Teaching English in Shanghai

If your English is good enough to fol­low dis­cus­sions on this site you can get a job teach­ing English in Shang­hai. If you can par­ti­ci­pate mean­ingfully you are frankly overqual­ified. I am cur­rently sav­ing about 2,000 dol­lars a month work­ing ap­prox­i­mately 9-5 ev­ery day.

The min­i­mum le­gal re­quire­ments to teach are that you be over 23 years of age, have a (rele­vant) de­gree and two years of rele­vant work ex­pe­rience as well as a TEFL qual­ifi­ca­tion that took 120 hours to com­plete. In the­ory you should also be from a coun­try where English is a na­tive lan­guage to teach but this re­quire­ment is of­ten hon­oured in the breach. In prac­tice you must be over 23 and know some­one who can fake up a de­gree cer­tifi­cate in Pho­to­shop, and be will­ing to write your­self a fit­ting re­sume and sign a form stat­ing that all the doc­u­ments you are sub­mit­ting are true. Some com­pa­nies will do all of the fak­ing and ly­ing for you, some will at least want you to give them the ap­pro­pri­ate fake doc­u­ments so there’s some far­ci­cal plau­si­ble de­ni­a­bil­ity.

If you are not on a work visa do­ing work of any kind for pay is ille­gal. This rule is ig­nored all the time, in­clud­ing by large Western multi­na­tional com­pa­nies with le­gal de­part­ments be­cause the rules change de­pend­ing on who’s in­ter­pret­ing them and which web­site you’re look­ing at. But peo­ple get Busi­ness visas to come over here and do in­tern­ships reg­u­larly and if you are from a First World coun­try the worst that will hap­pen to you for get­ting caught work­ing on a tourist or stu­dent visa is a large fine (5500 yuan). If you over­stay your visa by more than about three days you will be de­ported. This is one of the few things the gov­ern­ment care about when it comes to for­eign­ers. Drugs, gam­bling, pros­ti­tu­tion, as long as there are no na­tion­als in­volved it needs to get quite big for them to care. But you can get un­lucky. It’s rare but it hap­pens.

De­mand for English teach­ers in Shang­hai is in­sa­tiable. If you are be­ing paid by the hour the min­i­mum ac­cept­able rate for some­one with no ex­pe­rience, who can’t spell, and can’t teach is 150 RMB per hour. Never ac­cept less than this for any job. The lo­cal pub­lic pri­mary schools are legally barred from hiring for­eign­ers so they go through com­pa­nies who hire them in­stead. You will not re­ally be teach­ing at most of these com­pa­nies, more pro­vid­ing a prop; you, the for­eign teacher. There isn’t that much you can teach in 35 min­utes a week when half of it should be games or the chil­dren will dis­like you, mean­ing the par­ents will dis­like you, mean­ing the school will com­plain about you to the com­pany. But you can make English fun, and given suffi­cient plan­ning and prac­tice you can teach some­thing even in such small classes. If you just want a job for a visa there are com­pa­nies who will provide one for teach­ing one day a week. You can make 7,000 RMB a month eas­ily do­ing this four days a week. I used to make 10,000 when I was do­ing a similar sched­ule. This is in a city where you can eat well for 50 RMB a day, very well, have a maid come to your apart­ment three times a week for less than 200 and you can get a nice apart­ment for 3,000 a month. Ten RMB is worth ap­prox­i­mately 1 pound ster­ling, so at a guess 1.6 dol­lars. My sin­gle great­est liv­ing ex­pense is go­ing out. There are “dive bars” with rel­a­tively low prices but most places that cater to for­eign­ers make you pay for it. One com­pany that is of av­er­age in­com­pe­tence (very) and un­usual hon­esty (ex­cept dur­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions about hours, pay per hour and where they have available schools) is Corneil. They will of­ten screw up the record­ing of your hours but rarely by a sig­nifi­cant amount and will give it to you if it’s pointed out to them. It’s not mal­ice, they’re just in­com­pe­tent. So is ev­ery­one else.

To illus­trate how low the stan­dards are here I have met some­one who was teach­ing at a high school who was moved to an­other at the school’s re­quest be­cause he was swear­ing in class, smok­ing in school and shar­ing with the stu­dents. They also sus­pected he was sleep­ing with one of his stu­dents. After they moved him the school re­quested him back be­cause he was very pop­u­lar. He also can’t spell. He has been teach­ing for seven years.

Get­ting work at the week­end is very, very easy. Again, never ac­cept less than 150 an hour. Some peo­ple think that’s low.There are many, many com­pa­nies serv­ing this mar­ket and all of them are perfectly will­ing to pay peo­ple who do not and can not legally work for them. In the­ory most of them have stan­dards and de­mand les­son plan­ning, some­thing re­sem­bling pro­fes­sion­al­ism and turn­ing up to work on time. In prac­tice if you ar­rive on time all the time and ask the co-teacher what pages to teach for the next 45 min­utes you will be fine. Then there’s a break and you play a game for the re­main­der of the class. If you are work­ing legally for one of these com­pa­nies they will usu­ally try to get you to work three evenings a week as well. I wouldn’t but if you want to you can. If you’re will­ing to work in the evenings you can just post an ad on one of the lo­cal ex­pat mag­a­z­ine web­sites and you will be able to do pri­vate les­sons. It’s eas­ier to go through an agency that charges in­tro­duc­tion fees at first but af­ter you’ve been here a while you can just do it all your­self.

Teach­ing busi­ness or other pro­fes­sional English can be much more lu­cra­tive but the stan­dards are higher.

If you ac­tu­ally have a rele­vant de­gree and two years of teach­ing ex­pe­rience you can prob­a­bly get a job at an in­ter­na­tional school. They pay bet­ter, have higher min­i­mum stan­dards and as far as I can tell from talk­ing to friends who teach at them they are all quite poli­ti­cal places. Be­ing a good or very good teacher will not pro­tect you from poli­tics but be­ing rea­son­ably good at poli­tics will save you from any­thing but be­ing an abombin­ably bad teacher. Most of the in­ter­na­tional schools start hiring for the next school year about now but just be­fore the be­gin­ning of the school year is also rea­son­ably good be­cause if they need some­body they need them now. It is pos­si­ble to go tran­si­tion from teach­ing English as a for­eign lan­guage or teach­ing a sub­ject you know through English in a Chi­nese school to work­ing in an in­ter­na­tional school but it takes a while. You must ac­tu­ally be­come a rea­son­able teacher first. If you want to do it for the long term it’s a good idea to get a teach­ing de­gree at some point. Once you teach in one in­ter­na­tional school you can travel al­most any­where and teach in oth­ers. It has much to recom­mend it.

Many of the busi­ness peo­ple here have a very dis­mis­sive at­ti­tude to teach­ers, whether TEFLers or in­ter­na­tional school teach­ers. If it bugs you don’t hang out with peo­ple like that.

Most sin­gle for­eign­ers who have been here a sig­nifi­cant length of time end up in Jing’an or the Former French Con­ces­sion. You pay a pre­mium for the cen­tral lo­ca­tion but the cul­tural and other ameni­ties make it well worth it. Peo­ple with fam­i­lies are more com­mon near Hongqiao Road in the Min­hang area but that’s not rele­vant to you un­less you’re home­school­ing be­cause even the “in­ter­na­tional” schools like Shang­hai United In­ter­na­tional School that ac­cept Chi­nese chil­dren cost very large sums of money. Shang­hai Amer­i­can School’s yearly tu­ition is com­pa­rable to Har­vard’s.

The dat­ing situ­a­tion here is in­cred­ibly easy for men and pretty ter­rible for women, at least for ex­pats. If I was a sin­gle woman I wouldn’t move over here un­less I was very at­trac­tive, very out­go­ing or both. Even TEFL teach­ers here can eas­ily be in the 90th per­centile of in­come work­ing five days a week. In­ter­na­tional school teach­ers get paid bet­ter. This, to­gether, with the fact there are lots of women with a thing for ei­ther English speak­ing guys or white or black guys makes it re­ally, re­ally easy to meet women here. If you want a love life here as a woman it will re­ally help to ini­ti­ate. Also, if you move over with a boyfriend or hus­band he will get hit on all the time, in­clud­ing by peo­ple who know that he’s not sin­gle. There are a lot of very, very mer­ce­nary girls here who will use you for your bank bal­ance but they’re not re­ally that hard to avoid if you have some sense. As a teacher the real gold dig­gers will not care about you at all.

You will not learn much Chi­nese here un­less you make a se­ri­ous effort to do so. I have met ex­pats who have been here eight years who know five words of Chi­nese. Mine is bet­ter than av­er­age by virtue of hav­ing com­pleted the Pim­sleur Man­darin se­ries. This does not mean my Man­darin is good, it means ev­ery­one else’s is crap.If you want to learn Man­darin ev­ery sin­gle other city in China is bet­ter, Beijing in­cluded.

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