Common Problems at English Language Schools in CHina

Common Problems at English Language Schools in China

Many English training schools in China are absolutely great to work for. However, there are many English schools in China which should be avoided. Your experience of living and working in China will vary greatly on the choices you make and who is helping you to make your next career move in China.

John Berridge, an experienced TEFL teacher in China, explains the reality of working in Chinese private language centres for many who have made poor choices.
Different Experiences in Different Schools

There is a great degree of variation in the experiences of those I have met whilst teaching in China. If you are studying or working here then you will soon discover the plethora of private language centres that exist in your city devoted to providing extra English learning that take up much of a Chinese school student’s free time.
It is worth noting that many full-time teaching contracts stipulate that one should not engage in any other paid work (and it is common for such language schools to approach foreigners if you are not already working for one). Often these offers of extra work will come from your place of work directly; so well connected are schools and their school leaders. Indeed, if you look like the Chinese idea of a conventional ‘Westerner’ (a term so broad I deem it functionless) then you could find yourself very busy indeed.

The Range of Private Language Schools in China

China runs on a ‘who you know’ basis and whereas private learning is sometimes sneered at or cause of embarrassment for some families in the western world, in China if a child is not immersed in classes all weekend it is unusual, certainly in the competitive cities and amongst the middle classes. Don’t be surprised if extra English teaching opportunities come your way from these institutions. They come in all shapes and sizes, often with motivational buzz-wordy-type names that might enhance your experience here whilst seeing another side of the educational system. Some of them are fakes, some of them are full of hot air and some of them do a fantastic job.

Giving Schools 'Face'

If you already work for a private language school then these institutions will be pleased to have your services. When you talk with people about China, whether native or non-native, you will at some point touch upon the subject of ‘face’, the very same ‘face’ that I have seen to be the final straw for some foreign teachers. 'Face' is basically making yourself look good in-front of others. A foreign teacher, or ‘expert’, is a trophy for many, which gives the school owner 'face' – something to be worn and displayed. This means that sometimes one’s work is thought of as secondary to the notion of actually having a foreign teacher. It is also led me to question the capability of some of the so-called foreign experts (foreign teachers) I have met. Often people will be looking at you and not the good work which one is doing.

Token Foreign Face

I have made friends that have had a contractual obligation to sit in public areas for hours each day merely waving as parents come to collect their kids, being the ‘token face’ so parents can see what their money is getting them first hand. Inevitably this can cause problems and eat away at one’s moral code and it is not often dealt with in great competence or understanding by the employer. So being made to dress up as Santa Claus for the Christmas period may not have been on your wish-list when you came to teach in China but those embarrassing festive photos are still lingering around in the city where I live and similarly assumptive duties are sometimes ‘expected’ of you!

Find out the quality of accommodation for ESL teachers before signing a contract

Another situation that I have heard turn sour more than a few times is the issue of accommodation which can often be included in one’s package or contract. It is not unusual to be asked to live under curfew. One teacher I once knew (a married man in his native country), lived inside of the kindergarten building where he taught. Language immersion defined; just him and the local caretaker! The man in question kept a bottle of strong Chinese alcohol under his bed and did the whole giving face routine (waving and Santa, etc.) whilst inebriated. Another shared a bedroom with a Chinese co-worker, both whose habits were completely different and it was not a harmonious dénouement!

Several teachers I have got to know have ended up living in another person’s apartment, put up with uninhabitable ‘box rooms’ or made to sleep in dormitories with several other teachers. Once this is done they have been easily cajoled or intimidated into position, subservient to the beck and call of the school leader’s wants and needs.

For several very admirable and well qualified non-native-English-speaker-teacher friends, looking for jobs in China, simply these private language centres are sometimes just not what they say they are and due to the restrictions of issuing Visas to foreign employees have fallen victim to dirty tricks used by the employer.
When dealing with foreigners, the goalposts can move very quickly regarding one’s status. Schools and higher education institutions have more set guidelines it seems for recruiting. If you are dealing with somewhere that has not previously employed a foreign teacher then expect to go through some difficulties and be prepared to fight your corner!

by John Berridge

Note: All of the RAY English Recruitment jobs in private language centres are with first-choice schools, offering excellent accommodation and career support. The schools which John describes above are very plentiful in China, but we avoid them with a barge-pole! By applying with us, you are guaranteed to avoid such schools.

John Berridge is an experienced ESL teacher in China. He is also an artist and a writer. Please take a few minutes to check out his work here.
Published in Articles about China
Monday, 11 January 2016 23:28

Unusual Days Off in China

Unusual Days Off in China

I have been teaching since 2004 as an EFL teacher in the UK and in Italy for a couple of years, and I moved to China in October 2012. At first I was in Guangxi for a month, but since then I have been living in the northeast of China, where I teach at kindergarten and teenagers in a training centre.

The dreaded six-day week!

It has been a challenge in many ways, first of all there is a six day working week, which has been a shock to the system for me, because the weekend in the UK is “sacred” and everyone looks forward to Friday, I remember going home on the tube in London on a Friday evening, you could almost taste the relief on people’s faces that the weekend had arrived.

Days Off in China

In China our day off is on Monday, and it has become a very precious day for all the foreign teachers who are here, there are six of us at the moment. Another aspect of working here is that if you are ill or if there is a public holiday, you have to make up the days missed, which inevitably means that you will probably have to work on the Monday. So, we may end up working seven days a week.  

In reality, I actually work less hours than I did in the UK, but it is the fact that the hours are spread out over six days, which makes it feel much longer than a thirty five or forty hour week.

The New School timetable

Anyway, after the spring holiday the kindergarten started again and my new timetable was given to me. The first week it was just three classes in the morning, classes can be either twenty five minutes long or twenty minutes, it depends on the age of the children.  The first week was quite easy, it was jogging along nicely, but as I have discovered living in China, nothing is always as it seems, the following week I was told on the phone by my manager “Oh by the way, you have seven classes back to back in the morning and six back to back in the afternoon.” I thought I was going to scream, because there is never any warning, and plus there were no books as yet to teach the children from!

A great place to learn Chinese Mandarin

I do not want to give the impression that it is all bad here, the city I am in is small but friendly, which means it is an excellent place to practice my Mandarin, and we are given a furnished flat for free with internet, for which the school pays. Teaching kindergarten and teenagers in China is a good experience, it is a growing market, and will really add to my experience as a TEFL teacher, so, I hope to use this weekly “diary” to chart my challenges and highs while teaching here, and hopefully give an honest account and picture of ,what it is like to teach in China. However, I am aware that China is a big country, and my experience may or may not be representative, but maybe I can help in your understanding of what it is to live and teach here.

Yolande is an experienced teacher living and working in Harbin, China. She regularly writes her own blog which can be found here.

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