Tips for Starting ESL Jobs in China

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Starting a new job can be hard no matter what, and even more so when you’re in a foreign country where you might not understand the language or cultural norms. Schools obviously vary widely in terms of staff support and environment, but no matter where you are, it’s important to start your job off on the right foot. This will make things easier for everyone in the long run. By making sure you’re familiar with the nitty-gritty of your job and that you give the best first impression to your school or training center, you’ll establish yourself as a great employee and set yourself up for smooth sailing!

Checking your Contract

When you start a new job, it’s always integral to check your contract at the outset. It can be hard to navigate all the sections of a contract, so I’ll break down which things are the most important to pay attention to. First, be sure of your schedule. Are you expected to regularly work overtime, and if so, do you get compensated for it? What are your vacation days, and do you get vacation pay? If so, is it full pay or half pay? What’s their sick leave policy? You should find out how many paid sick days you get a month, and whether or not you need to have a doctor’s note for them to count as sick days. Additionally, find out if there’s a penalty if you miss a day of work without having a doctor’s note.

You’ll be much happier if you know this information from the beginning rather than having to scramble to find it out when you’ve woken up feverish or with food poisoning. The same advice goes for lateness – what’s the school’s policy for being late? Do you have office hours, and if so, how many? Are you required to go to weekly meetings or provide English training to the Chinese teachers in your school? What happens if you want to take a day off for personal reasons? How much advance notice do you need to give, and what’s the school’s policy on compensation for it? Discuss your contract with your boss, and make sure you’re clear on all the different aspects of it. Doing this doesn’t make you come off as litigious or entitled (assuming you’re respectful and well-meaning when you’re clarifying the terms of your contract), it shows that you are attentive to detail and that clear communication and equity are important to you.

Establish Rapport

When you first start a new job, it’s important to make a good impression. Add your contact teacher, the head of the English department, your co-teachers, and any other appropriate people at your school on Wechat. Greet people in the hallways when you see them, and make a point of trying to learn names and routines quickly. If you’re at a training center or private school, it’s also in your interest to try to build relationships with the parents of your students. Being in the good graces of parents and leadership at your school will increase your standing and make it easier for you to negotiate down the line. Plus, it means more friends and more opportunities to learn about Chinese culture!

Be Confident

Getting to know the ropes of a new job is always difficult, and if you’ve never taught before then it can be especially daunting. The amount of support and training you’ll receive varies widely between institutions, so if you don’t feel you’ve been given enough instruction, don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself and ask to shadow a class or see what a lesson should look like. Also, if there are other foreign teachers in your school, you can ask them for advice.

That said, if you have a Foreign Expert Certificate and a work visa, then you’ve probably been hired as an English head teacher, and not an assistant. Don’t be afraid to take control in the classroom and step into your role as head teacher. You should obviously listen to the advice of your teaching partner or assistant, especially if they’re experienced in their role, but make clear that you’re the head foreign teacher when you’re in the classroom. Having good rapport with your teaching partner will really help you here. This is especially important in getting the students to respect and listen to you when you first start teaching, and establishing a harmonious and disciplined classroom.

Have fun!

All said and done, the most important thing in a new English teaching job, as with so many things, is to approach your work with a good attitude and an open mind. If you work hard and are cheerful and warm, then you’re sure to do well in your job and forge a good relationship with your coworkers. Also, you’ll find it more rewarding and fun! I hope this advice has been helpful, and good luck starting your new job!

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