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Do It Yourself: The Steps to Finding a Job As a Foreign Teacher

If you want to join the growing number of Westerners teaching English in Mainland China, all you really need is a college degree and native fluency in English. Training in ESL is useful and you might feel at a loss without it, but a certificate is not necessary to convince a Chinese university to hire you as a teacher of English. A master's degree or a doctorate may qualify you to work as a 'Foreign Expert' in a university and to teach more advanced courses for much more pay than a 'Foreign Teacher' receives.

So how do you find a job? If you're not eligible for a university exchange program and you're unwilling to pay the fee for an independent sending organization, you can go on your own. But apply early: While some positions are still open as late as July or August, try to make contact by March. (Occasionally, positions are open for the second semester, too, which begins in February.)

Here's what to do:

1. Learn as much as you can about China and the experience of teaching English in China.

2. Once you know something about China and what to expect from the teaching experience, decide on a list of universities to apply to. Use the directory in Living in China. You can try using the Internet as well; however, Chinese universities' web sites are not always helpful.

3. Contact one of the people at the school responsible for hiring foreign teachers. No other individual, no matter how important or friendly they seem, is likely to have the authority to hire. So who is the right person? Individual academic departments--usually foreign languages or English--hire their own foreign teachers, so the right person is usually the chair or vice-chair of that department. The foreign affairs office is often useless for getting job offers. However, larger universities might have other departments (e.g., 'Public English') which need teachers, and you won't find out about them unless you ask someone.

One way to get in touch with the right person is to be in China while you're looking. Bring application materials with you. But keep in mind that if you do line up a job as a student or tourist you will probably have to leave the country or go to Hong Kong to get your visa changed.

International dialing from Canada can now be quite cheap. The current cost for China is 30 cents per minute. Your phone bill might get quite large, but it's still cheaper than paying thousands of dollars to a sending organization.

Most of the people you reach on the phone will know English. If the right person isn't in, say you're calling from abroad and you need the right person's home number. But don't call after 9:30 p.m. China time (12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time).

4. Sooner or later you will need to send a resume. Be sure to highlight any teaching or tutoring experience. You may also want to include references and a letter of explanation. Keep in mind that anyone reading these materials is likely to have very good English reading ability but may not understand Western resume jargon.

5. If you are ultimately offered a position you like, you may want to try a little negotiating. But you're unlikely to be successful if the school has a standard contract. In public universities, compensation for inexperienced foreign teachers is never very much. Expect to get housing, anywhere from RMB1,400 to RMB2,200 ($169-$266) a month, and sometimes a one-way ticket home as well. Private language schools and companies also recruit foreigners. These organizations pay better but are not really service experiences.

Chinese universities rarely require foreigners to teach more than 20 hours of oral English classes each week. If the department wants you to do more, insist on no more than 20 hours and ask if some of the lessons can be converted to optional office hours. Also, if you're teaching any writing or 'content' courses, you should have significantly fewer classroom hours.

6. When you consider a job offer, you should ask for the names of foreigners who are currently teaching or have recently taught at that school so you can get the real scoop on the university and its treatment of foreigners.

Before you take an offer

You have a lot to think about - from choosing a location to negotiating a specific contract . At ESLWeekly(Canada), we have some of the best, most objective information available. Let us help you save time, save money, and all the best can guarantee at ESLWeekly VIP Services!