I’ve had a lot of teaching jobs over the years in China – some great, some tolerable, and some downright awful. Here’s a list of my major jobs (not including very part-time gigs and private students) in my 5+ years of teaching in China:
Job #1: Teacher with Culture Gateway
My first ever job in China was teaching through a small company that was based in the US. Called “Culture Gateway,” they promised just that – a cultural experience where teachers would teach English part-time and study Chinese language and culture as well. An apartment was provided, as was a visa, a year-end bonus, and even a group trip to Yunnan province. It sounded too good to be true, and it was. Arriving in Beijing, we quickly realized that the company had moved the program to new apartments to cut corners. Instead of living in a cool area around a university, as we were promised, we ended up on the outskirts of town in a rundown Chinese neighborhood with zero young people or foreigners. They said it was meant for us to “experience authentic Chinese culture” and that it would help us “get immersed in the language.” Well, none of us were looking for that. Most of us were fresh out of college and looking to have a good time, meet people, and travel. To top it all off, the apartment I was sharing with four other guys was barely even furnished when we moved in. Something stank from the get-go.
As far as work goes, I actually enjoyed the jobs they had set me up with. One was teaching in the morning at a university, and then other was working in a primary school a few days a week in the afternoon. It was all well and good, except for the fact that it took over an hour to get to the first job and there was a three-hour break in between them. We soon realized that the pay was complete shit, as well. We were getting a meager 3,000/month for teaching around 20 hours a week. A quick search turned up many part-time jobs that paid over 10,000. We voiced our grievances to the bosses in a very professional manner, with a presentation outlining our issues and some proposed solutions. When their answer was to give us an extra 200 RMB/month for taxis, most of us quit. I had to forego my deposit on the program, but I felt like it was worth it to get out and not get cheated for another 11 months. In the end, it turned out to be a great decision.
Job #2: Teaching through China ESL at TimeEdu Academy
Desperate to find another job that would allow me to stay in the country, I went to a bunch of interviews and did plenty of demo classes. Eventually, I wound up with a company called China ESL, and they had me interview at a Korean academy. The boss loved me, and I got the job on the spot.
I worked from Monday to Friday for around 20 hours a week, and my salary was 10,000/month. Actually, the school paid 15,000 for me, but the agency took a cut. I know that is a big cut, but this job saved me and allowed me to stay. My agent, Rebecca, lent me money to pay rent, took care of my visa, gave me a holiday and year-end bonus, and even invited me to her wedding! I had started out with an American company because I didn’t want to get screwed over by a local. In the end, I ended up working for a local because I got screwed over by an American company. Live and learn.
I worked in the afternoon from about 2-8 PM, and I usually had three or four classes a day. They were with small groups of Korean kids, and it was super easy. During the rest of my shift, I had “office hours,” where I wrote a blog, kept up with friends, and developed a serious coffee habit. The best part about the job was that they also had a school for Koreans to learn Chinese, and it was right across the street from my apartment. As a teacher, I got to study there for a measly 300 RMB/month. That’s what helped my Chinese get to the conversational level where it is today.
Unfortunately, the academy closed down while I was back in America in 2009. Otherwise, I definitely would have gone back to work there.
Job #3: Primary School teacher through New Development
When I got back to China with Rachel, I was bummed to find that my old Korean school had closed. As such, I looked for a new job. Eventually, we both got offered part-time teaching jobs with New Development, a company that sends English teachers to local primary schools. The classes were fine and the pay was good enough, but I didn’t like bouncing around to different schools and they couldn’t give me enough stable work. As I was looking for other jobs, I randomly ended up in an office with the Korean boss from the old school. I found that the academy had closed, but that they had a high school and needed a teacher. I went back to the Korean school and continued to work a few hours a week for ND.
Job #4: High School teacher at Juncheng Academy
The “high school” that the academy had set up was just an academy at an old kindergarten. There was a playground, a room full of toys and children’s books, and tiny toilets in the boy’s room. The classes were tiny as well, with five or six students. My job was to teach them Speaking and Writing for the TOEFL test, which is incredibly boring. As such, I tried to incorporate some games, music, and videos to make it more interesting. The students were nice, but I felt terrible for them. They had no social life, and they spent their entire day in a classroom, even on weekends. I was getting paid 240 RMB/hour, though, so I wasn’t complaining. However, they couldn’t give me enough hours, so I was still looking for other work. Then one day I got a phone call from a friend who had an opportunity for me. That brings me to…
Job #5: Oral English teacher in the HND program of Renmin University
My friend Zack had worked at Renmin in 2009, and he called from Guangzhou telling me that they had contacted him looking for a teacher immediately. I headed there for an interview with the director of the program and was offered the job on the spot. As they were going to give me 18 hours of class a week, I told New Development that I could no longer teach for them, and I cut a few hours out of the high school as well.
With big groups of college freshmen, my job was to get them speaking English, which is no easy task. The kids in these HND programs are basically the dregs of Chinese society; they have all failed their college entrance exam and their parents are throwing them into an ESL program as a last ditch effort for them to have a future. As such, most of the students are lazy, or even just incompetent. That being said, I had some great students through the years, and I had a lot of fun at the job.
I taught each group two 90-minute lessons every week. In class, I balanced using their textbook with making my own PowerPoint lessons, showing TV shows and movies, playing games, and giving them presentations for homework. I got paid 200 RMB an hour, cash, without tax. This ensured that I saved a ton of money that semester, which helped pay for our awesome month-long backpacking trip through Thailand and Laos. I even taught my students how to play ultimate Frisbee and beer pong.
One of the groups particularly liked my class, thanks to the fact that they were also Digital Media majors. When they told their director how much they enjoyed my class and my videos, the program asked me if I wanted to teach the same kids in a special Video Production workshop for my second year. The program was only nine weeks long, but it was an incredible experience. I designed the course from scratch, beginning with the basics of video cameras and ending with students presenting their videos. Aside from blogging, this was definitely one of the best jobs I’ve had.
I even went back to Renmin again for a third year, mostly to get them to hire Pip, my younger brother. I taught nine hours a week and somehow survived another year of punk-ass freshmen kids with horrible English and zero motivation. It was tough, but it did allow me to live a lavish lifestyle for our last year in Beijing, and the money I saved there will fund a few months in SE Asia.
Job #6: Foreign Trainer at Wall Street English
Sick of doing visa runs and dealing with incompetent Chinese management, we applied for jobs with Wall Street English after a friend referred us. We had our interviews in Beijing, got our online TEFL certificates, and got offered jobs before we went back to the US for the summer. In Chicago, we took care of our working visas, and we headed back to Beijing, finally legit to work!
Working at WSE begins with a week of training, which is helpful, fun, and best of all, paid. We both decided to work part-time, which means 25 hours of work a week with 20 hours of classes. This means that you get an hour to plan every day at work, which was a relief after doing so much lesson planning at home on my own time over the years.
At WSE, most students are adults who are there because they want to learn English. This is much better than teaching rude teenagers who are only there because their parents made them. You teach a variety of classes, some of which are by the book, and others you plan yourself. In addition, you can do lots of cool stuff with your class time. In my nearly two years there, I: taught a weekly Music English Corner, showed “How I Met Your Mother,” had a Super Bowl party, had a cocktail party, and started a monthly Foodie Club where I took a group of students out to dinner (on the company’s tab!)
There are events like center dinners, annual parties, and more, so it’s a pretty fun work environment. On the other hand, it is a big corporation, so all of the corporate ladder BS comes along with it. Get ready to wear a tie, be observed, have meetings, annual reviews, and so on.
As part-time teachers, our base salary was around 11,000 RMB/month. After taxes, pension, and health care, this came out to be just under 10,000 usually. Hitting center goals and doing teacher trainings both added some kuai to our paychecks, as did taking on some overtime and referring friends.
The holiday time sucks with WSE, but we managed to work around it and do stuff like spend two weeks in Mexico without using any annual leave. You can swap shifts with other teachers or make days up if you really want – it just takes some pushing and prodding.
Working at WSE was a stable job that also proved to be pretty flexible. We met a lot of cool people through working there, became much better teachers, and managed to save a lot of money by living off of just one paycheck. In the end, the only reason we decided to leave is because we just want to travel and we’re ready to say goodbye to Beijing. We’d both highly recommend working for WSE if you’re considering teaching English overseas, as they’re in many countries worldwide. Who knows, we may very well end up working for them again in the future.
Job #7: Freelancer in Kunming
Since we arrived in Kunming in August 2014, I’ve basically been working as a freelance blogger/ESL teacher. I’m fortunate enough that I’ve found a good, small English training center that is as flexible as I am where I can teach 8-10 hours a week when in Kunming but leave whenever I want. This gives me more opportunities to get out of town and get new content for the various blogs I run. I also added a few private students, teach an English corner once a week, and take various other side jobs whenever they come up. I’m very much enjoying not being a full-time teacher, but I’m still quite busy. Keep in mind that I have another, reliable, steady income source at the moment. As Rachel doesn’t, she continues to teach full-time here.