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Teaching English in China

How I Taught University English, for Eight-and-a-half Years, in the People's Republic of China - With a Bachelor's in General Studies

by Clair Lasater, PhD

Okay, my B. G. S. is regionally accredited. (By the way, it needn't be.) It is from a great university, that one national news magazine labeled, "Ivy League of Public Universities." (Truly isn't relevant here. I could have accomplished this with a four-year diploma from any brainery.) Most, I believe - even those who hold one - consider a sheepskin in General Studies the tertiary equivalent of a GED.

Yet, here I am, recently arrived home, after lecturing at great Chinese colleges and universities - for over eight years - and what got me in the door was my Bachelor of General Studies, from Indiana University. [I have other - Christian - graduate credentials, (to which the schools show no aversion), but most foreign college and university lecturers here own only four-year tickets.]

Essentially, what I want to say to you, is that you can do the same! Chinese universities and colleges hire four-year graduates, to teach Spoken English courses. Here is how I did it - and how you can follow through, into university teaching, using your four-year bachelor's credentials. (If you have a master's, then so much the better.) The classes are taught in your native English.

I obtained my first P. R. China college teaching work by answering job advertisements placed on internet TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) sites. And, by placing my quite simple one-page resume on these sites. I got job offers almost immediately.

The hiring process is prodigiously effortless - the opposite of such Western enlistment. Usually, no interview - you just e-mail your resume, a scan of the information page of your passport, and they let you know by return e-mail. That's almost always how it worked for me.

The important thing to keep in mind, I feel, while you work this job-hunting, is to consider only public colleges and universities. (I speak from ten years of P. R. China experience.)

I don't recommend teaching for private company chains. The pay is usually much more, but the hours and office politics too much.

The internet job sites that I recommend for teaching university in the People's Republic of China are: ChinaTEFL.com; China Job; Coach Develop; and e-China Cities. (On Coach Develop, be sure to double-click "ESL Jobs in China" at the very bottom of the page, to find the long list of colleges and universities. Then click on each school listed, to obtain the relevant information.)

The teaching hours are 16 or 18 per week. There are usually no office hours for foreign teachers, and no meetings. You might do one extra hour per week talking informally with the kids, on campus, at what's called English Corner. At almost every college or university, you'll have a free - no rent - apartment.

Contact only the International or FAO offices of the schools. For direct e-mail and, or, telephone contact information. see the sites catalogued above. Don't go through recruiters - especially for your first job(s). Teach at public colleges or universities - don't settle for less.

You will get a letter of invitation, from the school, after you accept one of the offers you receive. Take this letter to a Chinese consulate or embassy near you, to get a visa placed into your passport. Catch a non-stop flight to China. I flew into Shanghai, from Vancouver, Canada, though I'm a U. S. citizen. There is a Chinese consulate in this city, and though you are American, they will provide you a visa - if you have a letter of invitation from a Chinese college or university.

You can take them a computer print-out of the invitation, or one faxed, by the college or university, to a copy shop like Kinko's, whose fax number you have sent the school.

Chinese cuisine waxes legendary. Most school FAO or International Office personnel, upon airport or bus pickup, drive you straight to a restaurant and feed you, shortly before driving you to your own apartment to drop you off. And, at least once each term, the foreign teachers are treated to a banquet, at a four- or five-star hotel.

Wine and beer, or orange juice are served. The foreign visitors, and Chinese hosts dine and drink quite well all evening. Early in my career, I noticed that some of my big bosses - our examples, after all - imbibed to the full. After this uninhibited witness, I realized I could enjoy plenty of wine all evening - no matter. No one, including the foreign guest, is judged for this, at these fetes.

One great university, at which I held forth for fourteen hours a week, actually serves beer in the campus cafeteria. Although favorably amused at this comic improbability, I didn't indulge there all year. Enjoying myself at a prime night-out banquets, and drinking at lunch, in the school cafeteria, seemed to me much too different. I decided not to risk disappointing the kids - not to booze myself into ownership of a mandarin pink slip.

Getting dismissed at a Chinese college, however, need not result in major trauma. At one school I worked, one life-of-the-party sort, removed, apparently for incompetence, was very soon teaching at a local middle school. "I have my own office," he announced, the next time I encountered him, China wants Spoken English lecturers. By the bye, that same understanding college office staff got him his new billet.

During the semesters, I worked my classes on weekdays. In the evenings, I rested in my flat, for each new day of classes, surfed the internet, read. Weekends, I would visit Mc Donald's or KFC, and take long walks.

Between semesters - sometimes this was between billets - I headed for Hong Kong. There, in China's Xianggang, I could stay inexpensively at the fabled and most notorious Chungking Mansions - or just down Nathan Road - Mirador Mansions; eat Western, and shop the English-language bookstores. (Pier One books or Cosmos, for example.)

There, in H. K., at internet cafes I sent resumes to new university job prospects. And received back, each time, three or four acceptances, to choose from.

Photo of Clair Lasater

About the writer

(Mr.) Clair Lasater has taught at Hainan University, Ling Ling University, Shunde Polytechnic, Maoming University, and Guangdong Peizheng College. He is published in China Daily, The Guardian, The Times of India, Tesol Zone, Esl Teachers Board, and Omniglot.

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