Teaching in China: As Great as it Sounds?

Great Wall of China

When doing research into teaching abroad China will always come up as an option. Good salaries, free flights and an exotic lifestyle appeal to many prospective TEFL Teachers. However, the experience may not be everything you hoped for… a good friend of mine Lauren taught with me in Thailand after completing several months of teaching in China. She advises anybody looking to teach in Thailand to make sure they do their research throroughly as once you get there it is very difficult to get out of your contract and come home again! Don’t just read what the TEFL teaching companies say…. here’s what Lauren said about her experience…

China teaching

I’m not really sure why I got into teaching abroad. Desperation mostly. I was graduating and the job I was planning on taking fell through because the company lost funding and went under so I needed a job ASAP and an email came to me about teaching abroad so I decided I’d give it a shot!

I didn’t really choose China, and I certainly wouldn’t choose China if I were to do it again. I originally applied for a position in Saudi Arabia but the company contacted me and told me they weren’t in need of teachers there and asked me if I’d like to go to China instead. So then I figured ‘sure, what have I got to lose?’ and I picked the city closest to Shanghai since my dad and little brothers were living there.

Teaching in China was much more structured than it was in Thailand. We had set tests and books we had to give the children. There were so many days per units in the book and I had a lot of other teachers there who would help me with lesson planning. Also, since the school I taught at in China was an extracurricular school it was much more profit driven than Thailand. I often had to perform demonstration lessons to interested clients and have open houses for the parents to see me with their students and track their progress. It was all very money orientated!

In China most of my hours were in the evening. I suppose I taught on average about 30 hours a week, but I would spend much more time at school planning and in meetings. I had two days a week off, but since it was extracurricular these were never actual weekends. Holidays were standard Chinese holidays along with Christmas day and boxing day.

I was placed in a “small” town called Jiaxing. Its more of a suburb of Shanghai now, although it lies about an hour and a half away. It was a decent location to be between Shanghai and Hangzhou and I got the opportunity to travel a bit on days off which was good. I suppose what I loved most about China were the people (expats and fellow teachers) I met there. There was a special bond I shared with the people I worked with, maybe it was because most of us hated our job (or the bureaucracy of it). Plus whenever you met a foreigner there you just had to be friends because you knew that no one came to Jiaxing as a tourist so they must be living there.

The city itself was pretty dismal. Dirty, grey and not all that liveable. The people were friendly enough and there were a ton of restaurants that we would all hang around at. But we lived quite a walk away from work and were spread out all over the city. There was quite a bit of stuff though since it was so close to Shanghai so you could go a bit western food if you wanted.


The school like I said was extra curricular, and it was very popular so we were quite well funded. I had a lot of new technology and gadgets to play with and they weren’t too strict about resource management so I generally used all the paper and materials I wanted (bonus!). I liked my actual classes. However, we also had clubs and other activities that any child within a certain age could come to and those were a bit more difficult since generally the levels were a bit more varied and the teachers changed so you never developed a real rapport with the students.

A typical day, hmmm I suppose I’d get up in the morning and if I didn’t have a meeting I’d take my time going in. I’d try not to get to school until at least 10 since normally I taught until 8 at night. When I first got there I’d do some planning for classes. We planned quite meticulously. Each class was broken down into timed segments and I recorded all of the children’s progress after each session. I’d usually have a meeting either with the director of the school or the head of the young learners. And since many of my classes were co-taught I’d talk to the other teacher or sometimes with the classroom monitor who would make phone calls home to the parents every few weeks and wanted to advise them on their child’s progress.

Around 3 or 4pm my classes would start and generally they’d be pretty back to back. Each class was usually around 2 and a half hours with some breaks in it for the kids. The classes were no more than 15 students unless it was a club then 30 students could join and often it would be chaos!

It was an email from my university that helped me find the job initially. They recommended teaching abroad with English First. I wouldn’t particularly recommend it though. They sent me all the material I needed to apply for a work visa so that was relatively easy.

Hmm, highs and lows? I was particularly happy the day I quit! It had nothing to do with the actual teaching, I loved my students and my friends there. But my boss was particularly an arrogant asshole and the office had become clicky and I just didn’t like the atmosphere. So I guess lows would involve the clicky-ness of the organisation!

Would I recommend teaching in China? Well based on my experience, no I wouldn’t! Mostly because I didn’t enjoy living in China. I know people who absolutely loved it though so maybe it was a combination of the school I worked for and location.

Although her opinions wern’t too high of working in China, Lauren throroughly enjoyed teaching in Thailand with me and you can read more about that here.

Thinking of working or volunteering abroad? Check out my partner organisation Twin Work and Volunteer or do your research by purchasing this book from Amazon!

Have you worked in abroad? I would love to here your experiences! Please comment below!

This post first appeared on Lifeasabutterfly.com.

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