Teacher Kim Ooi writing for Hello Teacher!

Updated August 26, 2020
By Kim Ooi

Do not teach in China

I've been teaching in China now for nearly five years.

In that time, I've seen many teachers thrive and make a success of their careers in China. 

But I've also seen teachers who give our profession a bad name.

That's not to say I’m perfect or never make mistakes. In fact, some of the advice that follows is what I would tell my younger self.

So, what traits are undesirable or unhelpful for a TEFL teacher in China to have?

Ranging from inflexibility to having unreasonable salary expectations, I believe there are 10 things that stand out.

Put simply, do not teach in China if you have any of these traits.

1. You're not flexible and adaptable

Flexibility and adaptability are perhaps the most important qualities that an EFL teacher in China needs.

What you learn on your TEFL or CELTA course is almost useless when it comes to teaching in China.

You’ll find that eliciting doesn’t work in China. You may be given a subject like history, geography or culture to teach.

And you’ll encounter behaviours that will confuse or even shock and offend you.

Do not teach in China unless you are flexible and adaptable

Teachers in China should be flexible and adaptable.

Your success or failure as a teacher in China depends on your ability to adapt to life in China and to invent some of your own teaching methods that you weren't taught on your TEFL or CELTA course.

(If you want to read more about this, see my comparison of CELTA vs TEFL.)

2. You don't like learning a new language

I’ll admit that I’m guilty of this one.

I can speak three languages but I had spent a lifetime learning them. I didn’t think it would be possible to pick up a new language in a few months and so I found the prospect of learning Chinese daunting.

It’s also very easy to think that as a foreign teacher in China, you don’t need to know Chinese.

If you stay home all the time when you’re not teaching and only socialize with your fellow teachers, you may find that you hardly ever need to speak Chinese.

But if you want to be independent, be able to travel, eat out, buy a train ticket, check in to a hotel easily and make friends with Chinese people, then learning Chinese becomes important.


3. You're not willing to take your job seriously

There are some people who think that TEFL isn’t a ‘real’ job.

However, teaching is a very revered and highly respected profession in China.

Teaching is a respected profession in China

Teaching is a respected profession in China.

At the end of the day, what you get out of it is what you put in.

If you work hard and conduct yourself in a professional manner, you’ll earn the respect of your students. This will make classroom management in China much easier.

If you act like a clown, you’ll be treated like one.

4. You have unreasonable salary expectations

Compared to Western countries, the cost of living in China is low.

With free accommodation thrown in, it's possible to live quite comfortably on less than RMB 500 a week.

Teacher salaries are lower in China compared to the West

Do not teach in China if you have unreasonable salary expectations.

At a public university, you can earn about RMB 7,000 a month, while working at a private training center might get you RMB 15,000 a month. (You can read about a typical teach English in China salary here.)

If you expect a much higher salary, you’ll just make it difficult for yourself to find a teaching job in China.


5. You think it’s OK to seduce your students

I know what you’re thinking – no teacher in their right mind would even think about doing this, right?

Unfortunately, there are teachers in China who can’t resist the temptation to get into a relationship with a student.

If you're caught, you’ll be dismissed from your job and your TEFL career will be in ruins.

6. You're going to do stupid things

I can anticipate a lot of raised eyebrows with this one.

A foreign teacher I met in China decided to engage the services of a prostitute. But he refused to pay her because she didn’t satisfy him!

She called the police straight away.

Despite prostitution being illegal in China, the teacher was the one who got arrested, dismissed from his job and deported from China.

Don't discuss politics in your classroom in China

Don't talk about politics in your Chinese classroom (pictured: President Xi Jinping).

Another teacher I knew lost his job for discussing Chinese politics in class.

In case you haven't heard, one of the most important rules for a foreign teacher in China is never discuss politics, religion or sex in class.

7. You're too strict

When I was a schoolboy, my teachers were strict.

There were many rules that I had to follow and I developed a very serious personality as a result.

In China however, students are very powerful and a teacher’s survival depends on the ratings that their students give them.

A good teacher in China knows how to balance being strict enough to manage the class and engaging enough to be popular with their students.

8. You're tight with money

Chinese culture is heavily based on relationships.

One way to make friends in China is to invite people out (and pick up the tab).

One of my former colleagues liked to take a female friend with him on trips. He got some company and she got a free, all-expenses-paid holiday.

Do not come to China if you are tight with money

Don't come to China if you're tight with money.

As a man, if you want to have an active social life and perhaps find a girlfriend in China, you need to be willing to splash some cash.


9. You can’t live without the comforts of home

China isn’t as developed as most Western countries.

There are certain home comforts that you need to learn to live without in China. For example:

  • Your apartment may not have adequate heating or air-conditioning.
  • You may not have a microwave oven so you’ll have to learn to cook from scratch.
  • You may not have a TV so you’ll need to find other means of keeping yourself entertained.
  • Mattresses in China are quite hard and you’ll need to get used to it.
  • Sometimes power cuts happen or your water supply will be cut off for several hours.

Don't come to China if you can't live without the comforts of home

You need to understand that China is still a developing country before deciding to go and teach there (pictured: rural area of Zhejiang province).

10. You dislike being the centre of attention

I got lucky with this one.

As a British Chinese, I am able to blend in much more easily in China.

However, if you're caucasian, it's likely that Chinese people will approach you, try to practise their English with you, ask for your WeChat ID and even take selfies with you.

This is something that all foreigners in China need to get used to.

English teachers in China hanging out with Chinese friends

Chinese people will try to practise their English with you.

So there you have it: 10 traits you should not have if you want a successful teaching career in China.

Hopefully this will make it easier for you to achieve job security, expand your social life and make the most of your time in China.

Good luck!

What do you think of this 'Do not teach in China' list? Do you have what it takes to teach in China?


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