When the Coronavirus hit Wuhan, many English teachers scrambled onto the first flight back to their home country. Universities, schools, kindergartens and training centres closed down throughout China under government orders in an attempt to contain the virus. Five months later and this has largely been successful. Schools are open and the private kindergartens and training centres have been given the green light to get back to business.
China closed the borders to foreigners in late March, so the English teachers who made a dash for it are waiting desperately for the chance to reenter and continue with their high-paying jobs. When they finally return, things may not be quite as they remembered. But what about those brave souls who stuck it out in China? With less competition from other English teachers, surely job offers with huge salaries are everywhere right?
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1. Native English Teachers in demand
If you are an English teacher from a native country and you are in China, then theoretically you are in a very strong position. With many English teachers unable to return and uncertainty for when borders will reopen to China, those who are here will have the pick of the jobs. International schools offering excellent packages are on the hunt to fill their vacancies for the next academic year. Many can’t wait to see if returning teachers will make it back in for late-August, so these jobs are up for grabs.
Traditionally, a PGCE or other teaching certificate was required to get a job in these high-paying schools, but due to the shortages, many are accepting applicants with a bachelors degree, TESOL/TEFL certificate and relevant experience. Salaries can be negotiated and start from 20,000 minimum plus benefits to 35,000 plus in the bigger cities.
2. Non-natives to fill the gaps?
Private kindergarten and training centre positions have been the domain of the non-native English teacher in recent years. With the government slowly opening these up again throughout China, surely there are many jobs offering high salaries with little competition. Well yes and no. The coronavirus has decimated the private education sector. Due to forced closures for a whole term, tuition fees have been paid but the lessons haven’t been taught. Rents and other bills haven’t suddenly disappeared, a large number have taken out huge bridging loans to survive whilst many have folded altogether. The ones that did make it through the virus are looking to get value for money from new teachers.
Joanna, the owner of “Draw English” in Foshan, explains the difficulties faced and what the new realities are. “I’ve seen five well-known training centres fold in the last two months. We rely heavily on cash-flow and getting students through the door. When that stops, we are in big trouble. We are allowed to open from next month and do need English teachers but they have to be realistic on salary. It isn’t like before with private kindergartens and English centres booming. We are all back to square one and rebuilding again”.
3. The outlook for English teachers in China
It is certainly going to be a rocky year for kindergartens and training centres. If they make it through this year then things are likely to be back to similar levels of the previous years. Joseph from Lilac English in Changsha feels the next few months are critical. “We are opening in two weeks. We need things to get going quickly. We have survived because our school is a bit smaller than others, so we didn’t have the same costs during the pandemic. We have to get more kids enrolled though, but I still think there is a big demand to learn English”.
When discussing recruitment of English teachers, Joseph had some advice for job hunters. “I’m interviewing four or five teachers per day for the positions on Wechat. I am looking for non-native teachers as native teachers are too expensive. I look at experience of the teacher and if they currently have a working or management visa. But honestly, the salary is the key thing I consider at the moment. If two similar candidates come to me, I will go for the one who wants less money. Most of the training centres and kindergartens I talk to are the same at the moment. We are all in the same position. Hopefully it will change by next year.”