I have been teaching in China now for nearly five years.
In that time, I have met a great many fellow teachers from all over the world. I have seen teachers thrive and make a success of their teaching careers in China but I have also seen teachers who give our profession a bad name.
This is not to say that I’m perfect or never make mistakes – some of the advice that follows is what I would tell my younger self.
So, what traits are undesirable or unhelpful for a TEFL teacher in China to have?
Don’t teach in China if you:
Are not flexible and adaptable
Flexibility and adaptability are perhaps the most important qualities that an EFL teacher in China needs.
What you learn on your TEFL or CELTA course is almost useless when it comes to teaching in China.
You may be given a subject like history, geography or culture to teach. You’ll find that eliciting doesn’t work in China. You’ll encounter behaviours that will confuse or even shock and offend you.
Teachers in China should be flexible and adaptable.
Your success or failure as a teacher in China depends on your ability to adapt to life in China and to invent some of your own teaching methods that you were not taught on your TEFL or CELTA course.
Don’t like learning a new language
I’ll admit that I’m guilty of this one.
I can speak three languages but I had spent a lifetime learning them. I didn’t think it would be possible to pick up a new language in a few months and so I found the prospect of learning Chinese daunting.
It’s also very easy to think that as a foreign teacher in China, you don’t need to know Chinese.
If you stay home all the time when you’re not teaching and only socialize with your fellow teachers, you may find that you hardly ever need to speak Chinese.
But if you want to be independent, be able to travel, eat out, buy a train ticket, check in to a hotel easily and make friends with Chinese people, then learning Chinese becomes very important.
Are not willing to take your job seriously
There are some people who think that TEFL isn’t a ‘real’ job. However, teaching is a very revered and highly respected profession in China.
Teaching is a respected profession in China.
At the end of the day, what you get out of it is what you put in. If you work hard and conduct yourself in a professional manner, you’ll earn the respect of your students. This will make classroom management in China much easier.
If you act like a clown, you’ll be treated like one.
Have unreasonable salary expectations
Compared to Western countries, the cost of living in China is low.
With free accommodation thrown in, it is possible to live quite comfortably on less than RMB 500 a week.
You can live on less than RMB 500 a week in China, says Teacher Kim.
If you expect a much higher salary, you’ll just make it very difficult for yourself to find a teaching job in China.
Think it’s OK to seduce your students
I know what you’re thinking - you’re thinking that no teacher in their right mind would even think about doing this, right?
Unfortunately, there are teachers in China who can’t resist the temptation to get in to a relationship with a student.
If you are caught, you’ll be dismissed from your job and your TEFL career will be in ruins.
Are going to do stupid things
I can anticipate a lot of raised eyebrows when I say this but one foreign teacher I met in China decided to engage the services of a prostitute and then refused to pay her because she didn’t satisfy him!
She called the police and in spite of the fact that prostitution is illegal in China, he was the one who got arrested, dismissed from his job and deported from China.
Another teacher I knew lost his job for discussing Chinese politics in class. One of the most important rules for a foreign teacher in China is never to discuss politics, religion or sex in class.
Never discuss politics in your classroom in China (pictured: Chinese President Xi Jinping).
Are too strict
When I was a schoolboy, my teachers were strict. There were many rules that I had to follow and I developed a very serious personality as a result.
In China however, students are very powerful and a teacher’s survival depends on the ratings that their students give them. A good teacher in China knows how to balance being strict enough to manage the class and engaging enough to be popular with their students.
Are tight with money
Chinese culture is heavily based on relationships. One way to make friends in China is to invite friends out (and pick up the tab).
One of my former colleagues liked to take a female friend with him on trips. He got some company and she got a free, all-expenses-paid holiday.
Don't come to China if you're tight with money, says Teacher Kim.
As a man, if you want to have an active social life and perhaps find a girlfriend in China, you need to be willing to splash some cash.
Can’t live without the comforts of home
China isn’t as developed as most Western countries so there are certain home comforts that one needs to learn to live without in China.
If your school is old, your apartment may not have heating or air-conditioning. You may not have a microwave oven so you’ll have to learn to cook from scratch. You may not have a TV so you’ll need to find other means of keeping yourself entertained.
In addition, the mattresses in China are quite hard and is something you’ll need to get used to. Power cuts happen occasionally and sometimes your water supply will be cut off for several hours.
You need to understand that China is still a developing country before deciding to go and teach there (pictured: rural area of Zhejiang province).
Dislike being the centre of attention
I got lucky with this one. As a British Chinese, I am able to blend in much more easily in China.
However, if you are a Caucasian, it is very likely that Chinese people will approach you, try to practise their English with you, take selfies with you, ask for your WeChat ID, etc. This is something that all foreigners in China need to get used to.
Chinese people will try to practise their English with you.
So there you have it: The Ten Commandments for a successful teaching career in China.
Follow these rules and you’ll find it much easier to achieve job security, expand your social life and make the most of your time in China. Good luck!
What do you think of Teacher Kim's 'Don't teach in China' list? Do you think you have what it takes to teach in China?