Section I: Teaching English in China continued—Teaching Employment
Teaching opportunities in China fall primarily into four broad categories: Chinese primary and secondary schools (both public and private); colleges and universities (public and private); jointly owned Sino-Western vocational and academic programs, and, finally; private English language schools (all ages). In international cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, there are also opportunities at international primary and secondary schools as well as in large companies that offer in-house English training (although these positions are not nearly as plentiful).
By far, the largest employer of foreign English language teachers in China is the private language school sector. There are essentially two types of private English language schools: the franchise (e.g., EF English First) and independent schools (with or without several branches). As positions in these types of schools are the most plentiful, they are the easiest to secure and, as a rule, these schools tend to make the most exceptions to the minimum employment requirements in practice. In addition, there is enormous variability in how each of the franchise schools is managed: In China, the franchisee is typically not required to adhere to any specific management or administrative model and is simply purchasing the use of the name for marketing purposes. Therefore, reports about how one school in the franchise is run will tell you absolutely nothing about what to expect from another school in the same franchise.
Teaching jobs at private English language schools constitute both the most abusive and rewarding positions in China, depending entirely on the nationality and sentiment of the school owners and managers. The reason for this contradictory finding is that private schools have more money to spend and a great deal more flexibility and freedom in how they can treat their foreign teachers while public schools and universities will adhere more closely to a "Party line": one that views foreigners as a necessary but unwanted workforce who are often much more trouble than they are worth. Salaries, workloads, and other conditions are fairly static and non-negotiable at public schools and universities.
Private schools pay, by far, the highest salaries in China but they work their foreign teachers to the bone usually requiring a minimum of 20 hours per week of teaching. Their classes are often scheduled across split shifts (early morning and then late afternoon or early evening on the same day) and typically across different branches (requiring the teacher to commute during the day on his own time, i.e, travel time is never factored into the teachers' workloads). Some private English language schools have also implemented "office hours" in which the foreign teachers are required to spend what was once their free time in the office between classes and, clearly, this is strictly for marketing purposes, i.e., to have a White face present when the parents and adult students are around to examine the school. For more information about this employer "take-back" feature, see the chapter on "Office Hours" and Other Free Work in this Guide.
Private English language schools offer the greatest opportunity for negotiating salary, housing, and benefits, and will also hire foreign English teachers on a rolling basis, i.e., will take them in all year round as they become available and the need arises. On the down side, most private schools strictly prohibit their foreign English teachers from moonlighting and the total amount of paid vacation time per annum is the lowest at a maximum of four to five weeks per year. In addition, teachers who commence employment considerably before or after the start date of China's two academic terms (usually in late August or early September for the fall semester, and in late February or early March for the spring semester, depending on the lunar calendar) will not be able to apply to public schools or universities in the future unless the school agrees to release the teacher early from his or her contract on good terms, and most never do. Of course, if you are applying for China EFL positions without the benefit of a college degree, then it doesn't matter what time of the year you commence employment as you will only be able to work for private language schools.
Government owned and regulated colleges and universities, as well as primary, junior- and senior-middle schools, are generally considered to be the safest to work for as conditions for foreign English teachers are both standardized and enforced. There will be some minor to moderate variability in base workload, size and quality of the provided housing, and allocation of travel allowance and accidental injury insurance (often incorrectly referred to as "medical insurance"), but there are fewer differences in conditions than what foreign teachers tend to encounter across various private language schools. Of course, this can be both a good or bad thing. The foreign affairs officers (FAOs) that Western teachers interact with are low-level government employees, section chiefs, and they are required to represent the interests and official policies du jour of both their university and the Chinese Communist Party. Most FAOs, as well as Chinese colleagues, regard their foreign teachers and professors with polite but cool indifference.
Depending on location and school type, public schools and universities will generally offer their foreign English teachers from 3,800 up to a maximum of 8,000 yuan (in first-tier cities only) for 12 to 18 periods of face-to-face teaching per week, with a national average of 4500 yuan for 16 periods of teaching. One period is either 45 or 50 minutes in duration and two periods, with a 10 minute break in between, constitute one class. Contracts at public schools and universities are typically 10 months in duration for the initial contract and are then extended for 12 months thereafter, such that foreign English teachers will be paid for the summer break if (and only if) they renew their contracts. However, foreign teachers with advanced degrees and several years of teaching experience in China may be able to negotiate an initial 12-month contract.
Although public schools and universities generally pay less than private schools do, the workload tends to be less (12 to 16 periods as opposed to 18 to 22 for private schools), the total amount of vacation time is the greatest as each academic term is only 18 weeks in duration (one is paid for 52 weeks for only 36 weeks of teaching), and the schools usually don't care if their foreign teachers engage in outside employment. As a rule, when you factor in workload and vacation time, the hourly rate is actually better at public schools and universities than it is at private language schools even though the net monthly salaries are higher at private schools. Consequently, university employment at high-ranking public universities (that is, where only the best students in China are accepted) is the most competitive and difficult to obtain among all the school types barring joint venture and foreign-owned universities (see below). Unless you have an advanced degree or years of field-related teaching experience, it is unlikely—especially in the aftermath of the 2008 U.S. economic meltdown—that you will be seriously considered for employment.
There is a relatively small but ever increasing cadre of accredited private kindergartens, primary and secondary schools, and universities in China. Strictly from the limited perspective of foreign English teacher employment, there are both advantages and disadvantages to working for such schools.
The advantages are more or less the same as described above for public (government owned) schools: fewer hours and more freedom as these institutions adhere to the same academic calendar in China as the public schools do. In addition, and unlike public schools, there may be more room to negotiate salaries and benefits with these private institutions.
The disadvantage lies in understanding the nature and role of private school education in China: These schools are generally established as very expensive alternatives to the academically superior public schools for students who scored too poorly on the national senior middle school and college admission tests to gain admittance into the less expensive and academically superior public schools. Consequently, the students one generally finds at these senior middle schools and universities could accurately (albeit unkindly) be described as "dumb rich kids." As a rule, they will be far less motivated, academically capable, and interested in learning English than their public school counterparts are. They are typically very poorly behaved, the foreign teacher is prohibited from enforcing discipline in the classroom, and, as the degrees are essentially being paid for, failing grades are promptly overturned by administration. Foreign English teachers generally find these types of positions to be far more demoralizing and unrewarding than most.
A relatively new type of employment opportunity that is gradually gaining in popularity and prevalence throughout China is the jointly owned Chinese-Western academic degree or vocational diploma program.
As China continues to rise as an economic world power, a few Western post-secondary vocational schools and even 4-year colleges are hoping to improve their rankings and enrollment by joining forces with a Chinese counterpart. This partnership provides the Western institution with an international presence and also increases enrollment potential by dipping into China's vast student population. The attraction and advantage to China's students is that these programs provide them with an opportunity to earn a diploma or even a degree from an accredited Western school without the need to ever leave the country. Representative examples of these joint programs include partnerships between the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) and the Nanjing University of Posts and Telecommunications (NYIT and NUPT, respectively), as well as Canada's vocational Seneca College and the Guangzhou Civil Aviation College. A small handful of Western universities have even established an international presence in China, including England's prestigious University of Nottingham with a campus in Ningbo, Zhejiang province.
The advantage to working for such partnership programs, or for a Western university with a campus in China, is that the salaries will be considerably higher than those offered by other schools because they are influenced, if not dictated, by Western hiring and human resource (HR) practices and guidelines. Annual salaries of 300,000 yuan are not unheard for educators working at these joint programs. The difficulty with these positions is that they are typically not advertised on China EFL job websites and they all require advanced degrees. The best way to find these types of positions at jointly-managed programs is to explore Western mega job sites that include advertisements for international jobs in education. Two such excellent resources are the Chronicle for Higher Education and Hong Kong's South China Post Classified section.