When I first started teaching in China back in 2012, I started out at Gannan Medical University in Jiangxi Province. Although some expats shy away from university positions due to the generally lower salary, I truly cherish the experience I had teaching at Gannan, and I’d like to help you explore the many positives of working at a Chinese college or university. It’s true that the salary may be lower than what you’ll find at an international school or training center. But the underlying positives might sway you toward handing in an application and working at one of these institutions.
Let’s go over a few of the reasons why universities are an excellent choice when exploring job options in China.
Lower Working Hours
Although the salary for an English teacher at a university in China may be comparably low, the working hours and pressure you’re under are drastically less than what you’ll face at an international school, private school, or training center. At most private education companies and privately owned schools, there’ll be a lot of administrative pressure to teach more classes, take on extracurricular or extra-contractual obligations, and spend countless dreaded office hours at the school when you could be doing something else. Teachers at universities almost never have office hours and if they do, they are very flexible or even optional.
On top of this lack of office hours is the remarkably low maximum teaching hours. Most university teaching contracts will state “no more than 20 classes per week, classes are 45 minutes per session” in their employment terms. In my experience, this means you generally end up with anywhere from 12-15 classes per week. If you do the math, that means you are working around ten hours per week (often on three or four workdays). When I was working at the university, I had ample free time to work on my Chinese, grab a teaching certification, get in shape, and travel!
Provided Meals, Housing, and Utilities
The specific perks provided by different universities may vary, but they like to keep their teachers well-fed and living comfortably. Every job ad from a university that I’ve seen included a free, private apartment and usually a utility stipend to go with it. The value of these benefits alone should be enough to seriously consider one of these positions. In many tier 1 cities, a private apartment can cost you a whopping 6,000-10,000 RMB per month. Having an employer-provided apartment also rids you of any landlord-induced stress and means you won’t have to cough up the exorbitant starting costs of renting an apartment in China - equivalent to anywhere between one to six months of rent paid upfront!
Universities, in my experience, also offer free or heavily subsidized meals. Some schools may provide you with a free breakfast and lunch, while others may charge 5-6 RMB per meal (less than $1 USD).
With free housing, paid utilities, and meals that cost little or nothing, you really don’t have much left to spend your money on. Not only does working at a university provide you with the freedom to do what you like with your spare time, they also provide the financial freedom of not having to worry about what you eat or where you’re going to live.
This is a VERY underrated perk of working at a university. When you teach at a university, the genuine interest students have in what you’re teaching is incredibly rewarding. It also means you don’t have to worry about classroom management (and whatever classroom management that is needed is very minimal), and you won’t have to deal with parents or administrators yammering at you about every little thing that happens in your classroom. Since your students are adults, they understand that they have a greater responsibility for their learning than students who are in primary, middle, or high school.
At university, you’ll likely be working with either English majors, or students completing a degree that requires them to achieve a certain level of English proficiency. The students listen to you intently and work diligently towards their learning goals. When you start the semester, you’ll also be able to ask them what they’d like to learn and build your syllabus toward their goals, which brings us to our next perk:
Complete Teacher Autonomy
It’s no secret that privately-owned schools and training centers usually have a set curriculum. Supervisors will watch you closely and make sure you’re on task and on schedule with the provided curriculum. At private schools, you can also expect regular evaluations and observations of your classes. This is understandable, as these schools are often businesses and are managed as such.
At university, you don’t need to worry about doing exactly what you’re told. Teachers enjoy the liberty to teach how they would like to teach. You have the freedom to share a worldview and have open discussions with your class that can expand their world views, rather than drilling vocabulary and phonics exercises at a training center or privately-run school. Creating curriculum on your own may seem daunting, but don’t be deterred. Teaching custom, student-centered lessons based on students’ goals and abilities will make your job not only more fulfilling, but more enjoyable.
When I was teaching a course for English majors at Gannan Medical University, I had to create my own curriculum. The final project I assigned was to write a well-crafted, organized, academic essay, complete with a thesis statement supported by properly sourced and cited evidence in MLA format. My English students were so invested in this assignment and so appreciative of what I taught them that to this day, they still reach out to thank me for teaching them to write academically. Several of those students are currently attending graduate school in the USA and have told me that the writing skills they developed in that class have helped them to successfully write top-notch essays in their grad school courses!
Explore University Positions!
If you’re a teacher who enjoys freedom in what you teach, and you appreciate ample free time and a stress-free living situation, see what a Chinese university can offer. If you weigh the perks against those at a private school, you may find teaching at a Chinese college or university really appeals to you. Universities all over China are currently looking for teachers. For more info and to apply, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(By: Ted Salonek)