5 Tips for Teaching in China

Serving as a volunteer teacher overseas is a wonderful experience. With our service programs in China, you can teach in either Yantai or Mashan. In addition to arranging your visa and plane tickets, there are some tips for teaching in China that you should know before you arrive to be a teacher in China.

Here are:

5 Tips for Teaching in China

1. The Kids are Different

This is one of the most important tips for teaching in China.

I have spent time over the years as a teacher, administrator and observer in classrooms around the world in Africa, Asia Latin America, the US — and in China . It is clear that each culture has its own unique dynamic between teachers and students.

In China, the teaching profession is revered (although maybe not as much as architect in the US!). Teachers in China get a lot of respect from society, including from parents and students alike.

Your Chinese students will likely be very attentive and well-behaved. They will pay attention to instructions, listen to every word you say, and overall be very respectful. (This may wane over time as time goes on though as they get more familiar with you).

2. You’re a Kardashian

As a foreigner in China, expect little sense of privacy or solitude especially in public.

Everywhere you go — especially in rural areas but even in huge cities — people will notice you and often stare at you. They may even call out to you, “foreigner!”. If you are a woman, the attention may occasionally be gender-related.

Some locals will try to take a photo with you and them — even surreptitiously! Why not even ask you? I think it’s the general reserved and shy nature of Chinese people especially in public. 

The attention is amusing at first but can get tiresome after a while. But hey, don’t get mad. You chose to come to China and become immersed in their culture. Constant attention comes with the territory.

Try to keep in mind that the overwhelming majority of the people staring at you and perhaps asking for a photo are merely being curious. They are not sizing you up for a scam or any other bad thing.

It is best to be patient and good-natured about the situation. Taking a photo with someone may be the highlight of that person’s day and give them a big smile. This is another one of the important tips for teaching in China.

This might be your only chance to feel what it’s like to be Kim Kardashian and have your every move in public watched!

3. Paid Vs. Unpaid

Schools in China have both paid and unpaid foreign teachers. This is true for most teaching programs in Asia.

As a volunteer in China with Cosmic Volunteers:

You will be teaching for free with no salary or wages. Most non-profits like ours places China teaching participants like yourself only in unpaid teaching jobs. The non-financial benefits of teaching in China are numerous of course: Being able to help children learn, sharing your time and talents, and learning about Chinese culture and your students’ lives.

As a paid teacher in China:

You can also get the same benefits as a volunteer teacher. But other than the pay, there are some major differences. As a paid teacher, you will typically have to commit to at least one year of teaching (some schools allow six months). You will also need credentials like a bachelors degree and a certification to teach English as a foreign language (aka TESOL or TEFL certification). 

Paid vs. unpaid (volunteer) teachers may have different schedules and expectations. Volunteers usually are not in-charge of an entire class and lesson plans; Paid teachers will usually have more and longer class sessions; Volunteers will sometimes also have lower expectations from teachers and administrators.

Either way — whether volunteering or getting paid — you will have a wonderful experience teaching in China. 

4. Not sharing a language is difficult

It is usually best not to assume anything in life. But one exception is that when teaching in China, assume that you will likely not share a language with anyone — students, teachers, and parents.

(Notice I did not say — “no one will speak English”. While English has become the lingua franca of the world — for travel and business etc. —  most people in China do not speak English. It’s a two-way street though; how many Americans speak Mandarin after all?).

How can you survive, let alone teach, in such a situation? Well, this is where you need to use your creativity and patience:

> With young kids, start with the Total Physical Response (TPR) language teaching method where teachers give commands to students and the latter respond with whole-body actions (think “Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes”).

> With parents and teachers, use apps like Google Translate to communicate.

> Learn basic words in Chinese. The teachers and students will be delighted to see your effort to learn their language. Even after a few weeks, you can have a vocabulary of 50+ words like “good morning”, “sit please”, “wash hands”, “book”, “song” etc.

5. Use Free Online Resources

Assume — again, a good idea in this case — that your school will not have much in the way of lesson plans and materials for you and your students. However you can and should prepare for your teaching job in China even before you arrive. This one of the tips for teaching in China that we hear often from past volunteers.

There are many free online resources you can use:

Super Simple Learning

This is a YouTube channel with kids songs, nursery rhymes, and more! Learn and explore through song and movement with Super Simple Songs! Our team of educators has created some of the most popular children’s songs on YouTube to get up, move, and sing along with! Get ready for a musical adventure in rhyme! free flashcards, games, and worksheets.

ESL Kid Stuff

Use this site for the free lesson plans. The rest of the site requires an annual subscription ($29 USD) for flash cards, worksheets and teaching resources. You can easily do a month of classes with the lesson plans alone.

Free Kids Books

Free Kids Books is a growing library of unique children’s books and literary resources available online and for download in a user friendly PDF format. Books are separated into categories for toddlers, children, and young adults. Not all of the books are free, but many are.

Book Dash

This library includes PDF ebooks, as well as PDF print-ready files and audiobooks where they are available. Books can also be read using their Android app. Based in South Africa, their books are made by a team of volunteers during a 12-hour book-making event (called a Book Dash) to create beautiful, African storybooks for all to read and enjoy.

ESL Galaxy

ESL Galaxy is a portal site which includes: www.ESLtower.com, www.English-4kids.com, www.EnglishMediaLab.com, www.Download-ESL.com, www.Chinesefortravel.com and www.ESLKIDSLAB.com, ESLgamesworld.com. They have over 6556 resources ranging from printable worksheets to computer-assisted ESL materials.

So, make sure to keep all of the above tips for teaching in China during your trip.