Teach English in China: Interview with Gordie Rogers

Teach English Abroad

Gordie Rogers is a Kiwi, who has been teaching English in Tianjin, China for nearly 7 years and also has runs the blog Lifestyle Design for You. He was kind enough to share some of his experiences teaching English in this interview.

Teach English in China with Gordie Rogers
Teach English in China with Gordie Rogers

How long have you been teaching English in China?

I have been teaching English in China for about six and a half years since early 2003.

In that time I’ve taught mostly at the university level, but also spent a year teaching English to primary school kids and taught adults at various times in private English language schools.

How did you find your first teaching job?

I’ll talk about how I found my first job in China, even though I taught for a year first in South Korea. I was travelling in Malaysia at the time. I placed my resume on several English teaching websites such as Dave’s ESL Café. A university in Tianjin, China found my resume on one of those sites and emailed me asking if I was interested in working for them. I replied that I was and then got a tourist visa and flew to China to start teaching.

How easy is it to find teaching jobs in China?

It’s getting more difficult for the inexperienced, under qualified and the older teachers. It also varies from city to city. I don’t know the reasoning, but the government has introduced rules where most schools can’t employ EFL teachers over 60 years old. As a result many older foreign teachers I knew struggled to find regular work and couldn’t get a work visa and so in the end went back home. I’ve actually heard of universities even refusing to employ EFL teachers over 45 years old.

However, if you aren’t too old and are properly qualified i.e. have a degree and either a TESOL/TEFL certificate and/or at least two years teaching experience then it’s still pretty easy. The English learning market is still growing here, and demand for good teachers is growing, especially in the private school sector.

Is it necessary to have teaching certificates or training to find employment?

By Chinese law, all foreign English teachers should have a college/university degree and either a TESOL/TEFL certificate or at least two years teaching experience.

How did you get your first work visa?

In 2003, I came to China on a tourist visa. In the first week the university took me to get a health check and then they got the tourist visa converted to a work visa within a couple of weeks. The university did all the processing for me.

However, this way of doing things is no longer possible. Now, if you want to teach legally in China, you should get your health check and work visa organized in your home country before arriving to work at your school in China. They may even make you double up by taking another health check upon your arrival in China.

Is it possible for teachers to arrive without a work visa and look for a job?

Yes, they could come in on a tourist visa to look for work, but they would have to leave China to get their work visa and re-enter which defeats the idea of coming here to look for and start working in the first place. Laws in China change frequently and are enforced differently and arbitrarily. I wouldn’t recommend you come here to look for work without a work visa and a job unless you wanted to explore and travel to get a feel for China and be willing to leave again until your work visa has been processed so you can start teaching. If you find a job, you can get the school to send the paper work including work invitation back to you in your own country.

What is the cost of living in China?

Rent varies hugely from city to city. Beijing and Shanghai are the most expensive. I can talk about Tianjin, which is China’s third largest city. You can find an average two bedroom apartment for about RMB 1800-2500 (US$264-$366) per month. Going out varies. Most clubs don’t have a door charge, so you’ll just be paying for what you drink inside. Average price of a pint of beer in a club is RMB 20-30 (US$2.93-$4.39). However, in restaurants and cheaper bars, you could get a pint for 6-10RMB (US$0.88-$1.46).

Food in markets is usually cheaper than supermarkets, however because you’re a foreigner, you may be charged more because they view you as being rich and therefore worthy of being cheated because the color of your skin. Lol! You can get by on 1500-2500 (US$220-$366) per month on food. However, if you like Western food and other imported foods, then you’ll be paying substantially more.

How much money can the average teacher expect to save?

This naturally will vary. Saving much is not that likely if you only teach at a university because they normally give you a free apartment, return airfare and only 10-16 hours of classes per week. However, if you wanted to supplement your income by doing private lessons then you should be able to start saving.

If you work at a private school, you’ll be working more hours, but you should also be able save a bit. If you like to go out a bit and eat out a lot, then I think on a RMB 8,000-10,000 (US$1,172-$1,464) monthly salary you could save RMB 2000-4000 (US$293-$586) per month.

Do you recommend China for other English teachers?

Yes and no. It depends what you want. If you’re an education idealist who wants develop your teaching to a highly professional level and have a professional environment and a school which puts a strong emphasis on English teaching then perhaps not.

However, if you want to get some experience teaching and are realistic that most schools here do the bare minimum in regards to English education then it can be a good place to teach.

Have you found opportunities to do work other than teaching?

Very few. I had a brief stint for a few months with a private school as their human resources manager, but then they ran into the trouble with the law and moved away. So, it was back to teaching for me. In China, the law strictly states that if you’re invited here to teach, then you should only teach and not engage in any other kind of employment as the condition of your visa is that you’re a teaching expert. There are expats here who work illegally doing business here, but they’re normally on tourist or student visas.

What do you love and hate about China?

I just love the fact that it’s so different from my home country, New Zealand. There’s lots of growth and change, different culture, etc. I love China for traveling. It has a huge variety of places to travel to. I also love the cross-section of expatriates that I can meet here from all over the world. It’s cheaper and more convenient to go out here in the evenings too than it is back in the West.

Hygiene is a major problem in China. Spitting, public urination and littering are common place. Air and water pollution are shocking. Corruption and inefficiency can also be frustrating when dealing with Government departments and businesses.

However, these are bearable once you get used to them. I don’t regret one moment of my time in China and will be sad to leave next July to return home.

What advice would you offer for others thinking of teaching English Abroad?

I can only speak as one who has had teaching experience in South Korea and China. Realize that the private schools are all about maximizing profits from their students and teachers. Educational quality comes a distant second to profits.

In the public schools, they do the minimum to get by. At every university I’ve taught at, I’ve only taught each class once a week for two hours. I feel it’s very hard to make much of a difference with such little contact time with students. So, if you’re an idealist who thinks you’re going to be able to make a huge difference in the English level of students, then be prepared to do it in your unpaid free time.

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China (Cost of Living)
China (Visa Requirements)
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