For many travelers, an easy way to remain in the Middle Kingdom without breaking the bank is to teach. The Web is full of recruiter sites, ESL pages, message boards, job listings, etc, all claiming they can help you find your dream job in China, and of course use said dream job to support your wanderlust.
At this point I will first make my shameless plug for Middle Kingdom Life (http://middlekingdomlife.com/guide/). Anyone interested in a frank (perhaps too frank and occasionally overly jaded but mostly fair) assessment of life as a teacher in China would do well to start by reading through their online guide to teaching. The website includes guides to the education system, a crash course (and I mean crash) in ESL, and detailed sections on moving, adjusting, and dating. The Website carries one overriding theme, however, which is DO NOT COME TO CHINA UNLESS YOU REALLY REALLY MEAN IT!!
Having lived and taught in China for several years and seen at least five “midnight runners” along with the usual host of…interesting…folks who work in ESL in China, I can say that they have a point. If you go into a teaching gig expecting to have a zero-pressure job and endless free time (and cash) to spend indulging your travel habit, that is just not true. Increasingly ESL in China is becoming competitive and employers are demanding more than just having their teachers show up relatively conscious for work. Still, a savvy teacher-traveler can see local sites around their chosen city two or three days each week, and make bigger trips during their paid holidays. Of course these are at the same time everyone else is traveling but the crowds are part of the experience.
If you decide to go into teaching in China, try to keep the following in mind:
1. You are a guest on a work visa. Therefore, your employer owns you. Don’t give him/her any reason not to like you. In the old days you could pack up and leave discretely in the middle of the night (hence the term “midnight runner”), show up in another province and land a job, secure a new visa and residence permit, and no one was the wiser. Today, the provincial Public Security Bureau (PSB) offices are on a common network and share data. Hence if you bolted without being legally released from your contract, good luck getting your new city’s PSB to secure you a new visa.
2. Treat education like factory work: I found that if I treated my classes the way a workman on a line treats his job, it massively increased my productivity, job satisfaction, and the students’ enjoyment. Each day I have a “quota” of what my students must learn. As on the factory line, I get a bonus if more is done. Like many factories, I am encouraged to think of new and creative ways of accomplishing my quota. The more times I fill or surpass my quota, the easier work becomes, and the happier my students (and employer) are.
3. Travel time is fun time: on your days off, it is fine to live like expats in China live (that is, in a drunken fog), but not when working or the night before work. Travel is fun because then you can indulge for an extended period, no questions, no guilt. Live it up then. Dali, in Yunnan, is a particularly fun town for living it up with other expats on leave.
4. Understand that the customer is always right – and you are not the customer: in private language schools, the customer is neither you, nor the students. The parents are the customers. They must be kept happy at all costs so they keep writing tuition checks. If you find little Timmy is absolutely incorrigible, there is probably little you can do about it. He won’t get kicked out, nor will he fail and be held back. It is best to accept and move on with your teaching.
5. Support each other: too often there is disharmony among the foreigners or between foreign and local staff. This should not be! We should have proletarian unity! In all seriousness, any school where the staff is divided will not be a pleasant place to work. Let’s try to get along – we can control the students better that way (and get more of their parents’ money!)