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.
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.
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.
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 private school class look like?
Of course it’s good to see how a big class looks like. Here is a video to give you an impression of how a private school class looks like:
Private school classes explained
Are smaller classes easier to teach?
At first sight teaching in a private school seems easier, and, depending on how you look at this, this could be true. Less students in the classroom seems less intimidating, also the level of English that the students speak is depending on their age normally better than at a public school. Therefore it’s easier to communicate with your students. Private schools that can afford hiring a foreign teacher are often a little, or way more more high standard than public schools or other private schools.
Since it’s important in private schools that as many students as possible come in (they are after all a business) you will most likely have to teach all ages starting from 3 up 17 years old. This requires a lot of flexibility from the teacher. Can you play games and sing with a group of kindergarten students after you just had an ethical discussion about the environment with your secondary school students?
For most teachers that teach in a private school this variety and dynamics way of working is highly appealing.
Methods and resources
Some high profile chain schools might have developed their own books or curriculum, others rely on existing methods.
In a private school you work more closely together with your colleagues and executives. This makes it possible to talk about any teaching idea you have. Would you like to teach football? Take your children out on the schoolyard to play. Would you like to grocery shopping to teach your students about fruits? Most likely the schools are alright with all these ideas, as long as it helps students improving their English
Building rapport with your students
It’s obvious that it is easier to build rapport with the students in a smaller group that you teach more frequently. Make sure that students still see you as teacher, and not as friend. It’s easy to think that it’s easier to control your students in a smaller group, but once you’re not clear enough it could easily be that a student takes 50% of your class time, even if your class is very small. This is not necessarily bad thing. Often it’s a student that just doesn’t really know how to express his or her excitement for being taught by an interesting, friendly foreigner, but if you set your boundaries early and clear, all this energy can be turned in highly effective study hours.
For example the kids you see in the photo above. The photo is taken by our English Teacher Program Consultant Bas Kragt during his time at one of the private schools he taught at in China. He says about this photo:
“Two of them got so enthusiastic by the whole English teaching I really had to manage their energy for a few weeks. Once they knew what they were up to I didn’t teach them anymore, but they asked me to teach them, showing me their books and starting the class with repeating all the things they learned earlier. A highly effective game for the students under 13 was for me to play a boxing game at the start of the class, giving each student three questions hitting them softly, or pretending to hit them, while giving them a hint or question about something we learned earlier. If the answer was correct, they could hit back. Make sure your abs are well prepared before going to China!”
It shows how much fun and how effective it can be to be able to build rapport with your students in a small class.
Pressure and reward
Because private schools exist by the grace of paying parents, it’s important that more students come in, also during the school year. Therefore the school could ask you to give a couple of hours of demonstration classes a week. In these classes the parents and children can decide whether they like the school or not.
Of course it’s important to behave and teach in a highly professional way. Wear professional clothing, be polite, be active, even try to figure out some of the Chinese social customs to please the parents. Most often you get a bonus that’s the equivalent of 10% of your salary over each student that joins the school after attending your class. You have to understand the importance of keeping the parents satisfied, and should be able to talk to parents after class and really behave like a representative of the school.
In private schools it’s often easier to make a career out of teaching. In my time of teaching in China and back at the China Plus office I have seen countless examples of teachers that started out as a ‘simple’ teacher in a private school and ended up recruiting, managing, earning twice or three times their starting salary and really building a life in China.
Am I fit for private teaching?
In private teaching you can add a lot of experience and awareness to a students’ life. If you arrange it well you have a lot of freedom to design the class in the way you like, but it comes also with responsibility. Not only for the students, but also for the image of the school you’re working for. For some of us this means they need to get used to this role, for others, more achievement-orientated people this might be natural. You’ll see your dedication towards your job be payed back in gratitude of the students, a raising salary and possible chances to grow within your school or chain!
Are you interested in teaching at a private school in China or do you wish more information? Contact our English Teacher Program Consultant Bas Kragt directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.