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Teaching English for Non-White, Non-Native Speakers


Filipina Teacher

I regularly receive e-mails from non-White and non-native speakers inquiring about what the real opportunities are for teaching English in China and decided the time was long overdue to revisit this concern in a far more open, transparent, and revealing way that I suspect will apply to most prospective foreign English teachers in this situation.

The bottom-line is that non-White and/or non-native speakers can find jobs teaching oral English in China with a great deal of persistence and especially if they are already in China, but it is unlikely they will be competitive for the most desirable teaching jobs or ever be regarded and treated with parity, especially (but not exclusively) at private English language schools. So although it is possible for non-native speakers to find work as oral English teachers in China, I have to wonder why such a teacher would want to. Despite the well-intentioned "cheer leading" efforts of a few, the truth is China does not adhere to non-discriminatory hiring practices: height, age, attractiveness, overall appearance, and especially skin tone are typically and explicitly considered for any job that requires working with the public (and this applies just as much to the Chinese as it does to foreigners, maybe more so). This should be clear to anyone who has been asked to send a photo of themselves along with their résumé, a practice that is entirely illegal in just about all of our respective Western countries. The photo is obviously being required in order to determine if the prospective teacher “looks the part.”

About two years ago, I received an inquiry from a Chinese-American woman who very much wanted to teach English in China as a way of getting in touch with her roots. I more or less told her what I just wrote above. She persisted and recently sent me a follow-up e-mail informing me that she finally made it to China: She is currently working in a third-tier vocational school for bottom wages. I should quickly add she has a master’s degree and, at that time, had five years of English (English composition) teaching experience as an adjunct lecturer at a prestigious New York university.

Then there is my wife. Sonia is a Filipina with a bachelor’s degree in elementary school education and several years of related teaching experience. Her English language skills are, relatively speaking, superlative. It would be fair to say that her listening skills are native-like in that I can speak freely and naturally to her in a way that I never could with any former Chinese girlfriend, even those with far better than average language skills. In addition, she is easily able to understand any movie or Western television program that we watch together, including Criminal Minds, House, Law and Order: SVU and an old classic comedy show from the 1950s called The Honeymooners, which uses a great deal of northeastern American slang and sails way over the heads of most non-Americans, let alone non-native speakers. Her speaking skills are very good, although occasionally she uses prepositions incorrectly (and this is one of the hardest aspects of English for non-native speakers to grasp). For example, she’ll say “he was angry to the boss,” instead of with. But, aside from this and a few well-documented cultural differences in English as an official second language in the PhilippinesFilipinos commonly use the adverb “already” to denote when something has been completed, even if it was behind schedule, whereas Westerners use “already” to refer to something that was completed ahead of schedule. For example, a Westerner might say “It’s only 11:45 am and we’ve already finished our lunch,” while a Filipino who ate a late lunch at 3:00 pm will say “I had lunch already.”, her pronunciation is very good and always clear. It would be fair to say that her spoken English is a lot better than that of most Chinese English teachers. Her writing skills, although problematic at times, are actually better than those of a few posters on anonymous China EFL teacher forums who are presumably native speakers.

So, based on her qualifications and English language skills, you might think that it has been easy for her to find work as an oral English teacher in China—and you would be dead wrong.

That is not to say she hasn’t found work, she has, but in every case it was made clear to me (and her too, unfortunately) that she was given the position solely as a courtesy to me. In one case, she was paid 10% less than a native, White speaker would have be paid and, in the second and current case, the school owner negotiated a deal with her in which I needed to have some nominal involvement (with my prior consent obviously). It’s funny: That didn’t bother her at all (she claims to have grown accustomed to it), but it ate me up alive because I know how good she is.

Another case in point: I am very familiar with a teacher from Kazakhstan who has a bachelor’s degree in education, had many years of distinguished international teaching experience prior to relocating to China, and is probably lighter-skinned than I am (especially after I’ve been in the sun for awhile). Did he find work as an oral English teacher in China? Yes, actually he did, after a great deal of persistence and knocking on many doors with hat in hand. Was he ever treated with parity? Absolutely not. It was made eminently clear to him the entire time he was under the employ of this one private school that his continued employment was an act of generosity and concession (because he had a wife and two kids). I actually watched him in action once and found him to be an outstanding and extremely gifted teacher. There is no doubt in my mind that if he had been a native speaker, he’d still be at that school and probably working in the capacity of the head teacher. And, with all due respect to the owner of that school, he was only representing the sentiment repeatedly expressed to him by the parents of the students. Last I heard, he and his family had to return to Kazakhstan. After so many years of differential treatment, he finally caught a resentment, decided to leave, and was ultimately unable to find work anywhere else in China even with more than five years of very successful experience under his belt.

Is it reasonable of me to attempt to generalize based on four or five isolated experiences I happen to be intimately familiar with, in addition to the dozens of personal e-mails I have received? Who knows? It's hard to say for sure without some prior systematic attempt at having drawn a truly randomized sample from all non-native, non-White English teachers in China (as if that were possible). These may in fact be highly representative cases: I strongly suspect that they are.

I can also tell you how terribly uncomfortable it became for me one May, a few years back, when I foolishly decided to spend the entire National Holiday vacation out on the beach and returned to work a lot darker than I ever had been. I was the brunt of some very offensive “African jokes” for several days and was told in no uncertain terms by my boss that if I didn’t stay out of the sun, I would lose my job, i.e., my contract would not be renewed. It was made eminently clear to me that in the context of teaching oral English in China, the precise tone of my skin was far more important in determining my future success at this university than my doctorate, 25 years of prior university teaching experience and, last but not least, two prior years of sterling teaching evaluations from the students. And, by the way, in case the additional point was missed, this not only says something about racism in China but just as much about the role, value, and function of foreign oral English teachers in China: White native speaker or not, even at key provincial universities.

My best advice is that if you are a highly qualified English teacher who also happens to be a non-native speaker and/or not White, do not waste your time even thinking about teaching oral English in China—unless you have some strong personal reason for doing so, like the Chinese-American woman I mentioned above.

Despite the well-intentioned attempts of some at sugarcoating this and notwithstanding those who grossly understate or even ignore the deep psychological and damaging impact that it has on its victims, racism as expressed in grossly differential treatment of non-White and non-native speakers is alive and well in China. That is not to suggest that it doesn’t exist in other countries, including America: Unfortunately, it does. The essential difference, however, is that racism is neither legally nor openly tolerated as a matter of social policy in America as it is in China. I’d like to believe that the November 2008 presidential election results proved at least that much. At the very least, I’ve never before been ordered by a former dean to “keep out of the sun.”

Related to the issue of racism, the situation is also a financial reality in China based on why we are hired to begin with. I have a good friend, someone whom I both trust and respect for his integrity, who also happens to manage an English language school in China. He has bemoaned to me on more than one occasion about how it kills him to have to turn away applications from overly qualified, non-native and non-White speakers because the parents would never tolerate it. In fact, the parents of my wife's students last year complained repeatedly about how they shouldn't have to pay full tuition for a Filipino teacher as she is not a "real" foreigner. She claims that this doesn't bother her and that she is used to it, but I know better. I could see the anguish in her eyes when her former boss told me (with her in ear shot) that her employment was personal "gift" to me in consideration for all the help I had provided.

If you are a non-native and/or non-White prospective foreign teacher and, despite the reality of the situation as I have just explained it, you still think teaching English in China is the best thing for you at this time (and I understand that this is a possibility), you should follow the following advice:

  1. Avoid private language schools altogether unless they are specifically looking for teachers to work in their business or corporate departments training adults.
  2. Limit your job search to 2nd and 3rd tier two- and three-year vocational schools and colleges in international cities or 2nd and 3rd tier four-year universities situated in remote or undesirable locations. Another weaker but viable possibility is public elementary schools, especially in remote locations and particularly if you have experience with this age group.
  3. Grow a thick-skin and, by all means, try your very best not to personalize any of it—because, in reality, it's not personal at all.

Best of luck to you.

Related articles I recommend you take a look at:


# RE: Teaching English in China for Non-White, Non-Native SpeakersVincent 2010-02-19 06:28
In regards to your advice point number 3, I think the fact that it’s not personal at all makes it even worse. It’s not personal. It’s an endemic cultural bias. I’d rather someone not hire me because they “personally” got to know me and thought I was unqualified or a dick rather than some “not personal” glance-then-judge means. Grow a thick skin, yes. But telling people like us that it’s “not personal” isn’t reassuring at all. Oh yeah, I’m a Filipino-American who taught English in China.
# RE: RE: Teaching English in China for Non-White, Non-Native SpeakersDr. Greg 2010-02-19 06:28
Hi Vincent,

Neither that advice nor the rest of the article was intended to be reassuring at all. In fact, I did my very best to discourage non-native and non-white speakers from even thinking about teaching oral English in China for the very reasons we have both mentioned: Endemic racism causes significant psychological harm to its victims. It hurts like hell and has long-term effects.

And although the situation is somewhat better for non-native/non-white speakers who are teaching courses other than oral English, it’s not much better. My physician colleagues from India have a considerably higher workload than I do in the same department of the same school (they must carry a minimum of 15 to my 10 credit hours per semester). So there you have it.
# RE: Teaching English in China for Non-White, Non-Native Speakersmarya 2010-02-19 06:29
yes.I would say that all above mentioned is totally true. I ‘ve been looking for a teaching vacancies in beijing and can’t get any of them.? why? The only reason – I’m not a native speaker. God damn it. It;s real Racism..
The chinese saying is: Doesn’t matter what colour the cat is, as along as he can catch the mice…
I am a White CAT, but all the mice are on the plate of NATIVE WHITE CATS.. GUTEN APETIT !!!
I’M so hungry that ready to open my hand and say mewwwwwwwww, I hate you all !!1!
# RE: Teaching English in China for Non-White, Non-Native SpeakersShivangi 2010-02-19 06:29
I think I fit the bill of “foolish, non-native jobseeker” to a tee :) I just cannot find a job and when asked for a photo I don’t recieve a reply for my efforts. I am Indian by the way and not a fair-skinned one which should say it all. I am married to a French man so I understand racism in France but in China, it still puzzles me.

No offence meant, but I cannot for the life of me see how an Australian accent could benefit a Chinese child.
# RE: RE: Teaching English in China for Non-White, Non-Native SpeakersDr. Greg 2010-02-19 06:29
Shivangi wrote: “No offence meant, but but I cannot for the life of me see how an Australian accent could benefit a Chinese child.”

I think foreigners from the “Big 5,” i.e., Australia, Canada, New Zealand, U.K., and the U.S. are hired far more for their appearance than they are for their particular dialects. I think in this regard, skin coloring and overall appearance are far more important than dialect or, in the case of a non-native speaker, accent is. A pretty girl from, for example, France, Germany or Sweden will have a much easier time landing a job as an oral English teacher in China than would one from India or the Philippines because she will, more likely than not, be a “better fit” for the role we are asked to play here.

I almost lost a job that I had held quite successfully for almost three years at a key provincial university because I spent too much time in the sun one May holiday, and that’s with a standard American dialect.
# RE: Teaching English in China for Non-White, Non-Native SpeakersZill 2010-02-19 06:30
Even though i come from Africa, i have landed oral English teaching jobs
in most parts of china. There are times when i had difficulties deciding which school to work in after being employed by many at the same time. I think most probably because of my good looks and standard English accent which i acquired after watching movies for close to three decades.It is quite true non native speakers have difficulties landing jobs in china but note should be taken on the fact that if you are non native without a foreign accent, your chances are great! Presently, the vacancies are so enormous that schools bent on employing only native speakers finally end up going for the non native speakers. All because very few natives are unwilling to work in china for the extraordinarily low salaries some schools tend to offer.
# RE: RE: Teaching English in China for Non-White, Non-Native SpeakersDr. Greg 2010-02-19 06:30
Zill wrote “if you are non native without a foreign accent, your chances are great!”

Yes, if you are a non-native speaker of English who speaks as if he is a native speaker, with “good looks” and the ability to appear in person, I wouldn’t suspect you would have any problems obtaining employment teaching English in China under those particular set of circumstances.

Thanks for sharing that.
# RE: Teaching English in China for Non-White, Non-Native Speakersmei 2010-02-19 06:30
I am one of the people who is rejected because I am not coming from one of the Big 5 countries. Although I have CELTA and 12-year-teaching experience, it turns out that they are still useless since I am not a native speaker. I spent 2 years in China studying Mandarin and all of my friends who had “the look”, got the job easily, without enough teaching experience, no certificates, no nothing. BUT they got paid more than enough. I applied to many institutions and all they wanted was my passport and current pictures. After they were sent, I didn’t hear anything from them ever. They didn’t even care whether I had an American accent or my teaching experience whatsoever. I am writing as I feel like I am at a dead end.
# RE: RE: Teaching English in China for Non-White, Non-Native SpeakersDr. Greg 2010-02-19 06:30
Dear Mei,

I feel very bad about your situation and I haven’t replied sooner because I don’t have anything helpful to add.

Obviously, if foreigners were truly being hired to teach English in China—as opposed to just meeting a highly contested Ministry of Education national requirement (to improve pronunciation) or playing a role at private language schools to boost business—it wouldn’t matter where your ancestors originally came from.

If I were you, especially with your qualifications, I’d go back to the states and really teach English as a second language to Chinese immigrants. I would think they’d be thrilled to have someone like you in their midst.
# RE: Teaching English in China for Non-White, Non-Native SpeakersErwin 2010-02-19 06:31

I’m a native of Guatemala who grew up in New Jersey (20 years there.) American English is practically my first language, and I feel more comfortable speaking it than Spanish.

In the states I was always considered Caucasian (green eyes, light olive skin.) But I do not have an American passport, or a tosel degree.

What do you guys think my chances are of getting a teaching job in China?

Any advice?

# RE: RE: Teaching English in China for Non-White, Non-Native SpeakersDr. Greg 2010-02-19 06:31
Without getting into why you don’t have an American passport after 20 years in the country, you will be able to eventually land a job as a foreign English teacher in China because you have the right look and you sound the part.

You could try emphasizing in your cover letter that you were raised in the states from early childhood and do not speak with an accent. Although most employers will be dissuaded by the Guatemalan passport, a few will take pause, especially if your photo is attractive.

If it turns out you are not successful applying by e-mail, you have two other choices. The first is to use the services of a recruiter, but you need to be extremely careful here (see our lengthy discussion of this in Finding and Applying for Jobs).

The second option, which is entirely risky, is to attend a TEFL training program in China on a tourist visa and then use your free time to start connecting with prospective employers: Obviously, a personal appearance will entirely offset whatever bias exists in regard to your birthplace. It is very possible you will find a private school that has the guanxi (strength of relationship with the right people) to convert that tourist into a work visa. For example, the police in Haikou (Hainan province) have told me in no uncertain terms that it is not illegal or improper to convert a tourist visa into a work visa and I’m sure that is an interpretation that is shared by many municipalities and provinces across China. However, it is also just as possible you will have to return to the states to reenter China on a Z-visa. For example, the PSB in Guangzhou (Guangdong province), as a matter of general policy, will not convert an L-visa into a Z-visa.

Best of luck to you.
# RE: Teaching English in China for Non-White, Non-Native SpeakersALI 2010-02-19 06:31
Hello every one !!

My name is Ali and I am from Karachi-Pakistan,I have done double Masters in Economics and Sociology along with various Certificates courses in Computer and Education as well.

I have been Teaching English as a Second language (TESL) to Intermediate and Upper Intermediate levels in one of the best English medium schools of Pakistan and now have got almost Eight years of Professional experience in the field of Teaching ESL.
I have also taught in Malaysia.

Now I want to apply for the post of ESL Teacher in China, please can any one help me getting a Job in China , I am non native speaker but have done TESL and have double Masters.

I would welcome the opportunity to discuss my application further and am available for interview at your convenience.

Thanking You

Looking forward for your kind reply.

Sincerely Yours,

# RE: Teaching English in China for Non-White, Non-Native SpeakersRune Christensen 2010-02-19 06:32

As a college kid from Denmark who wants to spend my gap year after I graduate in China, I’ve been thinking a little about the best way to approach becoming an ESL teacher as (officially) a non native speaker.

By the way I’d like to thank the creators of this site so much, I’m forever grateful for this in depth guide about the REALITY of ESL teaching. You’ve done a great job effectively destroying any romantic fairy tale-ideas I had of ESL teaching in China (which might sound negatively, but is obviously extremely good.)

Aaanyway. As I currently have zero qualifications (I don’t even have my college degree before this summer) but guess it still will be wisest to start looking for jobs before this spring, I cannot count on them helping me circumvent the fact that I’m not a native. I pretty much look as aryan as it’s possible to do, so that won’t really be a problem for me, but I don’t know how to convey the fact that my english skills are as good as any native’s (I’m biligual to the point where I dream in english; accumulated by several years spent in the UK, half a lifetime spent in front of a computer with skype, having had several english girlfriends etc.) I even have a clear london accent.

My point is that I could write all this in my resume and the Chinese would probably dismiss it as a creative enhancement of the truth. I could write an impressive sample of my English skills… But so could every liar, given enough time (besides, I’m not that great at written English, but have simply spoken it a lot in practice).

Uh.. So. Would I have any success with attaching a sound file/recording of me speaking English, or encouraging them to call me so they’d hear for themselves? (Or even call the recruiter if that’s possible and will have any effect before applying for a job.)

Or is there any other method of approaching this hindrance, other than to just send out mass applications in best spray-and-pray style, and hope my pretty picture will eventually attract a school that’s desperate enough? As far as I’ve understood, given my (lack of) qualifications, my chances of getting a job at a public school will be between zero and nothing, and I guess their lesser amount of racism only applies to skin colour, and not nationality anyway.

I don’t feel too keen on simply doing the “tourist visa to do job interviews and then converting it etc.”, since I’ve never been in China before. Even if I’d probably simply go to China as a tourist at some point anyway, should it prove itself impossible for me to find a job as an ESL teacher.

Thanks in advance for reading/answering. (Sorry for the retarded apostrophe formatting)
# RE: RE: Teaching English in China for Non-White, Non-Native SpeakersDr. Greg 2010-02-19 06:32
Hi Rune,

I had never thought of attaching a sound file to the application until I just read it now and, I have to tell you, I think it is a fantastic idea. As you totally look the part, submitting evidence of your spoken English will probably do the trick and overcome whatever doubts the school owner may have.

I think a one minute MP3 file would fit the bill very nicely and, yes, you could simply attach that along with your résumé and other supporting documents in a “buck shot” approach, i.e., mass mailing (but send out just one e-mail per recipient. It’s more tedious, but it looks better).

You are right that “just coming over” on a tourist visa is very risky business but I really think your idea about attaching a sound file will preclude the need for that.

Good luck with this and, please, let us know what happens.
# RE: Teaching English in China for Non-White, Non-Native SpeakersKat A. 2010-02-19 06:33
Thank you for the time and effort you put into your website – and for the reality check. I thought about teaching English in China, but then your site made me recall why teaching in Japan had been challenging. And it should not have been so difficult because I had survival-level Japanese language skills and was familiar with the culture (or so I thought). Though I had come across the “You are not a real American because you are not white” in California, the degree that I felt (and saw this in the ads for the English schools) in Japan really surprised me – and it sounds like the same situation exists in China. It is not impossible for a non-white teacher to be hired, but I know the preference exists for a white teacher, even in the U.S. I have seen the disappointment cross the faces of students when I enter the class with an Asian face. I take it as a challenge. I want them to leave my classroom thinking how lucky they are they that they got me!
# RE: Teaching English in China for Non-White, Non-Native SpeakersCarolina 2010-02-19 06:33
First of all, I want to congratulate everyone that makes this website possible.
I’ve been looking at it for the last 8 hours (with breaks in between, of course) and bookmarked almost every page for further readings.

I am starting TESOL in September, and I was looking at the possibility of going to China to teach English.

However, I am of Spanish nationality. I have a clear accent, though, and I look British, or Eastern European (light hair, green eyes, very pale skin). I am considered pretty or good looking by most people’s standards -and thought this is not of importance to me, it seems so by Chinese standards.

I have spent a few years living and working in Britain (and I still live in the UK); and, even when I was working in Spain, both my employers and customers where of English-speaking countries.

I still want to go through the process and hopefully land a job in China. However, I am now considering to do Spanish instead of English. My question here would be if there is an actual demand for it, or if I will be wasting my time if I choose Spanish over English?

On the other hand, if I was to study English, will I succeed in getting a job in China, or perhaps it would be best to consider other countries, and if so, will I have the same difficulties in other countries, lets say, like Korea, Japan or even Malaysia?

I have had lots of different jobs in the past such as PA for solicitors, state agent, etc and now I am currently working as a translator (although not qualified). In all honesty, I sincerely want to become a teacher a keep brushing up both my skills and qualifications.

Thanks for taking the time of reading this.
Any thoughts will be much appreciated.

Kind regards,
# RE: RE: Teaching English in China for Non-White, Non-Native SpeakersDr. Greg 2010-02-19 06:34
You are correct that Chinese employers have a clear preference for native English-speaking teachers. This is particularly true for private English language schools. Your best bet would to be focus on public schools and universities. As you do look British or eastern European, a good photo should go a long way.

We’ve seen an occasional advertisement for Spanish-speaking teachers in Shanghai and, less frequently, in Beijing, but, generally speaking, there isn’t nearly as much of a demand for Spanish as there is French teachers. Unless you see an ad specifically asking for a Spanish language teacher, you will probably not find much in the way of results submitting applications to schools.

Our collective feeling is that you’d have more success pursuing a position as an English teacher.

Above all, be persistent. Best of luck to you.
+1 # RE: Teaching English in China for Non-White, Non-Native Speakerseguangxi 2010-02-19 06:34
Hi there,

I am African and have had oh so many problems because of the colour of my skin.

Right now, these guys are looking for whites but, trust me, I have been here for 4 yrs and every year it’s the same. Come August and September, they’ll be scrambling for you to come “immediately” because as foolish as most of them are, they still haven’t realised that passing over a good teacher just because he/she is not a “native” speaker is just nonsense. My advice to you: wait.

When those desperate schools call you, make sure you ask for stuff that you know you deserve, like higher pay or anything else which may be lacking in the contract but is beneficial to you. Remember, they will be desperate.

He who laughs last…
# RE: RE: Teaching English in China for Non-White, Non-Native SpeakersJustin 2010-04-07 14:35
Great outlook, there's a lot about my people that is still less than desired and you might go someways of breaking them of it.

I think this whole anti-black people thing comes about from China integrating American culture. They probably picked up the socioeconomic status quo there and think that's the way it should be. A clearly ridiculous thing to do.
# RE: Teaching English in China for Non-White, Non-Native SpeakersBenji 2010-02-19 06:34
Hi Dr. Greg, I’m in the same boat as the woman you described in your article, I want to teach in China to get closer to my roots. Unfortunately, I don’t have the pedigree nor the experience as she does. I just have a B.Sc, and will have my TESOL certification soon.

Would a more effective approach perhaps be to compile a list of schools that I potentially want to work at, and call them regarding the job before sending any pictures or documents? [so that I can show my accent-free native speaker English]

From what I’ve read on Dave’s ESL Cafe message board, and on articles on other sites, the online application route is the most difficult for Chinese-Canadians / Chinese-Americans. So would the above idea be better? Or maybe just to go to whatever city I want to teach in, and start knocking on doors?
# RE: RE: Teaching English in China for Non-White, Non-Native SpeakersDr. Greg 2010-02-19 06:34
Benji, Your passport cover page clearly shows your place of birth so any FAO or school owner should have the wherewithal to realize that you are a native speaker.

Your best bet is to focus on public universities in less than desirable locations or, in the alternative, low-ranked universities in more desirable locations. Private schools are going to exercise the greatest degree of hiring bias because of the enormous pressure they receive from the parents, unless they are desperate.

Navigate to our Haikou City Guide and try sending your application to the universities listed in fourth and fifth place (at the bottom of the page). I know for a fact that they have hired Chinese-Americans in the past. A few days after your application has been sent out, try giving them a call to follow-up.
# RE: Teaching English in China for Non-White, Non-Native SpeakersLeon 2010-02-19 06:35
I only just stumbled upon this website but after spending a month in Korea and Hong Kong looking for teaching jobs in a few hours time I will be boarding a flight to return to the UK empty handed. Apologies for the late late response.

My parents are both Chinese I have a right to live and work in Hong Kong (but not S Korea) , and yet it appears as if I am discriminated against also , so even if you are a native english speaker its not easy either!. I quickly learnt that please attach photo meant white people need apply only.

A recent example is this:

I lived in a cheap short term let near a couple of schools I sent applications to of which they did not even bother to reply , I subsequently found out they hired Russians and Polish people to teach as they looked much better on the ‘meet the teachers’ pages on their websites and the reception areas at such schools. I actually managed to meet one of them and she could barely string a sentence together , I wonder how this benefits the children.

Off on a tangent this reminds me of Orwell in his book “A clergyman’s daughter” whereby Dorithy is an excellent teacher but does not satisfy the demands of the parents for rifmatik (sic) and neat hand script and is subsequently let go. How history repeats itself….

But I think its case of racism on more than just the side of the schools in that they are businesses and they have to make money to survive. When parents start taking their children away to other schools with the american looking english teachers although as a school owner you might not like it you still have to make your money to keep yourself afloat.

It hurts alot tbh, in that my father in the UK always said you may suffer discrimination here (UK) but this won’t happen when you go to your homeland….. I did and the same things said to me for years in high school, i.e., get lost and go home we don’t want you here, is repeated in a similar manner here too.

This affects me less as I have another career to fall back on but my sister who studied a PGCE for two years and has a ton of UK exp in teaching adults is galled at this.
# RE: Teaching English in China for Non-White, Non-Native SpeakersTramp 2010-02-19 06:35
When it comes to racial biasness, why only talk about China? Make a quick search on the internet and you will be surprised to see….S. Korea, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam…..even Cambodia…. they all ask for a Native English Speaker…..and of course one with a genuine “farang” or “Caucasian” ‘look and feel’ gets the best deal.

Time for Business, of course !!! ….

First, Ignorant and unsuspecting parents are lured to spend their hard-earned savings for their kids on these “oral craps”….(remember, 70% of the students in your class come from small provincial towns).

Next, the so-called native “teachers” with their crappy salaries, finally end up spending money from their dollar-wallets, to sustain their western lifestyle,,,, or…… to ’save’ their ‘faces’ as ambassadors of a privileged society (in simple words, to “show off” their ‘class’)…

Hence the money keeps rolling in and ‘carefree’ dollars fly around in pubs and malls!!!

Can anyone find a Native English Teacher who has become rich by simply teaching in China….and someone who has brought his substantial savings back to his country????

I really wonder if there is any!!!
# AstoundingJustin 2010-04-07 08:15
I am thinking about teaching English in China but your article has me a little confused and discouraged.

Here's my history. My parents are academics and moved from university to university. As a consequence, I moved a lot. I was born in China moved to Germany at age 4, moved back to Beijing at age 7, moved to US at age 10, moved to Canada at age 14 and became a citizen.

English is my default language(the language I think in) and my vocab is well above average (according to GRE) and I am one semester away from finishing a chemistry degree at U of T (top 20 world Uni).

I have some atrophied mandarin as well as German, though from the sound of it that won't matter.

So should I even bother thinking about teaching English?
# You'll Need Persistence and a Thick SkinDr. Greg 2010-04-07 10:27
If by "born in China," you mean that you are of Chinese descent then, yes, finding employment in China as a foreign English teachers will not be easy for you.

You can pretty much eliminate most private English language schools where "looking the part" is deemed especially important by the owners. Unfortunately, many (if not most) university FAOs feel the same way.

The consensus seems to be that if you can grow a thick skin and are persistent enough, you can eventually find a job as an oral English teacher in China even if you don't look the part.

I do know of a few African-American and Chinese-American foreign English teachers in China, but I can count them on one hand after a total of seven years throughout three cities.
# Thank youJustin 2010-04-07 14:27
Thanks for this valuable information. It's looking like teaching English is not going to be a feasible option for me.

It's kind of ironic, given all the places I've lived ex. Germany, Southern US, Canada, I've always felt welcome by the people around me and it's only when I go back to the place of my birth that I get the brush off. Pretty amusing...

Again thanks for writing this article and bring this to people's attention.
# Being white is more importantthan being native in Chinese eyes.Musicjunkie 2010-10-21 13:53
This is a very good and intelligent discussion on this issue, but for anyone who wishes to be reassured I don't have any good news.

If you are already in the country, it is not too difficult to get a job as an English teacher if you are non-white/ non-native speaker but I almost guarantee you won't be treated with equality. Hiring discrimination is alive and well in China.

In my personal experience regarding people I know, being white is more important than being native. This point was mentioned by Leon when he commented on the Polish and Russian teachers he saw as their image looked better in the school's promotional material.

I know people from Spain, Germany, France, Italy, Brazil, Holland and a variety of other countries teaching here, because they are white and fit the image the Chinese have of people from prosperous and wealthy nations. Black people just do not fit that preconception.

As Dr Greg has mentioned, it has to do with why we are hired, which is to improve the face and image of your hiring institution. In language centres and private schools, it is also to justify increased prices for the classes so the school is effectively spending money on your salary to make more money from the parents/students. My own FAO once said our school could only hire people who are, and this is a direct quote "Obama black and certainly no darker". That sums up the situation really.

If you have light skin, you will be competitive, if you are not, you will have many issues. To echo what Leon said also: "I quickly learnt that please attach photo meant white people need apply only." He is mostly right there. His post was excellent and a good indication of the experience you can expect.
# For Non-White AmericansWanderingTeacher 2013-12-07 03:50
Hi, I just wanted to add my experience. When I first started looking for a job a month ago and got many offers. One offer I was attempting to go through with, eventually fell through when the hiring manager realized I was not white (Black/Puerto Rican), and accidentally forwarded an email he meant to send to another college stating: "He's fully qualified to teach, I am surprised that he is black. Should we give him a chance or just make up an excuse?"

I am not going to lie, that really shocked and hurt the hell out of me. I grew up in the deep south in America, and had never experience any type of racism, ever. So this was an eye opener for me. I have 4 years experience tutoring high school and college students in multiple subjects. I have a bachelor's degree in English, a 160 Hour TESOL certification, and a Master's degree in Education in progress.

This did not discourage me too much, and I decided to just press on. I received many offers from other schools, even after they found out I was not white. I turned most of them down simply because I did not like the hours, the pay, location, or combination of the three. I was not going to accept a less than ideal position just because I was not white. Then came along this owner of a private English school, who I interviewed with on Skype and he instantly, for whatever reason, loved me. He was the first administrator that I had interview with that I felt completely comfortable doing business with. The pay and benefits were good, the hours were even better, the location was "Ok." So 2 out of 3 is not bad, plus I really like the fact he seemed to be so excited for me to teach at his school, so I accepted the position and now we are in the process of securing the Visa.

I wanted to tell you that story so you will not be discouraged. If you are American, you are an asset and they want you. They would like for you to be preferably American AND White, but being American, from my experience, is highly coveted by these schools. My education and background helped too of course. You do not have to settle for less than what you deserve or want. Like others have said, if you are already in China, I'm sure it will be a lot easier, but if you are not in China, you will still find what you're looking for. It only took me about 3 weeks and about 15 interviews to find my ideal position. My advice would be to go ahead and include your "smart" photo and copies of your credentials in your emails when you apply to these positions or post your resume online. That way when they contact you, they already know your skin color, and you don't have to waste your time. Also do yourself a favor and AVOID ALL RECRUITERS. They are not all bad, but you won't get paid as much as you would if you dealt with the school they are hiring you for directly. Plus it's just always best to handle business with the institution that will be give you your paycheck. If you do decide to deal with recruiters, create a different Skype account, because they will continue to hit you up every time you sign on to Skype with Grandma. If you have any questions, please feel free to send me a message :)


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