How to find a better teaching job in China.

Aug 18, 2014

New Academic Year, New school, New life!  

You came to China to teach ESL, with so much hope, and thoughts of immersing yourself in the culture, learning a new language, traveling all over Asia on your vacation time, making friends from around the world, paying off some student loans, and going home a better person for it.

Yet, you found the opposite, the school doesn’t give you enough time off, they NEVER pay on time, you find yourself chasing down your boss for a pay stub or wondering why your check was short this month. You feel isolated, overworked, underpaid. Everyone hates working there. Turnover is high with stories of ‘midnight runs’ abundant, and you spend your free time browsing the classified ads or travel sites for the cheapest flight home. Your social circle is made up of other disgruntled co-workers, and you spend the little free time you have complaining to each other about the job and the boss. Throw in a bench press, some orange uniforms and it could easily be a scene from a bad prison movie.

clowning around

If you feel like this, it may be time to find a new school.

Telltale signs:

At some level all schools are imperfect. In my 11 years working in education, I’ve found similar issues in every country I’ve worked in. Listen: Teaching is work! There is no way around it. Administrators and teachers all deal with high demands: kids are kids, they would rather be at home playing, parents have their expectations, the boss has his/her expectations, teachers are overwhelmed, and paperwork is abundant. Welcome to education! This is why we get long summer and winter breaks back home, otherwise, we’d go crazy. There are some basics, however, that a school (or any employer) should provide its employees in order to be able to do their job effectively. While there are always things to complain about (see the ESL teacher forums), basics like pay, time off, and a good working environment should be no-brainers. If your school is not providing the basic necessities then you should really reconsider your time there.

  • High employee turnover: In Korea, my first school had a bad reputation. Teachers pulled midnight runs all the time. We had a calendar on the wall for new teachers. We each gave the new teachers 2 months and chose a day or week that we thought they would disappear. The winner got dinner for a month. Actually, I cheated because I would befriend the new teacher(s) and find out when they were quitting, even facilitating their escape. Needless to say, I never paid for a dinner in my year in Korea. If no one finishes their contract at their school, it’s a bad sign, and you shouldn’t feel bad if something better comes up.
  • Pay: I don’t need to explain this one. Pay me, I work. Don’t pay me, I quit. My boss in Korea would conveniently forget to give us our pay stub, and wouldn’t come in on payday. Every month we each set aside time to meet with her to ask why our salary was short. We never got paid on time. In China, sometimes schools pay cash when your visa is still in process, since you need a visa to get a bank account, and sometimes it may take a day or two once you get your new account. This is excusable. However, after a few months, you will begin to see a pattern. If your check is consistently short, late, or “in the mail”, it’s time to think about your time there. Schools that are dishonest or don’t have the cash to pay their teachers on time are not good places to work.
  • Work environment: Schools should provide you with a safe place to work, meaning no construction in the middle of your class, nails on the floor, or health hazards like toxic fumes. Also, if the general morale and enthusiasm of the team is low, and everyone is constantly complaining about the boss, the kids, and the parents, you will feel really miserable and it will show in your teaching. Kids pick up on your lack of energy and will be even more difficult to manage, compounding the problem. Your time with children should be happy and fulfilling, not depressing.
  • Vacation time: You came to Asia to travel and experience a new culture, yet your time last year was spent in a classroom or in a bar whining about the classroom. They said you’d get national holidays but never were clear when these were, and meanwhile, all your friends are posting pictures of their holiday in Thailand or visiting the Great Wall. Teachers need breaks; you came to experience the country. Find something that will allow you to do this. Now is the time!


Light at the end of the tunnel.

The New Academic Year is upon us. Many of us often resolve to lose weight, quit smoking, exercise more, or find a new job–change our lives. Most of the time we never follow through, and instead, find ourselves doing the same thing next year. Be proactive! Don’t spend your holiday miserable, crying because you can’t afford to go home, or because you don’t want to return to China after the Summer Vacation. Otherwise you’ll be doing the same thing next December, trust me. There are many good places to work and lots of happy teachers who love what they do, and sign on for more years with their schools. Question is: how do you break the contract and find a new teaching job without all the trouble that comes with it (i.e. bad references, visa problems, lost pay, etc…)?

There are a couple of issues I run into as a recruiter with teachers who want to change jobs.

  1. Breaking a contract: If possible try to do things right the first time. Read your contract, what are the penalties for breaching/breaking? Will you lose a paycheck or have to pay? Will you be able to leave without a penalty if you give adequate notice? What are some reasonable excuses? Find out, ask around, but be discreet. Chances are there won’t be any problem if you do things right. I don’t advocate lying, but there is nothing wrong with selective honesty. I got an offer for a new job once, and coincidentally had back pain from an old injury. I told my doctor I couldn’t work with kids anymore and he wrote me a letter that helped me get out of the contract without any problem. Be creative, and try to do things right!
  2. Visa: This one is a tricky, but not impossible hurdle to overcome. Technically if you break the contract or leave on bad terms you won’t be able to get another work visa as easily. You will need to get a letter of release and a recommendation from your former employer in order to transfer your visa to a new employer. This is easiest when you complete the contract and leave on good terms. However, this is not always the case. Luckily, immigration regulations in China vary by city. If you break a contract in one city you may be able to apply for a work visa in a different city without any problem. Many people opt to do this, and either return home and reapply for another position, or apply in China, and go to Hong Kong to apply for a new work visa. It’s not as simple as this but you can talk to your recruiter or new school about coming up with a creative solution to the visa problem.

We can help!

I have run the gamut of schools in China, good and bad, and I wouldn’t put anyone forward for anything I wouldn’t take myself. One of the services Teaching Nomad provides is the screening of schools, meaning we review the contracts, interview current teachers, and make sure their overall experience was satisfactory (i.e. timely pay, adequate vacation time, and comfortable working environment). We also provide informed advice to people looking to start or change their teaching careers in China. Keep in regular contact with your recruiter, as they are paid by the schools to find a qualified teacher who will stay and it’s in their best interest to help you by communicating with the school or finding you a better position in the event that things don’t work out. For questions or inquiries into making the big move in the New Year, please feel free to contact your Teaching Nomad placement consultant.  

About our company: Teaching Nomad is an American owned and operated education Recruitment Company based in Shanghai, China. Our goal and purpose is to help great teachers find great teaching jobs. Year round, we have hundreds of teaching job vacancies. Whether your goal is to be an ESL teacher or teach in an international school, we have a teaching job for you. You can browse jobs online at for the latest job openings. Teaching Nomad is here to make teaching in China easier, so please feel free to reach out and contact us with any questions or enquiries!


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