When I arrived in Beijing I had very minimal teaching experience, so I had no idea what age would be best for me to teach. Thankfully, in Beijing you have the option to teach all ages; so I tried them all. Here’s a rundown of my personal experiences and my opinion of the pros and cons for each:
I always thought the 3-hour break in the afternoon was a waste of time, so all my kindergarten jobs were part time. My first was on Thursday and Friday afternoons each week and all my others were in the mornings Mon. – Fri. If you can get them to agree to pay you by the hour it’s a little bit better, and you can teach there in addition to another part time job or tutoring. I was only able to convince one school to pay me 120RMB per hour. I wanted 150RMB, so that was an ok pay. I personally never really enjoyed these teaching jobs. The kids are loud and difficult to deal with and Chinese staff don’t help that much. They also require a lot of energy since most of your job is to be the fun, silly lao wai.
I worked at two primary schools for a very brief time. One I went to the in the mornings and the other I went to at night. This is similar to kindergarten but the kids are old enough to read and write and sit at their own desk. There was a book for me to teach but I was mostly expected to play lots of games and be very exciting and entertaining, not actually teach them a lesson. The students I taught in the evenings lived at the school so there was even more pressure to just be an entertainer so they would be happy. My time there was short lived as one of the students complained to his mom that I wasn’t as active as their previous teacher and they wanted him back. So that’s all it takes for you to be let go from that sort of teaching job. I continued teaching at the primary school in the morning for another month or two and the same thing happened. I ‘wasn’t active enough’. Instead of giving me some pointers or training or even a warning they just decided to find a different teacher. This is the only job I’ve ever been fired from.
Middle School/High School:
I taught at Beijing No. 1 Middle School in the afternoons Mon. – Fri. I had two 7th grade classes, one 8th grade class and two 10th grade classes. I was their after-school English teacher. They weren’t very respectful because I didn’t give them any sort of grade except for an exam at the end of the term, which I was expected to make but not told about until about two weeks beforehand. Communication isn’t really anyone’s strongpoint here. The materials I was given to use were mediocre at best. I wasn’t given actual books, but photocopies mass produced from one original copy. I was given a CD to use for listening exercises but no CD player. I improvised by copying the CD to my computer and attempting to use my small computer speakers in a class of 30 students who were all talking. Once I figured out the best way to conduct the classes I enjoyed it much more. The 7th grade students were much more willing to participate in a class activity. They also loved making fun of each other. So I realized I could gain their respect by chiming in on the teasing of a student. By making one of them lose face, the other students learned never to upset me for fear of also being made to lose face. The same worked with the 8th graders, but there were more respectful students in the 8th grade class who I really came to enjoy. Eventually in the 10th grade class I would just chat with the ones who wanted to chat. They were really awkward and preferred to be left alone so I only taught a little. I remember being that age and it is definitely an awkward time in life. My favorite students of all the classes were the ones who wanted to learn and put forth an effort. This job definitely taught me that it didn’t matter what age I was teaching, I would enjoy it if the students were there because they wanted to be.
There are university jobs where they get you a working visa and give you your own place to live on campus but they usually only pay about 7,000-8,000RMB a month. They’re not so easy to find. There are more lucrative university teaching jobs that pay 150 – 200RMB per hour. But the students you will teach aren’t ‘real’ Chinese University students. These are students from very rich families who failed the college entrance exam (you can only take it once in China). There are more and more of these students in China so some universities have started an HND program. It’s a very expensive program where the students only study English intensively for three years in China and then go on to a University in an English speaking country to actually finish their degree. It’s a great opportunity for the students who care and do well. But there are so many students who don’t care and they never participate in class or do their homework. They have a class monitor who calls them if they’re not in class and makes them come. So you always have to deal with the bad students because they’re made to come even though they’d rather be sitting in their dorm playing video games. So one of my favorite parts of University jobs was giving presentations as homework assignments and then laughing at how bad they were. Case in point:
But these jobs aren’t all bad. The students who care make it worth your while. I always loved it when students would join me in doing fun things on the weekends.
These jobs are great because they provide for a really flexible schedule and pay whatever you want them to. These days I charge 200RMB per hour for 1 on 1. If you’re teaching kids it can be really frustrating trying to make them sit and do something but adults are great to tutor because they’re interested in learning English and are very eager to teach you a thing or two about Chinese culture. They will also help you in any way you need if they can. They will bend over backwards to make sure you’re comfortable in their country. But they can stop the class at anytime without warning and sometimes for no reason.
Corporate Training Centers:
I worked for Wall Street English for 2 years and I think it is the best teaching job I’ve ever had. The students are all 18 or older, they want to learn English, and they value what they learn from you. The job and pay are both stable and because I was part time, my schedule was pretty flexible. I only had 5 days of annual leave but I’ve been able to work out all the travel I’ve done pretty easily over the last 2 years. The only thing I didn’t like about this job is how corporate it is. The dress code is business casual so that means ties for men and nice Sunday clothes for ladies. The centers all have targets that must be reached each month and the bonus from getting those targets is nice, but sometimes it causes the service to the students to not be ideal. These places are not schools; they are businesses. As such, their primary concern is making money and growing. WSE is quickly becoming the biggest learning institution in China. That’s great for the company, but diminishes respect for teachers a bit and the heads of the company mostly view us as marketing tools. The company is in the middle of making some big changes and it will be interesting to see how it turns out.
In Kunming I worked full-time (20 teaching hours + 4 office hours/week) at a training center in Kunming. Most of the students were young (6-12 years old) and classes were 1.5 hours each with up to 10 students. It was a good job, but I hated the schedule – I worked 6 days/week. There was still a lot of free time, though, and I got two whole months off with half pay plus (most) Chinese holidays at full pay, so I guess I shouldn’t complain too much! To save money for our big summer plans, I took on a few other part-time jobs bringing me to about 30 hours/week. I was busy but I made great money! I was able to live in Bali for 8 months on what I saved working in Kunming.