Opinion / Blog

Foreign teachers in China and how to keep them

By MichaelM ( Updated: 2015-05-04 17:04

I've been in China now for almost 4 years. I came here in 2011. I planned to stay one year and go back to the USA. The biggest attraction to me and the most important reason for staying here is that I felt very welcomed by so many wonderful people and saw that I could make a difference in the lives of thousands of young students.

In considering renewing my contract with the international department of a local public school, I discovered how the compensation and approach to get new teachers had changed since I came here. What I saw is a trend to give teachers more benefits and that schools now have a better understanding of foreign teachers' wants and needs in teaching abroad. 

First, nearly all schools offer a yearly roundtrip ticket, fully paid, for foreign teachers. They realize that the teacher has a need to go back, half way around the world, to visit family and friends. Chinese people in particular understand this need. The schools are realizing that to get competent foreign teachers who are both qualified and responsible teachers, they need some time off to return home.

Second, the schools realize that in order to get qualified, responsible foreign teachers, they are going to have to understand their market for such teachers. The pay is far more than the pay for Chinese teachers. As unfair as this is to the Chinese teacher (foreign teachers are often paid 3-4 times as much as a Chinese teacher) it is again what the market demands. To get competent foreign teachers, you're going to have to pay them close to what they can get in the USA. Otherwise, you're simply going to compromise the quality of teaching you're going to get. 

Third, office hour requirements are going to have to be designed to be productive time for lesson preparation and student interaction rather than just requiring them to be under the watch of the school for so many hours a day. This is not an issue at the university level (in most cases). In the USA, most professors set their own office hours when they are available for giving any required assistance to students. This is usually what I've found here in China. Each professor has his/her discretion over the number and scheduling of office hours.

Fourth, housing is often arranged and fully provided by the school or company that the school is cooperating with. As my recent situation revealed, dealing with housing when you don't know the language and you don't know the common practices of landlord/tenant relationships, can be a nightmare for a foreigner. It was for me. I got moral support from colleagues, but little support for dealing with the overall situation. No financial support at all. But, my case is rare. Most schools take care of housing (including all utilities) as part of their package for the foreign teacher.

The biggest problem that schools and companies that provide international study programs for their students face, is getting and keeping dependable foreign teachers. Because the labor force in China is so large, I think many employers have an attitude towards employees of, 'if you don't do this job, then, there's five more people who will beg me for it in your absence.' So, there's little regard for employee rights. This presents a problem when the same attitude is taken towards foreign teachers. Especially in the case where a school or educational company has a dependable and sincere foreign teacher that provides a high level of quality instruction. I saw one educational company display blatant disregard for a very good foreign teacher. Eventually, the teacher left and there was seemingly no concern or attempt at keeping him. Later, the company made extraordinary efforts to get him back. Had they done a little to keep him when they had him, it would have cost them far less than they were willing to pay later to get him back. (He never went back.)

Many foreign teachers come here to party and have a good time. They want to work as little as possible and do as little as possible. This is why, when a school or company gets a good foreign teacher, they need to do what they can to keep him/her.

Even though certain requirements in the gaokao have seemingly lessened the importance for learning English and having foreign teachers, the demand for them is steadily increasing as more and more Chinese students desire to go abroad for their post secondary education. Competent, reliable and professional foreign teachers are going to be needed to prepare such students. The trends and needs will require many to continue to monitor this situation in order to know how to best provide for these needs.

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