25 Oct

Public schools in China explained

One of the most important choices before going to teach in China is at what kind of school you would like to teach. If you you’re in the privileged position that you’re accepted as candidate teacher at China Plus, most likely one of our staff members already gave you enough advise to make a decision or maybe even suggested you a type of school, based on the interview.

Even more than the city you will teach and live in or the time you want to go, making the right decision in what kind of school you would like to teach is important for the successfulness of your stay in China.

In two blogs we will try to show you the differences between the different types of schools, divided by one key element: the size of the class. This post will be dedicated to the largest classes (read: public school classes) when it  comes to size; primary school, secondary school, high school and university.

The main differences between larger (public) and smaller (private) classes and schools, ranked by what we think should be your priorities when you’re choosing between one of them:

1. Class size
The main difference is obviously the number of students you will face each class. Depending on the age of the students (primary school: 40-60, secondary school 60-80, university/college 80-100) you will face more students. In our experience and in the experience of teachers currently and previously in China, this does not necessarily mean your teaching job will be harder or easier than teaching small classes. In the next part of this post we will explain why, which factors in your personality play a role in this choice and when public school teaching is the best choice when you’re looking for a certain experience.

2. Schedule
In public schools, a quite regular schedule is followed. This means you’re teaching from the morning to the afternoon, of course with all the necessary breaks you need to be able to be energetic for each class. Of course you will have two days off; Saturday and Sunday. In private schools you mostly work from the afternoon to the evening, and in the weekends. During the weeks you’re off for two days. If you’re not a morning person and the class size doesn’t matter to you, have a look at private schools. If you like to be active go out exploring in the afternoon and evening, you’ll have more time if you’re teaching within the public system.

3. Working hours
Working in a public school will give you a slightly lighter work week than working in a private school. The average work week in a public school is 20 hours. Some schools will let you teach for 18 hours, some for 22, but it will never be more than 4,5 hours a day. You’re free to plan your preparation time. In private schooling you will work 25 hours (including 3 hours of demonstration class to draw new students to the school) plus an additional 5 hours you have to be in the office to prepare your classes.

4. Salary
Just as your work hours your salary will be a little bit higher in private schooling. Think a difference of approximately 20%. As always, your salary will depend on your teaching experience and degrees. The range is approximately between £1000-£1400 for public schools and between £1100-£1600 for private schools.

5. Contract length
In public schools your contract will be 10 months, in private schools 12 or 13 months. Right now it’s impossible for us to offer contracts for half a year. Do you want a slightly shorter contract, look into public teaching, do you want to teach for a year or longer, have a look at private teaching.

6. Holidays
If you, after having considered all work related elements,still didn’t make up your mind, this element might. If one of your main objectives of your yet to come China experience is experiencing the Chinese (or Asian) culture by traveling, public school offers a great schedule to do so.
In your 10 months of teaching in a public school, you will have 15 national Chinese holidays off and paid for, plus 2 consecutive unpaid months (July and August or January and February) off in which you are free to explore the country and the continent.
In a private school schedule this is possible too, just not for two months. Next to the national Chinese holidays, you can take two weeks of paid leave and an additional one unpaid month.
Note: they can not be combined, so the maximum period to enjoy a holiday is one month.

What does a big class look like?
Of course it’s good to see how a big class looks like. Most candidates are curious what it is like face a large number of students. Here is a video to give you an in-class impression of the most common types of teaching: primary and secondary school teaching.

Big classes in public schools explained
As there are living so many people in China, the classes are always filled with students. They all need a place in the room, but most important: they all need attention. Therefore, Chinese students are more taught in a group-approach, with all students fulfilling a particular role (zhirisheng) in the group: leader, assistant of the class teacher, cleaner of the chalkboard, sweeper of the classroom, monitor of the class’ behaviour, server of food, waterer of the plants, etc. All this to make sure the important values of cleanliness, tranquility, motivation and performance are being maintained.
Every student in the class is an important link in the group (process), that you could all together see as an organism or even a machine.

So, it’s quite easy to teach a large public school class?
Frankly, we would say that teaching 100 Chinese students is easier than teaching 10 Western students, for they really behave and react to your teaching as a group. However,  people who are thinking about going to China to teach in a public school having a very easy time without too much effort might end up being deceived.
Just dictating words or following the book provided by the school isn’t very challenging for both you and the students, you’ll see that the students soon will lose their focus, you just simply can’t get away with not preparing your class.
Like all other types of teaching, teaching large classes has its pros and cons.

Energy and interaction
The key in teaching large classes for us is using the already existing energy in the classroom. It’s way easier to build energy in the classroom with more people, starting the class with a song, organising a competition (Chinese students are ridiculously competitive), humor (more people to respond to jokes, and trying to make sure the response is in English the next time) and games (Chinese students can be shy, but in a large class there’s always one kid that wants to give it a try, after others will follow).
All this energy you can create in a classroom simply turns into focus and will also make them more determined to fulfil the more serious tasks you give them.

Follow the leader
In the classroom you’re the leader of this organism. (Sometimes together with your teaching assistant that helps you with classroom management) you make sure your class enjoys and learns, or even gets inspired by your class. Normally, since you’ll be a oral English teacher, your students will not be examined, which means less pressure for you.
The job gives you a lot of freedom to teach what you think is important for the students to learn, but it also brings a lot of responsibility.
As in all groups, there are children that learn quicker, slower, have their own special needs and you should try to make sure you divide your attention equally. Be aware of the fact that sometimes there is no time to wait for all students to understand what’s going on. Prepare your classes carefully, especially in the beginning.
Make sure you have enough materials for if something doesn’t work. Bring creative ideas to the classroom. Challenge yourself and your students in a fun way at all times.
Also the challenge is for you to stay focused at all times and to spend your energy, and use your voice wisely. Although mostly only 20 teaching hours a week are requested, in the beginning this can be more than enough.

What kind of person is fit for public school teaching?
Deciding between private or public teaching is an important choice before going to teach in China. Personally, I would say that the choice very much depends on your personality. Speaking in front a large (primary school) class requires charisma, a very energetic and focused approach, the ability to think on your feet, being able to switch quickly and patience for changing schedules and slower students while still being able to speed up the process for the more clever students. Some say: “don’t be a boring teacher, be a teachertainer”.
We think it says a lot about the type of person that would have a happy and challenging school year in China: an outgoing, bright individual that’s secretly likes to be the centre of attention and can use this in the right way to enrich the students’ lives. The energy you’ll put in your students will come back in thousandfold and that gratefulness doesn’t compare to anything in the world.

Are you interested in teaching at a public school in China or do you wish more information? Contact our English Teacher Program Consultant Bas Kragt directly at

Written by Bas Kragt, Program Consultant at China Plus

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