Teacher Kim Ooi writing for Hello Teacher!

Updated April 11, 2020
By Kim Ooi

Skills you need to be a successful university teacher in China

Usually, when you enquire about a job, you are sent two documents – a person specification and a job description.

The first gives you an idea of the type of person the organisation is looking for and is basically a list of attributes that the ideal candidate should have.

The second is a list of tasks that the successful candidate would be expected to carry out.

What do you think the job description for a university teacher in China might look like?

This article gives you some idea of the range of skills one would need in order to be successful in this job.

1. Syllabus design

Teachers in the UK have to follow a set syllabus and textbook. If you are teaching a subject in China, you are usually given a textbook.

However, if you are teaching productive skills like oral English, you’ll often be required to design your own syllabus and create your own lesson plans.

This is no easy task as there are many factors that need to be taken into consideration. For example, what exams your students are preparing for, their interests, their English level, their ambitions and so on.

Some universities in China expect teachers to submit a scheme of work for the entire semester in advance.

Syllabus design is one of the skills you need to be a university teacher in China.

Syllabus design is one of the skills you need to be a successful university teacher in China.

2. Lecturing skills

Walk past any Chinese teacher’s university class in China and chances are you’ll see them standing in front of their class talking to the students. Education in China is very teacher-centered.

Students don’t like eliciting and the teacher generally is expected to deliver knowledge on a plate.

However, lecturing is not as simple as putting up a slide and talking about it. You also need to make the material interesting.

There are a number of ways to do this, like using pictures, stories, videos, jokes and idioms.

As university students in China generally don’t ask questions, you also need to be able to pitch the lesson at the right level. Make it too easy and the class will get bored, make it too difficult and the students will complain.

Since lecturing is not taught as a technique on TEFL courses, it can be a challenge to get this right.

3. Classroom management

In my experience, university students in China are powerful. Foreign teachers generally have little authority and English is not seen as an important subject in China.

Some universities operate a system where 35% of a student’s final grade is for behavior.

Giving a student a bad grade for their behavior is often the only disciplinary measure available to teachers. That’s why it is so important for teachers to behave in a professional manner.

The key to good classroom management in China is a combination of being engaging enough to hold your students’ attention, and being professional and dedicated enough to earn their respect.

Classroom management is a good skill to have as a university teacher in China

You need to earn the respect of your students in China.

4. Designing class activities

Nobody likes a boring teacher or dull lessons. So the ability to vary your lessons is a crucial skill for a teacher to have.

A good teacher should be able to create a wide range of activities to keep their students engaged. This can include games, projects, debates, discussions, quizzes, presentations, role-plays, movies and songs.

5. Setting exams

In China, the task of creating an exam can be as varied as the task of designing lessons. You are not in any way limited to traditional methods.

You could ask your university students to prepare a presentation, perform a role-play or submit a homework essay for their exam. It’s also up to you to decide whether the exam is an open-book or a closed-book one.

Most TEFL teachers in China like the flexibility that the country's public school sector offers.

6. Invigilating exams

If you teach a subject or writing skills, you may be asked to invigilate exams.

A university teacher in China typically has at least six classes so on exam day you may be required to oversee about 250 students taking their exams in a large hall. (Usually a number of Chinese teachers will be on hand to help you.)

You’ll need to be very watchful as the students will be under a lot of pressure to pass and therefore the temptation to cheat is great.

Invigilating exams is a skill you need to be a successful university teacher in China

University students under pressure may be tempted to cheat, says Teacher Kim.

7. Assessment skills

When you’re marking a multiple-choice exam paper, deciding what grade to award is easy – this is simply the percentage of questions that a student answers correctly.

However, when assessing productive skills, such as speaking, you need to deal with a whole range of different factors (grammar, pronunciation, fluency, confidence, etc) and translate all of that into a numerical grade.

There is also an expectation in China that no university student ever fails an exam. In reality, teachers may fail students but need to keep the numbers to a minimum.

This can be a challenge if you find yourself bombarded with ‘Chinglish’ on exam day. You’d then need to find some creative way to keep the failure rate below 5%.

8. Judging competitions

Foreign teachers in China are often invited to be on the judging panel for elocution contests and drama contests. This is fun!

Sometimes, each judge awards an individual score and all the judges’ scores are added up or the panel may be required to award scores by mutual agreement.

This is usually the only time that all the foreign teachers are expected to work as a team.

Judging competitions is a skill you need to be a successful university teacher in China

Judging competitions is a good skill to have as a university teacher in China, says Teacher Kim.

9. Report-writing skills

You’ll not usually be required to write reports as part of your job as a university teacher in China.

However, different universities operate in different ways. At some universities teachers are required to submit reports outlining their reflections on their students’ performance in a particular exam.

If your students have done badly in your exam, being required to write a report justifying the grades awarded makes it harder to fudge the results.

10. Consultancy skills

Many universities in China require foreign teachers to conduct drop-in sessions and to run English Corners.

Students attend individually or in small groups (by appointment) in order to seek your advice on any problems that they may be having with studying English.

11.Translation skills

Being able to speak Mandarin is not a requirement to teach in China. However, translation plays a significant role in Chinese university students’ learning tactics.

If you learn a little Chinese, you might be able to quickly translate a new word into your students’ mother tongue. In my experience, this is a lot faster than miming or eliciting.

And just imagine how impressed your students will be to hear you trying to speak their language!

12. Research skills

This is a skill that all teachers need and it is not unique to China.

As a teacher, you’ll need the ability to find the appropriate materials for your lessons. This can be a challenge in China because many useful websites are blocked here.

Using a VPN on your personal laptop, you might be able to access an interesting movie on YouTube for instance but you won’t be able to show this movie in class. That's because class computers in China don’t have a VPN.

Do you think you what have it takes to be a successful university teacher in China?


Commercial relationship disclosure: Hello Teacher! has commercial arrangements with organizations that may appear on this page, such as affiliate links. See our terms for more info.


Have your say