, do NOT use your first e-mail contact to ask for additional preliminary information before actually applying.

    "I am thinking about teaching in the northeast of China because I'd like to improve my Chinese language skills. Can you give me some idea about what living in Shenyang is really like and if you think I would enjoy it? I heard there are serious problems with air pollution there, is that really true?"

    Reputable and busy employers, with over 100 e-mail applications in their inboxes to sort through, are simply not going to take the time to attempt to sell you on their school or location or provide you with preliminary information you can easily glean off the Internet on your own accord. This is the type of information you should be requesting of other teachers at the school after the prospective employer has expressed a clear interest in you. Of course, and with tongue-in-cheek, one could use this as a very effective tactic for ruling out non-reputable and desperate schools. That is, if the school actually responds to this type of request for preliminary information, run—don't walk—away from the school as fast as you can.

    In addition, it is probably not a good idea to advise the prospective employer that your primary interest in considering the position is so that you can improve your Chinese language skills, move closer to your girlfriend, have time to finish an online degree or novel, or—in one case—that you're interested in the school's location because it's where you would like to retire in six months (certainly not when the school has indicated a one-year contractual commitment).

  6. Do NOT convey ambivalence or appear coy in the first e-mail contact.

    "As you can see from my CV, I am the DOS of a major school franchise in China and I couldn't be happier with my current position and my wife and kids are extremely comfortable here. But, I don't think it can hurt to explore other possibilities and maybe this could lead to an ongoing dialogue and more."

    Although this is probably intended to set the stage for future negotiations, it is entirely inappropriate and self-defeating to inform a prospective employer that you are not particularly interested in the position you have just applied for. If you are that content with your current job then, by all means, keep it and don't waste the prospective employer's time. In the end, this comes across as terribly mendacious and even somewhat foolish. Obviously, you wouldn't be inquiring about a new position if you had found heaven on earth where you are now. Related, and especially in China, informing a prospective employer about how wonderful you think conditions are at your present school is probably not the most effective way to get short-listed.

    If in fact you are just curious about the ad and are not particularly interested in leaving your current position, then find some other way of satisfying your curiosity about the job and only contact the employer if and when you have decided to apply with full intent. All this approach achieves is the loss of a possible job lead in the future.

Communicating with Current and Former Teachers

Once a school has expressed an interest in you, you absolutely and positively need to request the names and e-mail addresses of at least one current foreign teacher and, preferably, one former teacher as well. Keep in mind, however, that no school is going to give you the name and contact information of any teacher who left under unpleasant circumstances. However, it is an entirely reasonable (and necessary) request and if the school balks at all or delays considerably in supplying you with the name of at least one current teacher, you should be terribly concerned. My advice would then be to run, not walk, away from the offer as quickly as you can.

Before contacting the school's former or current teachers, prepare a list of questions or concerns that are particularly important to you or first consult with our summary checklist (included in the appendices). Be sure to specifically question everything and anything that could be a significant issue to you. Ask the teacher about the quality of the housing (especially the type of mattress that is provided and the adequacy of the air conditioning and heating), the school's responsiveness to reasonable requests for repairs, which floor your apartment will be located on, whether the apartment building has an elevator and, if so, whether the building has a backup generator and, finally, whether the school pays on time. Related, you should also ask about the proximity of the foreign teacher housing to not just the main branch but to the school's multiple branches, if that applies. Similarly, you will want to ask about how much traveling time is involved (between branches and from your apartment to each branch) and whether you will be reimbursed for these expenses. Perhaps no less important, you might want to ask the teacher how foreign teachers are regarded and treated at the school (i.e., as factory piece workers or valuable teachers).

When speaking with a teacher, especially a current one, bear in mind that he or she will necessarily have to be careful about how much and what is shared with you, a perfect stranger. So you will have to read between the lines. If the teacher admonishes "the DOS (director of studies) has a very strong personality" that probably means the DOS is extremely demanding and very difficult to get along with. In regard to whether the air conditioning is adequate or not, if the teacher replies "Well, I'm older and I don't like it too cool, so it's fine for me and I haven't heard anyone else complaining about it, not really," then your answer obviously is "it is entirely and absolutely inadequate."

Conversely, you should specifically question the reasons behind a very bad review, in the event the teacher is bold enough to offer you one. For example, if the teacher tells you that the FAO is a "jerk," you need to specifically ask why this is so and not just take it at face value. This teacher might tell you that the FAO took a whole week to replace the broken water cooler in his apartment and, so, from that point on, relations were sour. However, from my perspective, when you consider how usually overworked most FAOs are, the fact that he was able to attend to something as trivial as a broken water cooler in only a week's time suggests to me that the foreign teacher was highly valued. The point is, you really do need to critically evaluate everything you hear and read about, whether it is positive or negative, and then determine for yourself what you are and are not willing to live with and how you personally feel about the conditions that exist at that school.

School Reviews: Blacklists and White Lists

Former and current foreign teachers who take the time to write a school review fall into one of three categories: Those who are extremely angry, particularly grateful, or have been instructed to do so by the school (usually in response to a bad review). When you carefully consider the context in which school reviews are written, rarely do they constitute a fair representation of what that school is like for the average foreign teacher.

Generally speaking, isolated instances of either glowing or extremely derogatory school reviews should be completely ignored because no attempt is ever made on the part of website administrators to confirm the veracity of the report. Most are so eager to accumulate content for their sites that they will publish anything, even reviews that are clearly meritless, libelous, and even vindictive.

When considering school reviews, you need to look for a particular pattern over time, assuming that more than one or two reviews have been submitted. You should only be dissuaded by bad school reviews if there are several over a period of time that essentially purport the same problems. Related, and if possible, you need to determine whether the complaint contains face validity. For example, if several teachers have written bad reviews indicating that the school routinely pays late and often cheats its employees out of overtime pay, then you should be concerned because: 1) there is a clear pattern of such behavior and; 2) it is reasonable for teachers to expect to be paid on time.

If, on the other hand, the bad review seems to be based on unreasonable or unrealistic expectations or even false information, e.g., "The other foreign teachers in my city told me that I am entitled by law to three months paid vacation every year," then the entire review needs to be disregarded.

Generally speaking, school blacklists and "white lists" written by anonymous website and forum members are far less reliable and valid for learning about current conditions at a school than direct communication with former and current teachers. For a more detailed discussion regarding the issue of blacklists and why we don't offer them on this site, see our forum topic China School, Recruiter, and EFL Website Blacklists.


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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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