The Great Pretenders: China’s “Unfire-able” English Teachers

“I’m hungover every time,” said Michael Weiler with a grin. Michael is a 20-year-old English teacher in Beijing, and every Saturday at 10am he tutors a 14-year-old Chinese girl called Daisy. “Sometimes I’ll go straight from partying to teaching, and because I stink I spray on loads of cologne.” Although Michael is from Austria, the school that hires him tells his students that he’s American because they prefer a native speaker. Sometimes he forgets whether he told a student he was from Connecticut, or Chicago. Michael was hired without any previous teaching experience and given no training. Just thrown into a room with students and told, “go teach”.

If you’re in China and the kind of person with foreign friends under 30, chances are you know an English teacher. And chances are, they don’t take the job very seriously. While the rest of the world flails in the wake of recession-related disasters, the world’s second largest economy is only finding itself a larger and larger presence on the international stage. And with this comes the people’s thirst to master the only, true international language. Last year China Daily reported that 400 million Chinese people are studying English – one-third of the country’s population. (The majority of these would fall into the school age bracket.) And the value of the English-training market is estimated at 30 billion RMB ($4.5 billion US).

This insatiable demand for English teachers has led to a situation that Samuel Cowell, a 29-year-old (genuine) American teaching English in the south of China, has meant teachers like him are “unfire-able”. He says, “the school basically just works as a matchmaking service between teacher and student. So if I’m consistently late, or am not a very good teacher, they could fire me, but it just means they miss out on the commission. And there are just so many students here, and such a limited supply of teachers.”

When Sonia Ross, a 25-year-old Italian student came to Beijing to study Chinese she found herself wanting to stay on after her course finished. For many young foreigners such as herself, lacking the language skills or work experience to join the professional class of expats in China, teaching English is their only answer. And an attractive one at that: work conditions are usually flexible, while the pay, for Chinese standards, can be exceptionally high. For casual teaching in Beijing 120-180 RMB/hour ($18-27 US) is standard. A local tutoring Chinese with similar conditions will be lucky to make 50 RMB/hour ($7 US).

English schools in China run into the hundreds – with some schools each operating hundreds of branches across the country – so naturally the quality ranges. Universities and international schools offer the best working conditions for teachers who are serious about their work, including high salaries, accommodation benefits and visa sponsorship. And the expectation with these positions are that applicants come with qualifications, experience and signed contracts. However, the large proportion of China’s private ESL institutions are considerably less legitimate in nature.These schools will hire English teachers with one, basic requirement: “a white face”.

One look at Michael and you know you’re standing before a quintessential European. He’s tall, with pale blue eyes, white skin and sandy blonde hair. He landed his job at a private teaching school through a friend, and found it as easy as just turning up. “They wanted me straight away, no demo class, no interview. They just showed me a card that was red and asked me what colour is it. ‘Red,’ I answered. ‘Oh OK. You’re in’.”

Not only was Michael hired without experience, he has been teaching with no guidance or training. In his classroom he sits encircled by three tiny desks, and three tiny chairs, for his three tiny students: Danny, Rabbit and Wei Wei. They are just four-years-old. “Man, Danny is such a fucker,” sighs Michael. “He never listens to me and often gets really angry. Sometimes if there are no teachers or parents around, I’ll say to him ‘you’re such a bastard’ in English very fast, so he can’t really understand. Or, ‘hey read this you fatass’. I’ve only ever really told him off once. And never again, because he started to cry.” I asked him if it looked bad in front of the other parents to have one of your students cry. But Michael shakes his head, “Mama Rabbit is always there, but sheknows how much Danny’s a bastard.”

At least Michael stopped short of actually teaching his kids how to swear, unlike this foreign teacher who not only directed her students to recite a Russian swear word, but wrote the word on the board, as reported on The Shanghaiist earlier this year.

For both Michael and Sonia the fact that they’re not native English speakers means they can’t command a hiring price as high as that of an American or Brit. One private kindergarten in Beijing answers job applicants with an email outlining their different pay brackets based on nationality: “10K for native speakers, 8-9K for experienced European teachers and 6K for African or Asian teachers.” Which is why the intermediary company that hired Sonia – they take a cut of any jobs they land for her – told her to tell schools and students that she’s Irish. Unfortunately Sonia’s pronounced Italian accent is a far cry from the lilting tones of an Irishwoman. “Of all the English-speaking countries, why Ireland?” she complained to Roddy, her agent. “Do you know how hard their accent is?” Roddy had this stroke of inspiration after Sonia had told him she spent two months working as an au pair in Ireland. And, as he had correctly presumed, turned out none of the Chinese teachers who hired her, or the students she taught, could tell the difference.

While Sonia has become apt at faking her nationality (at one school where she was passing as an American she turned to Wikipedia in order to prepare for a presentation on Thanksgiving) sometimes it saddens her that she can’t be honest about her background. She has begun telling people that her father is Italian, as a way of introducing into the conversation some of her true heritage. Michael too finds ways to sneak in his Austrian background. “Once I asked Daisy to name the world’s most famous pianist. She started saying Beethoven, Bach, and so on, so finally I asked if she knows Mozart. She did, so I asked her where’s Mozart from? And she said Germany.”

While teaching pre-kindegarteners is often just a mixture of singing, playing games and running through flashcards, Michael’s sessions with Daisy, whose English is fairly advanced, can be a touch more demanding. Occasionally she queries him about words he isn’t familiar with. “In those cases I ask her to check it in the dictionary and write it down. I say it’s because she’ll remember it better, but actually it’s because I don’t know!” Other times he’s flubbed that it was because of her poor pronunciation.

While Samuel has never had to lie about his ethnic background, it seems most of the schools he’s worked at has had no qualms with lying about his professional background. Having taught in multiple locations across China, he says it’s commonplace for institutions to write fake bios or pump up teacher credentials to students. “There’s always an end of school rush with kids wanting to do a TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) test to enter Hong Kong University. So the school will say, ‘hey this guy’s students have all passed TOEFL, he’s our TOEFL expert!’ Meanwhile I’m like, ‘what’s TOEFL?’” In other instances they exaggerated the length of time he’s been at the school or in China.

If there’s any one reason why these young teachers seem to lack any guilt about their small deceits and lax teaching standards, it’s because they realise it’s the schools themselves, and to some degree the parents as well, who don’t really care.

“I’m not a real teacher, I’m an actress pretending to be something I’m not. These kids are so little, sometimes only three or four-years-old, so they’re not learning English seriously,” says Sonia. “I used to find it weird that the parents are always telling me how I’m beautiful. Then I realised these lessons are just about giving them status. In China, if your kids go to school and they have a foreign teacher – a beautiful Irish teacher – everybody in the neighbourhood knows and you gain face. So it doesn’t really matter what happens in class.

For Chinese parents who are serious about their child speaking English, Samuel concedes that these informal classes are of use, but they require years of participation to take effect, not months. And he dishes some sound advice for those shopping for a reputable school: “I would get someone who already speaks very good English to go to the demo class with you, and if you have any questions about the teacher ask the teacher themselves not the school. Also, if you don’t believe someone’s qualification, ask for proof. If they say that they have a certificate, ask to see a copy.”

Some names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent.

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  • Phil

    I lived in Korea for two years (as a student and web developer) and so this whole article just rings so, so true for my experiences over there too.

    Nevermind the many feckless, talentless teachers, it’s the sheer lack of care that academic institutes have for their pupils’ education that shocked me the most.

    I remember a Korean blog labeling such use of foreigners as “English actors”, not teachers.

    • Jay

      Having taught in the US and China, I can say that one HUGE difference is that in China, there is no teacher evaluation or mentoring.

      In the US I sat in on other classes to evaluate the teachers and give feedback, and had teachers sit in and evaluate my classes, and give me feedback.

      In China, at one of the “Top 10″ universities, (according to some mysterious everybody-knows-it list) no teacher or administrator sat in on my classes, ever. Instead, they relied on the students to report what was taught and to have them evaluate my classes.

      The students thought the classes were great, they learned a lot, and had fun. The university asked me to stay, again and agian, for years.

      Students can give you some feedback, mine filled out a form (of my own) asking them to list the three things they thought were most valuable that they had learned, and the three most useless.

      But student evaluations miss so much of what another teacher could give – why a particular unit was misunderstood, what to focus on for a certain topic, examples that would grab the students and involve them more in the learning process.

      On-going teacher training and evaluation is just not a money-maker, and so it is ignored, to the detriment of the students. It was also disheartening to me, to know that the teachers just didn’t care. Money was more important.

  • This is an article that is a long time coming. I saw this, witnessed it and have heard about it. Thanks for talking out about it!

  • Sebastian

    Such a disgusting circumstance. On the one hand it makes my blood boil but on the other it just so happens to be that I would like to teach English in East Asia someday as well so knowing that even these kinds of clowns are being hired is a major confidence boost for me but with the one difference being that I will actually take care in teaching them a decent word of English while I’m at it.

  • Gabriele

    I think it’s pretty rough to call these people “actors” or “clowns” indiscriminately. China lacks standards because there is no adequate offer of foreign teachers, and yeah, wages are “high” but work conditions are not good.
    Anyway, I met more good (not qualified) teachers than careless and sloppy ones, mostly because these people are under-30, eager to learn something (to teach, in this case) and most likely studying chinese language and/or culture, so they value interaction and understanding of their students.

    • SilentObserver

      There are many Foreign qualified English teachers available Gabriele, they are just not the right color. I am overqualified for many of the positions I apply for. At first the schools are enthusiastic, and then they ask for a picture….It goes down hill from there….This problem is deeply rooted in Chinese culture of the way they feel about dark people, that is: uneducated, uncouth, and lacking manners. So many miss out on a lot of learning because the parents, recruiters and headmasters are too stupid to tell the difference between a French guy with a heavy accent and a black American with a standard English accent… Or an Austrian dope with no experience and a hard working Filipina. They just pick the white face.

      • Ermzkie

        Just like me, I am a Filipino teacher and they think that I am not competitive enough to teach English in China because of my nationality. I apply more than 100 job hiring in China but after an interview, I felt disappointed because what they want is a Native English Speaker.

  • Steve

    I think you’re missing the point in this article. Number 1, you already said that there are 400 million Chinese people learning English a year. Assuming you work in a school, where you’re likely to have roughly 80-100 students per class and upwards of at least 12 classes per week, you’re going to have around 1,000 students. So in order to fill the demand just based on the assumption that each foreign teacher has 1,000 students, you’d still need 400,000 foreign teachers! The demand in China is huge, which is why they will hire ANYONE. Check any job board in China. It’s obvious where the demand for foreign labor is, regardless of the quality of the supply.

    Also, you failed to mention anything good about what foreign teachers are doing. I’ve been in China for more than 5 years, and I’ve met a number of amazing teachers that, without any proper training, have built long lasting relationships with their students, spent time helping the school’s local teachers improve their “oral” English, do service projects for their schools such as building an English library or starting an English news paper, starting clubs, coaching, etc. A bit less bias would be more appreciated.

    • Mulligan

      Couldn’t have put it better myself.

      Teaching has changed my life.

    • anon

      Interesting. The one thing that sprang to mind about this comment was being reminded of how some people who criticize or “bash” China get upset by those who ask them to be less biased or who complain about them not mentioning anything good about China in their rants or criticisms.

      I’m not saying you’re one of those people, but it jumped out at me since these sort of discussions and complaints are so common on these China blogs.

  • RightOnZeMoney

    Having worked in China as a teacher for a year I can do nothing but confirm all of the above. In all fairness though I think quite a few teachers start off eagerly, wanting to combine living in an exciting place with doing something ‘good’. It is only when you realize the discrepancy between what you imagine a good class should be and the input the school provides, that you start to become unmotivated to do your best.
    Sure there’s the occasional guy more interested in partying or parlors, but you still have a bunch who want to make an effort only to see that the school not actually gives a shit. When I handed in the grades for my first semester a couple students didn’t pass, so the school just told me to let these students retake the test and let them pass. Also, elementary and upper-intermediate students were indiscriminately thrown into the same class.
    Now obviously under normal circumstances such an attitude could be a reason to quit your job. However, in the case of China schools also have a perverse kind of power over the foreign teachers who work for them. Visa/residential status are often linked closely with working for such a company so resigning would probably mean having to cut short your stay and forfeit income and plane ticket reimbursement. Alternatively you can sign for a different school, but then the entire thing will start from the beginning again. As such I can’t say I’m surprised by the lacklustre attitude of many teachers. It does however sadden me that this combination of circumstances hurts English students in China. After all they should be the ones to profit from good education, yet the only ones who are gaining now are the schools. And perhaps the parents if they only care about face.
    (On the other hand you can of course argue that being taught by good Chinese teachers with horrendous accents is not beneficial either. So in some way everyone wins, just not as much as one would have hoped for.)
    Oh, for the record, I’m a non-native speaker from Europe. The Chinese way of looking at nativeness is rather strange though. Obviously being white is step one, yet the next distinction is not by accent but just whether you’re from a country where English is spoken as a first language or not. No hard feelings to all Scottish, Irish or Jamaican teachers out there, but it’s a little strange to put those on par with the more mainstream accents of the USA and the UK. (Although I’m excited to know about any Chinese kids with heavy Jamaican accents, especially if they turn out to be great Olympic runners.)

    • SilentObserver

      Ni hao mon! gei wo wo de bumpaclot chi fan mon!

  • DisillusionedCow

    Eh. This just seems like another endemic facet of Chinese culture, where the actual substance of things do not matter, but the appearance holds all the meaning, rather than even the idea.

    It’s annoying because I would have liked to move to China to study Mandarin while teaching English. Might have been good since I don’t really like kids, especially in their teens, so there’s a pretty small risk of me becoming friendly or not truly teaching them.

    What’s the problem? I’m black. Though I’m american and speak English clearer and better than most people, and without any real accent or lisp, I would not be payed on merit, but rather on the appearance of it.

    Fuck em.

    • Jason

      I agree with everything you said. I’m american too and my race is japanese. It just pisses me off that many (not all) chinese treat whites better than people of color. I can just see this by daily observations when I visit China. Many chinese are just so naive about how foreingers really feel about them, it’s pathetic. I just want to beat the shit out of those people, I can’t stand them they’re so ignorant.

      About teaching english i’d probably have the same problem with you. I think we would both be able to find a job but would be paid at a lower rate just because the color of our skin. Fortunately i’ve found there are some Chinese who are not prejudiced towards me. My girlfriend is a native of China and her family treats me very well and I’ve met many nice people when I’ve visited.

      Despite all this, if you really want to teach in CHina I suggest give it a try. Just try your best to change their thinking that the color of your skin doens’t affect how well you speak english. I know it’ll be hard but it’s worth a try. Plus CHina has a very interesting culture and people. You only live once, might as well go for your dreams.

      • MaybeCow

        It sucks pretty bad. All of the Chinese/Taiwanese people I’ve known volunteer the information that Asians are really racist, which severely discourages me from wanting to even speak to those that emigrate here, let alone travel to their countries. I may still give it a shot, however. Thanks for the advice!

        • Kong

          I wonder if the phrase “asians are really racist” toggles any irony switch at all.

          • TruthinessCow

            I was saying that’s what other asians told me. You’re absolutely right, though, even though this isn’t want you meant, racism and ostracism breeds racism. Truth is, I never really knew much about asians until I’d dated a Taiwanese girl. She’s the one that told me that on a number of occasions, even lying to avoid introducing me to her mother or her other Asian friends, many of which she lost because she had invited another black male to a party.

            And she’s not the only one. Other guys and women I meet on the internet, as well as reading some of the comments on a lot of the posts regarding racial issues.

            It’s not what I would like to believe, but it just seems to be a base characteristic of their culture.

      • Geoff

        Is it possible that you get a bad reaction not because of your skin color but because they can sense that you believe they are all “so ignorant…you want to beat the shit out of them”? Even if this wasn’t the case in the beginning, it may well be the case now. Just saying.

        • Tarkan

          Hello jason. I would like help on teaching in china. Can you plz give me some advice

        • lordblazer

          they’ll tell you “black people are not real native English speakers” some will say you aren’t qualified enough, and then some employers will try to pay you less than half of what white people get paid. China isn’t worth it if you wan to teach overseas. I highly suggest you get a teaching certification, and teach at an international school in Taiwan or Japan. Get the international baccalaureate teaching certification.
          it’s a much more pleasant teaching experience. Black Americans working in China often have to have more qualifications to teach, and accept significantly less pay.

      • Adu

        I am a Chinese who was born and raised in the Philippines. The schools I studied in had English as a medium of instruction and we were always told to speak in English. I’m not talking about the the type of English wherein “F” is pronounced as “P” because I had good English teachers who had good accents as they had obtained their degrees outside of our country (discounting the fact that some actually grew up in America). So you could say that I grew up speaking the language even if I am not an American or British. But it wouldn’t matter here in China. I mean, I’ve met very nice people here (despite them knowing that I am from the Philippines) but when it comes to finding jobs, it is a problem. I wanted to find part-time jobs while studying, but I couldn’t because they prefer someone who is white. I have a friend from Italy whose English is not as good but she even got more offers to teach English. When she tells the potential students that she actually doesn’t speak English because she did not really learn or speak the language on a daily basis, they tell her it is all right and that she has amazing English speaking skills. Then, when she referred them to me instead, one look and they declined – just because I looked Chinese. Tough luck for us since we look Asian. :|

        • adu

          as the* medium of instruction

    • TAKE5

      I would not give up so easy because your Black. For one thing the fact that you are American means a lot…. don’t under play that. In fact in some circles you would have it easier than asians born in America and certainly easier than japanese.

      I agree that generally speaking China seems to be enamored of a white face be it russian, german or American. But their are many that will not hold your blackness against you. In fact you will stand out. In 2005 i met a Black guy from Africa who was an interpreter on and Italian ship. He spoke mandarin to the chinese workers. He set up and english teaching school and was very popular in this city. so don’t sell your self short, like the guy said you only live once go for it.

      • Patrick

        He’s not really selling himself short – he just has no patience for people that likely will. I say stay away from the language training centers – go to the universities. As long as you have a university diploma it’s no problem and people are generally more interested in learning – not all the time, but in the training centers it’s often as this article states, getting to know the foreigner, if you’re lucky, getting to know the white, single, blue-eyed foreigner from America.

        • SilentObserver

          Training Centers in China are pretty much just a dating service for white guys and Chinese women.

    • SilentObserver

      From a fellow black American in China, you took the words right out of my mouth.

    • FotherMucker


  • N

    There are many, many foreign teachers who come to China to teach. When they (we) arrive to a Chinese workplace, we notice that our employers are not serious.

    We give up, stop working and eventually quit.

    To have a western management is a blessing, because they take you seriously.

    Teaching is a nice job for many different reasons.
    There are potentials for many different kinds of people to like teaching.
    Its striking how this market has failed to create a work environment that (1) helps inexperienced teachers and (2) satisfies already experienced teachers.

    China gets what it asks for.

    • SilentObserver

      You are right

    • Adu

      I think your comment specifies the things that is actually sad about this country. I think some teachers are actually qualified to teach (both native and non-native) but because they put more importance on the appearance, and as you mentioned, less on the quality and management, the good teachers end up leaving.

      • ad

        things that are*

  • Sören

    where do I sign up for this?

    I need to go back to china ;_;

  • commielogic

    i failed to see the link this story to this site is about. what diaspora? who is the overseas chinese here? whitey teachers?

    • anon

      The writer is an overseas Chinese person. This site is about featuring them, not necessarily just them talking about themselves. Read the introduction post.

  • Jenny

    If you are native speaker and you would like to teach in Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Dongguan, pls email your resume to me via [email protected], Jenny Zhu.
    Now we open big language school in Shenzhen, and we want native teachers eagerly. High pay is offered and parttime or fulltime mode. Thanks.

    • YEAH!!!

      capitalize ($$$) on it sister!


    • francois williams

      fokoff jou teef…

  • The thing no one has mentioned so far is theft by employers. In Beijing there were lots of schools that would find some excuse to doc your pay, or not pay for months then fire you. Most English teachers are in China on tourist visas so they’re working illegally. This makes it impossible to take any legal action.

    Want to make a big deal about the theft? Well the boss just tells the police that there’s a foreigner working illegally and you’re off to deportation junction.

    • anon

      I don’t think that was the story this article was trying to tell though…

  • Yuza

    This article is obv writen by someone who was never an english teacher in China in the last 5 years. Is a bad mix of stereotypes and Beijing (expec) urban legends.
    The problem is another one english schools or other job opportunities in China now mostly doesn’t offer a valid (career) contracts or an idea of a solid future so usually who call for get a job is just an american guy (can be an improvised good teacher or not… no matter). Friends have tried to enter in schools faking their accents (from european to american/english) failing miserably. Schools usually ask for a long trial period (with just one lesson per week) and for a real american passport. So i don’t agree with this article from my experience.

    • Peter

      Yeah – this article is way to negative.

  • Jay

    Having taught in the US and China, I can say that one HUGE difference is that in China, there is no teacher evaluation or mentoring.

    In the US I sat in on other classes to evaluate the teachers and give feedback, and had teachers sit in and evaluate my classes, and give me feedback.

    In China, at one of the “Top 10” universities, (according to some mysterious everybody-knows-it list) no teacher or administrator sat in on my classes, ever. Instead, they relied on the students to report what was taught and to have them evaluate my classes.

    The students thought the classes were great, they learned a lot, and had fun. The university asked me to stay, again and agian, for years.

    Students can give you some feedback, mine filled out a form (of my own) asking them to list the three things they thought were most valuable that they had learned, and the three most useless.

    But student evaluations miss so much of what another teacher could give – why a particular unit was misunderstood, what to focus on for a certain topic, examples that would grab the students and involve them more in the learning process.

    On-going teacher training and evaluation is just not a money-maker, and so it is ignored, to the detriment of the students. It was also disheartening to me, to know that the teachers just didn’t care. Money was more important.

  • TAKE5

    I was once offered a job teaching english by a Chinese woman who operates several schools. I am no more an english teacher than I am an astronaut . My friends sister has been teaching english in china for one year. Tall, blonde, 45 and gets treated like a rock star. How pathetic is that? At some point this gravy train will dry up and they will get booted out of the county.

    • Tjh14

      Lots of us are leaving without being booted. The pollution, the disgusting lack of manners, the lying, cheating, etc. Decent people have a problem with this, so you get the drunks and misfits who are willing to stay here.

  • Peter

    This article raises some great points – but also has some HUGE weaknesses!

    I am currently working at an English school in the NE and have been doing so for 2.5 years. In addition, I have been in contact with Foreign teachers in China since 1998. Thus I have a pretty decent understanding of my corner of this industry.

    There are lots of horror stories (I have witnessed severe alcoholism and sexual harassment, just to mention two) but there are also many serious, hardworking teachers out there and the school that I work for makes a real effort to ensure a decent standard of education for it’s students. (at least on the teaching side) There is training and ongoing assessment and support for teachers.

    In addition, the failings of English teachers are just a reflection of Chinese society. People here are willing to accept a low standard of quality in just about every area of their life. Bad English teachers may suck, but almost every person with a job fails to do it responsibly. From the cooks in most restaurants, to taxi drivers, to construction workers, to police men… I mean the list goes on – no one gives a damn about anything. I mean people can’t even renovate an apartment correctly unless you literally watch them do it and constantly complain and criticize what the are doing.

    Also, Chinese society is absolutely permeated with lies – just about everything is BS everywhere you go – from the content of the newspapers, to the so called “experts” that appear on TV and radio, to the political system which simply functions to benefit a minority and keep everyone else quiet while claiming to serve the people… Things are getting better, but not only is everything BS, everyone knows it is. So why expect more from Chinese managers at English schools?

    Also, teachers absolutely DO get fired. I have witnessed a few such cases and have been involved in firing one teacher and not re-signing another.

    Things may be different in other parts of the country, but in our school we are serious about what we do – though there are a thousand ways we could do better.

    • Jules

      +1 to Peter’s Comment

    • anon

      No, I disagree. The failings of SOME English teachers is a reflection of themselves, just as the failings of some Chinese employers is a reflection of themselves as well. I’ve seen two comments now by people who want to shift their own irresponsibility onto their Chinese employers or Chinese society as a whole. If you don’t agree with how your employer does things, go find another employer. Don’t fob off your own choices onto others as if they corrupted you. Be responsible for your own choices, including choosing to work for employers whom you disagree with or who have practices you disagree with. No one is forcing you.

      So many expats always whine about Chinese people who shift attention onto Americans or Westerners when faced with criticism coming from Americans or Westerners. Look at what you’re doing? Faced with criticisms against bad English teachers in China, you start shifting attention onto the employer, onto the cooks, taxi drivers, construction workers, police, etc. It’s always someone else’s fault. It’s everyone else, its the society that is responsible for my sins, not me.

      That’s bullshit. The truth is that there are indeed a lot of bad ways of doing things in Chinese society, but none of that absolves someone who chooses to be complicit in it. If your English school employer doesn’t take teaching English seriously, that’s on him or her or them. If you don’t, that’s on you. If you choose to go out and get pissed and you don’t take your job seriously, that’s all on you. Take responsibility for yourself. Don’t act like the insecure Chinese nationalists.

      It’s good your school takes things seriously, but the tales this article tells and the criticisms it makes are fairly well known. Definitely not all English teachers in China are like this, just as Chinese society isn’t all BS and lies.

      • Peter


        The point is that this isn’t a “foreign teacher” problem. It is a problem that permeats all aspects of society. You are able to comprehend that right?

        Of course I think people should be held responsible for their actions!!! Teachers who “get pissed and don’t take their job seriously” should be fired! No one is arguing with that. But they aren’t and that isn’t their fault – it’s their managers’.

        In addition, I am not that kind of person – I do my job and do it dam well! I am not blaming anyone else for anything. What are you talking about???

        Of course there are people in China who have a sense of responsibility regarding their work… but it isn’t only foreign teachers that get away with not being responsible. It’s all kinds of people – in all walks of life – and the problem is absolutely rampant.

        This isn’t an attack on China, it’s just a fact.

        • Hi there Pete are you’re still teaching? Could you email me the details of your school or any schools you think are actually worth working for? There are just too many to choose from I wouldn’t know which one to trust. Cheers.

          • Nobody will take me seriously because of that edit/typo error. Fuck. I’ve taught English in Peru and Germany before and I’ve had enough of England, again. My sister has lived in Shanghai for the last 8 years..

  • CT

    I don’t see this as being such a big deal. The teaching pay is fairly low, so they can’t attract the most talented people. $1000 a month or less isn’t going to cut it for people who have mortgages back home, families…If the pay was more in line with the business world the quality would be a lot higher.

    Also the entire country doesn’t have to learn English, especially as the domestic market gets larger. People who are truly motivated to learn will find a way.

    • Meghan

      Yes, the pay is low, but what China does is offer a platform for young people to launch a career in teaching, education management or international education. It can also be a good stepping stone for recent graduates to gain professional, leadership and foreign language skills that could make them more marketable in their home markets. I came to China after graduate school, and I have been teaching here for over two years now. Although my pay is lower than it would be in America, I have been able to save almost every RMB I earn. Yes, I am a low-income person, but I have no expenses. I would not equate the lower salaries to lower quality professionals. China attracts people from all walks of life. Some of us are here to run away from their problems, some are seeking adventure, some because they can’t find meaningful employment in their home country, some come to China to party and some of us are really here to start a career. If I had stayed in America, I would not have had this kind of savings potential. For me, China has yielded monstrous gains. I am learning Chinese, I enjoy my job as a teacher, I enjoy working with my students, and I appreciate the opportunity to secure myself financially before taking my next step.

      Unfortunately, for people who are more established in their careers and who have more serious financial obligations, China will probably not give you what you want personally, professionally and, would possibly, cause finical problems. For me, China was the best thing I could have done!

      • zhang

        And I am sure you “teach” a model of English ESL that is 30 years old and flawed from western ESL studies. Write words on the board, play scenarios games, watch cool video clips, make friends, grammar, and silly games. I am glad it is a platform for you, and I am sure you are a great person, but the system itself should not allow for the ignorant academic autonomy in higher educational foreign language studies. My argument is that most foreign teachers think they are doing something, but in act it is nothing more than a ESL self fulfilling prophecy trap in China to “boost our confidence and learn “culture” burped here and there from an opinionated non sociological individual point of view. My argument is most foreign teacher classes are just a waste of our time.

      • francois williams

        In a way China continuous to bail out the bankrupt West…

  • DRaY

    I feel bad for the chinese that spend money to “learn” from these idiots. What a joke.

    • francois williams

      Listen to this douchebag Cambridge graduate in Shenzhen:

      Top pay! To teach kids 4 to 15 years old. This is urgent need and can start right away, part or full time. The center has nordic decor and is manged by a Cambridge university and Tsinghua university graduate.

      The school is within 100 meters from Xili subway station exit F.

      Must be native speakers. Customers in Xili prefer white. Please contact


      What a fuckin scumbag, but hey, this just shows you what kind of people go and study abroad nd what do they learn at places such as Cambridge??

  • revoltingbrain

    This stuff makes me wanna throw a chair into somebody’s window or pop a few audi tires too. I know that this is pretty common in Taiwan too. I don’t get why South Korea and Japan don’t do this as much. China needs some serious education reform before things will change. Just be patient and wait a few decades.

    • francois williams

      Listen to this douchebag Cambridge graduate in Shenzhen:

      Top pay! To teach kids 4 to 15 years old. This is urgent need and can start right away, part or full time. The center has nordic decor and is manged by a Cambridge university and Tsinghua university graduate.

      The school is within 100 meters from Xili subway station exit F.

      Must be native speakers. Customers in Xili prefer white. Please contact


      What a fuckin scumbag, but hey, this just shows you what kind of people go and study abroad nd what do they learn at places such as Cambridge???

  • Jess

    Is it possible for a Chinese Born American to get a job teaching English in China? Or do they only want “a white face”?


    • hooots

      It is absolutely possible. But, unfortunately you will almost definitely be paid less. And it’s not even necessarily the schools fault. Without even talking to you the parents will not pay as much to have you teach their kids as they would a “white face.” It’s sad but true. Same goes for anyone not white. My friend is a black guy from the states and he has difficulty finding jobs. It sucks but it’s the way it is.

      • francois williams

        why is it the way it is?

  • hooots

    I understand what this article is trying to shed light on but I think the focus is a little too narrow.

    I don’t doubt the truth behind anything that was said, however you’re really only focusing on non-native speakers who are passing themselves off as something they’re not. It might be common in Beijing or Shanghai but in my city (third tier but still quite large) I haven’t come across a single case of this.

    Also, if we’re laying blame, who’s fault is it that they’re pawning off unqualified teachers? THE SCHOOL’S! (For the most part I’m talking about private language schools from here on out.) They don’t even really care about qualifications. In my experience just having a pretty smiling face is about all they care about. I work at a very expensive nice school and they pretty much just sell me to the families as being a handsome young American. If I was black, Asian, fat, ugly, or awkward then I probably wouldn’t have the job I have and definitely wouldn’t make the money I do. It’s the sad reality but it’s how things are here.

    I am qualified, well educated, kind, patient, and an overall good teacher. But, they could care less. They just want the parents’ money and as long as the money is good, they’re happy. My boss has never even seen one of my classes and probably doesn’t care to. As Americans we are used to working off feedback, both positive and negative. But, in my experience working in China. They really don’t care what the hell I’m doing as long as the kids leave happy. And this is the way most private language schools work here. It’s a business and they’re selling a product and they will try and get as much money for it as they can regardless of quality. Until the market gets saturated with good quality teachers, the system won’t change.

    • The truth

      This article is typical of the Chinese narrow minded and jealous way of thinking. An Austrain working as an ESL teacher? The fault lays with the corrupt Chinese employment method, clearly he has not applied for or gained a teaching/working visa. The school is probably one of the countless illegal schools which lies to students and teachers alike. The only decent honest schools that I have encountered in China are from overseas sources but forced by the CCP to partner up with some dodgy Chinese university or dishonest Chinese business people, they in turn sit around doing nothing while the school makes them wealthy. Qualified ESL English teachers are better at teaching than the dodgy Chinese English versions being churned out of sub standard Chinese universities. China is the only country in the world famous for ESL teaching salaries getting lower each year, dishonest illegal schools and articles like this one which stink of communist fueled nationalism. We real teachers are not interested in coming to China, you do not deserve our highly professional ESL teaching skills. Those of us foolish enough to come just meet lies and cheats and sub standard salaries ( if the school even bothers to pay what it promised). Signing a teaching contract in China and expecting a Chinese school to honor it is a total waste of time.

      • francois williams

        Salaries here are about double Taiwan, while the costs are about half…not bad…also way better than SE Asia…
        I have no idea about Korea, but I also have no idea why anyone would want to work or live there?

        • Korea is a great country to work and teach in. The food is awesome, people are friendly and there is a lot to see and do.

  • The truth

    A typical spiteful and nasty story from China. An Austrian can only be working as an ESL teacher if he is teamed up with one of the countless illegal dishonest schools in China. Chinese visa policy insists ESL teachers are from native English speaking countries. China where real qualified ESL teachers are lied to, tricked and often not paid the proper salary or bonus, signing a teaching contract in China is a total waste of time with no access to legal representation to bring the dishonest schools before a court. The ESL schools are a total joke and lack any type of profesional structure.
    So long as China maintains its illegal and dishonest attitude, we the real qualified ESL teachers are not interested in providing our skills in that country.
    When we read these types of spiteful unintelligent stories it just remains a certaintity that our absence from the unprofessional Chinese ESL market is fully justified. Go ahead, keep employing unqualified ESL teachers, keep telling lies to students and those not qualified youngsters that show up claiming to be ESL teachers. However, do not insult our profession, you are simply not worthy. China where the teaching salary has been getting lower for 7 years in a row, we are not interested in coming there to help you access an international language tool. Just use those bogus so called Chinese ESL teachers which your sub standard universities are churning out in the thousands.

    • Daniel

      The reason all the worst ESL teachers end up in China is because the standards are so low. Unlike in Japan, Korea or other Asian countries you can’t teach or get a working visa without a degree or even a degree in education.

      I feel bad for China, but they have got to improve their standards if they want better results.

      • Jay W

        Yes, but China only recently hopped on this “English-learning” craze, unlike other Asian countries with decades of experience with this regard, so of course they do not have as much experience dealing with this issue. Not to mention Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan are relatively quite affluent and developed, thus making the stay even more comfortable for westerners. So my point is that with time hopefully things will become / get better. There is simply no need to put them down.

    • Blars

      Mr/Ms The Truth. I don’t fully agree with your statment. Yes, there are many illegal ESL schools in China. And salaries going down? It’s going up where I live, it has to. Many teaching positions but few teachers makes the salaries go up not down. It’s a matter of market demand and so on. That is why there are loads of unqualified teachers around. From June this year you have to be a native speaker with a degree if you want to teach English. Personally I think that is bullshit concidering there are native speakers out there that are nearly impossible to understand. Also, people should be able to compete on competence and not because of colour or origin. There has been a few ESL schools shut down here because they were the kind of schools you descibe. China is getting there but it will take time. We had a school doing ESL training and that one has been shut down as well.

    • francois williams

      Well…can you define what is a so-called ‘native english speaker, and a native english country’??

  • 1234

    One word can describe what I am feeling right now: sad. Sad about the ugly side of society fuelled by the ugly side of human nature.

  • typingfromwork

    This article speaks the truth. Even in top Universities this happens a lot. I am reminded of an American teacher in the English department from USTB, one of the most prestigious Universities in Beijing. For a lesson he basically gave a tabloid magazine for pupils to make notes on while rattling on and on about American culture without giving any hints that he has the ability to string together a competent lesson. At one point he was talking about how Obama won the election “because 50% of the population of the US are black”. I put my hand up and said that the actual figure is closer to 20%. He looked at me with a dumb expression, ignored me, and carried on talking. When it was time for a break I just walked out.

    There is a very good English teacher at USTB, however, who had a Ph.D. in history from Oxford. He is noted time and time again for his professionalism and interest in the pupils, setting up debating competitions and weekly get-togethers for oral English practice. Pretty much everyone of the pupils thinks he is the perfect English gentleman, and while I wouldn’t go that far I can understand the sentiment. Really, USTB is pretty luck to have him.

    • Sydney

      Not just because he is white, but especially because he has no other qualification than being native. As long as China will favor native losers above qualified non-native, this will happen. Wake up Chinese people. I have seen tons of job ads where the only requirement was “being a native speaker from US, Canada, UK, Australia or NZ” WTF they do not even ask for any experience or any qualification.

  • dim sum

    You are lucky. In China, we get creepy teachers like mine in Nanyang, the Jerry Urban big fat man tells students he will hurt them outside of class if they do not do what they are told. He stands in front of us (really close…his nose touches our face) and steers us down and says I get you later. I have nightmares about this man. We can not just complain like you guys can about these awful foreign teachers.

    • ZZ Jason

      The coin has two sides — There is good and bad in everything, no matter what you look at.

      Yes, there are useless teachers that take advantage of a market and social expectations. No qualifications and no desire to do right by anyone but themselves. As a result, they screw over the students they’re supposed to be helping.

      And yes, there ARE serious teachers in China who do their best to deliver the best content & lesson possible. I strive everyday to be like these teachers, and I still know people give me second looks. People like me pay the price for the aforementioned “teachers” drawbacks.

      And yes again, there are people from non-English speaking countries who have no other choice but to travel to China and play the “face” game. They’re in a far worse category; either they eat in China or starve in their native lands. Who can blame them, given the situation? We can only hope they do their best for the students in front of them. I personally wouldn’t rat out an Austrian teaching 3-year-olds “Hello” and “Thank You”.

      Some good news for China — with current economics the way they are in the West, more legitimate teachers will be forced to travel abroad in search of work. This is good for the Chinese people, education wise. And even better for legitimate teachers, with a little luck we can continue to weed the bad ones out!

      • N

        Those legitimate teachers will quit, because they will notice that Chinese education (along with the rest of society), don’t care.

        Noone who’s serious are willing to work with people who don’t care.

        If you’re a qualified teacher, with real ambitions, you don’t go to China. You go elsewhere or work in your home country.

        • francois williams

          Sounds like the US and EU are bankrupt and plenty of unemployed though?

      • zhang

        I think this “Jerry Urban fat man” example is very common. No, I do not think there is another side to this students complaint Losers using old ESL cool games, grammar natzis, watching movies (to help our “listening”) going to class drunk, touching girls inappropriate in classes, and listening to lectures how great the teachers knowledge is because they are western is a constant educational abuse I received when I was an undergraduate in college from my “foreign” teachers. After going abroad for my studies, I know schools can attract real teachers from foreign universities. The problem is that most schools just need to fulfill the foreign teacher requirement on paper, so lazy and incompetent foreign affair officers will hire anyone with a pulse that speaks English to met the quota. It is the losers that can not leave China and get work in their own countries that stay, which makes the real foreign teachers eventually leave. This phenomenon very common in China.If you teach English, students know you probably are a loser, and if you are a real teacher teaching a real subject, most Chinese students know you will only stay for a year or so because their peers and evaluations are based on them just being a person that speaks English.

        • Helmethair

          So Zhang, what does that say about China if it only attracts the old losers as you say? I thought according the Chinese media EVERYONE loves China.

      • Helmethair

        The qualified teachers come and find a bunch of unmotivated, blindly nationalistic Chinese students. They never stay. Universities are meant to be realms of free inquiry. In China? Not likely.

        Half the foreign professors at the foreign university in my city in China aren’t coming back next year because they find the city filthier than a toilet bowl and the educational standards are a joke by Western standards.

    • Sydney

      This happen because Chinese people prefer to hire native losers above qualified non-native, end of the story.

      • Helmethair

        Nope, teachers get frustrated because the students aren’t actually there to learn. Teachers go in with expectations that students want to learn English and then find out that they’re babysitting a bunch of whiny, lazy kids. The student/teacher relationship has to go both ways. An unwilling student is most often simply unteachable.

    • your kidding me

      in away that is what you get for being so fucking stupid….i love your people but there is a side of them that is such trash. They love to kissing white ass even when they look at you as trash, and your women as easy …so easy to turn into sluts

    • Guest

      Jerry Urban is deceased now.

    • Helmethair

      I’m sure you act like perfect angels in his class too, right? You certainly don’t insult him in Chinese to his face, right? He’s obv. frustrated with you because you and your classmates are “sh*tbirds.” That is – students who sit and cause trouble at the back of the room. Dropping ‘sh*t’ on everything because they’re too cool. They feel the need to destroy the lesson for the rest of the students- wasting everyone’s time and money in the process. Does that sound like you and your classmates?

    • mbkirova

      A secondary school, or a university?




  • Kelvin

    It’s really sad for Chinese culture to
    1. treat foreigners royally
    2. Not have high standards for foreign teachers
    3. Parents that are too trustworthy of teachers and throwing away their money
    4. Superficial enough to only care about a beautiful blond face.
    5. Devalue their own people.
    6. Overcram students in a room to learn
    7. Force their children to learn things in inefficient ways

    I don’t blame the foreigners that have this opportunity because the system allows them to get away with what they do. Until there is a cultural shift of values then those crappy English learning institutions and English teachers will exist in China. In the end, the children suffer, their parents don’t know how to find quality teachers.

    I suppose it is like foreign language education in the US, a lot of us put in a lot of time in a foreign language but achieve mediocrity. There are so many teaching tools out there but we ourselves don’t know how to use them and over-rely on one teacher.

    Also, about those cute kids you teach, you should see them some of them in middle school when they hate learning English. That’s when I feel sorry for any teacher of any subject.

    Hopefully, we’ll see if English learning improves in China.

    • francois williams

      Then they go to learn in the West …while spending a fortune and thinking they are blessed??!

    • Sydney

      China won’t change, they will always hire native losers above qualified non-native, Japan does it, South Korea also, and look at how shameful is their English, this is the asian mindset to think that someone is better at teaching/speaking English just because he or she was born in the US, Canada, Australia, NZ or the UK. In their mind a German or an Italian with the qualifications, with a super high TOEFL score will always be less valuable than even a redneck who can’t speak proper English, just because the last was born in the US.

      Wake up Asia.

      • anonymouse

        ^ excuse me ms. sydney ma,
        but i don’t think japan is being biased in the same way as japan. they hire non american teachers which are deemed qualified. not because they are white, but because they are competent. south korea is also the same. get your facts right.

  • Joe

    Yang Rui, anyone?

    • Dano

      Ah yes, the ever popular CCP puppet master of CCTV9’s Dialogue

  • starsburnandfall

    It talks mostly about the stupidity of Chinese people to hire lame “white” foreign teachers but it also points out the lack of discipline and gratitude among American people. These Americans needed a job, and the Chinese people gave one, knowing about the lack of qualification. Why not atleast give your best shot! Though it’s not even enough to make it up for the royalty treatment you receive!

    • francois williams

      Low-live scumbags being drip-fed money for nothing because they were born with a white skin…what a joke…Django UNchained is going to start showing in China…take your students to view…

    • AnAmerican

      WAIT! This person doing this job WASN’T an AMERICAN. They were AUSTRIAN and ITALIAN. Get your facts straight. I’m an American trying to teach abroad and I find this type of lackluster teaching to be abhorrent too!

    • ReadItAgain

      Perhaps you should spend some time working on your reading comprehension – the teachers discussed in the article weren’t American.

  • lived in China

    This article touches on the common Chinese perception of English foreign teachers as being unqualified for the job. I worked in China as an English teacher for almost two years. It was a great experience, but I did see a number of foreign English teachers get fired. All of the foreign English teachers I met had degrees, a teaching qualification and all bar one had been through the experience of learning and mastering a foreign language. The schools were getting extremely good people for the money they were paying.

    A number of people in China told me about how much foreign teachers earn and what they failed to realise is foreign teachers teach for times the number of classes their local counterparts teach. On top of that, foreign teachers have to generate all their own materials in a country where access to genuine English material isn’t easy.

    Foreign teachers don’t actually earn more money than local teachers. Once you include the test bonuses and the end of year bonus, local teachers end up earning more than foreign teachers.

    Articles such as the one above are more about nationalistic Chinese pride and the belief that they can do anything better than foreigners and they don’t really need any help, they just need a foreign face for marketing purposes. This type of xenophobic thinking is neither truthful or helpful. The people going over to China to teach English are at the minimum educated, brave, resourceful and interested in communication. The more they are treated as the valuable commodity they really are, they better China’s language education will become.


      Hi, I teach here too. 1 year. Not a single day late, or sick. Im most desirable, a reliable male native. I certainly get paid well. I clear 15,000RMB a month. Wow say a lot of my Chinese friends. If I went back to my home country I would clear 30,000RMB a month.
      It would be really good if Chinese would wake up though, I have a African friend from Ghana, he is one of the best teachers I have met, however he is paid half of my pay because of the colour of his skin.

      • alkel

        adrian, where do you teach? I am looking for a teaching job, but haven’t decided on location yet. Is it easy to get a job in your city?

      • Seamac

        It is amazing that someone teaching English seems unable to write grammatically or use correct punctuation.

        • Justin

          Writing on an internet forum and teaching a class are two very, very different things.

      • Been there done that…

        For sure, and so was I as an African American woman! This is what is shameful about China….to say the least

      • Guest

        I think he makes half because of his nationality and not the color of his skin. A black American could make the same as you. Chinese are not racist just like the vast majority of white Americans are not racist.

        • Helmethair

          A black woman got fired at a friends school because she didn’t look enough like a disney princess according to the parents. That’s where the priorities lay. For many Chinese parents it’s not even about whether the kid learns, it’s about the perception that the parent has a foreigner in their employ. It’s all image cultivation by the Chinese moms.

        • Shepard

          It’s very difficult to get a job in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Tianjin or Shenzhen as an African American. I went to the same American universities as white Americans but pretty much everyone said ummm… no we want white Americans or they offered me less than half of the advertised pay.

        • lordblazer

          i have a master of education degree and got fired from my job because the parents said black americans aren’t real native speakers

    • Jamari57

      Yes, I agree there is a lot to do with pride, and an urge to beat western-based systems. I have lived in Hong Kong for many years and used ESL teaching to supplement my husband’s income once his salary was localised. Unfortunately, our rents weren’t localised also. Therefore, while locals can apply for public housing, permanent residents who haven’t got the ethnicity of Chinese (which is marked on their ID cards), cannot apply for local housing also. We have to pay too much rent for so little space to live. Everything is used for the employ of local Chinese. Where I live, there are more local Chinese and main-landers able to afford luxury goods and housing, than foreigners. I can’t afford a garden, so local gardeners make the place nice for me. However, I haven’t learned much about the flora, fauna, food or language because nothing has been offered to me as I’m a foreigner. I don’t want to be an eternal ‘expat’, where I’m stuck at home. If I want to learn a foreign language, I have to pay a lot for it. We have had to bring up our son in Hong Kong without an expat package for this. The cost of rent, education and food has meant we could only afford one child. I have now studied and learned Cantonese up to GCE O level, but that won’t mean I will be able to compete for a local job.There are many strands to the Hong Kong Chinese society and it’s relationship to ‘foreigners’. I have decided to give up ESL teaching because neither the kids, the parents or the school’s admin staff listen to me, even though I have a CELTA , the training of which I paid for.
      Disillusioned, but not totally in a state of despair, thank God.

    • lordblazer

      my company in China only wanted to pay me 5k rmb a month even though I have a master of education degree. Didn’t matter. I wasn’t white. I was a Black American. so that means I don’t get to get paid 20k rmb a month at that company as white americans did. I left that BS behind and decided it isn’t worth doing anything in China.

  • Chika Anthony

    Hello guys! I’m Tony an African with a B.eng in civil engineering. I have been condering moving to china to teach English but from the research I hv made, it seems it’s not a good plan. Please I am soliciting for your advice giving to your various experiences and knowledge Cause I need to make an accurate calculated steps to avoid negative outcome of events. Thanks. Email: [email protected]. Facebook: chika Anthony

    • francois williams

      Go to South Africa and get real job with real pay man!!

  • Dano

    I taught English in China for seven at four Universities and two Training Centers. A word of advice to those who are interested in this venture, use an Organization that sends individuals to China. Ive seen too many “Lone Rangers” young and old get screwed by some Chinese school Administrators. Its better to have and organization deal with problems as opposed to yourself because Chinese will generally approach issues with a third party.

    Overall it was a great experience for me. There is a hunger in China to hire English teachers. However, not all are “Un-fireable” as written in this article. I’ve worked among the highly educated (refuting posts about only the uneducated go to China to teach English)to those who should have stayed home.

    One last thing. The Chinese always have an agenda. Experienced teachers will know what I am talking about.

  • Will

    I am considering teaching in China. I’d really like to take my job seriously. Do you have any advice for Americans looking to teaching English in China? Like how to find schools that actually have high standards. I graduated from a top-tier school and I’ve basically had recruitment agencies trying to get my in China within the month. The accommodations and pay they’re offering are good but if they aren’t looking to vet me more then I seriously doubt that they are going to foster a professional atmosphere.

  • Murdock84

    To blame only one party would be unfair, it is a lie-lie relationship.
    I am currently working for a major school, they have about 100 schools in China. They are the biggest liars I have met! They give you the feeling that chinese people do not have the ability to tell the truth. But all I keep hearing is :TIC (this is China)
    I have friends teaching in Korea and Japan, and they do not have the same problems.
    After my contract is done, I am packing my bags and moving on.
    Let the black Africans teach the little kids, “theze iz a epple”
    You only get what you give…

  • fakenamemcgee

    As an American currently living in China as a Student I only have this to add. Most of this is pretty true. I have absolutely no teaching qualifications. I haven’t even finished my degree yet, which is Computer Science by the way. Yet since being in China I have worked at several English learning centers and even taught English at the University Level!! However I’m not like what I’m seeing on here. I have genuinely tried my best to teach the students and make sure they have a sound understanding of what I’m trying to convey to them. I only had one job that I honestly just did not care about and that’s because of the way I was hired. I met with them. They immediately were shocked by my appearance as well I’m a very large man with red hair. They loved it. They said I couldn’t have been more perfect and the fact that my hair was not black was great! They hired me because I was a white american with red hair. She took me around showing me the classrooms we talked about curriculum things of that nature. Then she told me this is where the “Chinese teachers” teach. Your class will be downstairs. I was confused but just said alright. I come back a few days later to start my first day. They literally changed the entire first floor. It was setup to display to everyone walking by that I was there teaching English, but really I wasn’t. I was being paid to have a conversation with a few students(1-3) while ALL of the Chinese teachers(6-8) sat in on the class to make it look like it was a big exciting class taught by a foreigner. In other words I was a big red headed monkey on display for everyone walking by aiding them in displaying a lie that they were a very great school with many students and foreigner teachers…..I did it for one month and just didn’t feel comfortable with aiding them in such a lie anymore and told them I was leaving….I have a few more experiences I could share but this is long enough. I’m not even sure what I was saying at the beginning of this post anymore……I just know that hiring a “white face” is very common practice here whether you can teach or not….

    • lordblazer

      you had a face job.. hey, take the money..

  • I am CHINESEAMERICAN. Better yet…. HAN born in NEW YORK CITY. I destroyed all my classmates in Middle School, High School, and slept my way through College in 4 years with DUO DEGREE. Why the rest of the average dumbass americans takes 6years. You want a good English teacher? Don’t pick a cracker cause you think all crackers suppose to be fluent in English and don’t pick some second rated chino that didn’t use English his entire life like me. Heck.. ChineseAmericans are the best English/Chinese teachers because we’re born and raised with both. 2. Even tho we’re HAN in USA. The rest of you are inferior to me, cause you’re all under 6feet tall. You’re a disgrace to our ancestors since eyes were created, since mammals forms, since our ratlike ancestors developed better ears to adjust to the night as the dinosaurs dominated the day, etc. But mostly the height problem is mostly the Han women’s fault. A big reason why Han men outperform them in school and don’t suicide as much as them. *ranting mode*

    • Dipesh sah

      I feel lucky that I am in connection with u all people. I teach in the rural location of Nepal and the people are hungry to have a sweet taste of English language, the first to make easier to make connection with the world, second to fill their pocket not by teaching English but to come to front to share ersonal ideas . I am Dipesh sah and my family might not have ecouraged fme to fill my pocket but they even expect a prestigious life. That’s too a challenge friend. China is our neighbour but the flavor of teaching in China is bitter we think here… thanks.

  • Tim J

    Definitely an issue in China, but its time the Chinese started accepting people for their ability and not their race/colour. (this isn’t all of them of course but a large %)

    If the majority of kids parents or students were happy with a black/asian teacher as much as a white then competition for teaching positions would go up which would mean teachers would have to up their game to stay in the game, and ultimately the student would then get a better service. I guess what goes around comes around.

    I found a job here through TEFL Panda and they found me a great job so quickly and it was probably helped by the fact that I am from London and under 30.

  • John


  • Daniel Stark

    I worked for the overseas office of an American for-profit university in China for a year contract. Mostly preparing students for the SAT and the IELTS/TOEFL, but I became a de facto guidance counselor too. I only had a B.A., but I have natural teaching genes I inherited from my Dad and was able to help a lot of students. Despite my lack of qualifications and experience, I think I was easily one of the best in the entire city of 10 million people. My work was only monitored once, however, and that was because my co-worker had been showing up high (on real drugs) and hitting on female students with parents present, and they wanted to monitor “both” classes in order to avoid raising suspicions; I honestly don’t know if I was doing things “correctly” but never got complaints – and never went after Chinese women. My co-worker got the axe and quickly found a much higher-paying job. He’s still over there – nearly 4 years later – last I checked and making more on a PPP basis than I am likely to make as a graduate from an elite law school. Sad times.

    • Daniel Stark

      Also, when he got fired, he took nearly two months to find a new job because he was “upset” and just got drunk a lot. And the school paid him and let him stay in that apartment the whole time. Another teacher at that school (arrogant, entitled girl from LA) told my boss’s son he couldn’t make it in America because he was “too awkward.” Another female teacher regularly showed up in slutty outfits and flip-flops and told underage students about her sexual exploits among the Middle Eastern and African foreign exchange student community. She also once reportedly took her shoes off during a class, and the students complained about the smell to their parents. She eventually got the axe, too, but only after 10 months.

  • Nancey John

    It’s a classic great for me to go to this blog site, it offers helpful suggestions

  • Sydney

    Native speakers with no qualifications who get hired on the single fact that they are “natives” are the losers, most of them have no idea how to teach and just do random stuff in class. Of course some native speakers are qualified and care about education, but no more than 10% of them in China.

    Non-native speakers with proper qualifications and experience are often hired for these reasons and actually know what they are teaching and where they are going are much better teachers in every aspects.

    China (and other asian countries) need to change their mindset, just because people were born in English speaking countries does not mean that they are better teachers, it does not even mean that they speak better English. With such mindset I am not surprised that despite decades of learning, most Asian people speak terrible, shameful English, it is not because they are bad, but because their teachers were native losers who didn’t care at all about the students.

  • I just read through all the comments, and I too agree with this article. I myself spent six years in Korea, even ran my own neighborhood English school for two of those. I like the intelligent banter from (most) everyone here and figured I’d just go ahead and talk about something I’m trying to do and get some feedback:

    I run a recruitment service for certified teachers who want to spend a year or two (or six) teaching in China or Korea early in their careers. The theme of the above article is essentially the reason I started my business: We want to put an end to the unqualified teaching situation in these two countries – and even if you ARE an unqualified teacher, I hope you can appreciate this mission. The problem is getting schools to listen to us. We’ve pondered approaching parent organizations to help start conversations about the issue, and I’ll be traveling to Shanghai next month to talk to some schools (most international, but I’m trying to target private English academies as well, because lord knows they need better teachers).

    Any words of wisdom, specific advice, or people/organizations I should try to contact? Apologies for the business-intrusion into this conversation; it was simply too good of an article not to try to engage its readers over.

  • Apparently, most of the people commenting here have no real understanding of what teaching is – it is sacrifice. It is a martyr’s job. If you want to worry about your salary, lifestyle, racism, ethnocentrism, culture clashes and/or cannot tolerate those who lack education (usually, the reason behind such behavior as these – not to mention, the problem you…ideally…are here to resolve), then you really probably have no reason to be over here.

    Not all people are good at the jobs they do. Teachers who are can tolerate difficulty in favor of focusing at the issues at hand; They’re often altruists (selfless). They don’t generally get caught up in selfish interests or pursuits…or live like hedonistic morons, bringing the less-impressive and shameful traits of their native cultures here, acting like fools, drinking excessively, targeting their students and abandoning ethics & moral responsibility. In short, not only are they piss-poor diplomats, but they have no business in a classroom. Unfortunately, this latter type would describe the vast majority of ‘teachers’ in China, a place where they are notoriously terrible at gauging Western personalities so, where it is to be largely expected. It also, unfortunately, describes a number of other teachers throughout the world.

    Perhaps the problems that most of the people commenting here seem to have trouble with are a result of poor focus and inability to understand the nature of the job or their social and personal responsibilities. This would be another indication that they aren’t prepared to be teaching – in China or anywhere else. I suspect they have some more learning to do.

    (And, for the record, there’s no need to be hostile about this transparent truth unless you feel as if it fits you, in which case…not only will your reply ‘out you’, but will be another fine example of your lack of qualification. Not a wise idea…)

    Frank, honest discussions are useful when discussing education. Petty, immature arguments, foul language, social posturing and whoring for popularity are not.

  • Barbara amsel

    I am confident you’ve got a great enthusiast following there.

  • Daniel Vesey

    I taught English in China for six months, when I was 19, and I understand where some people are coming from regarding the quality of teachers and their behaviour, because sadly it is true but only to a certain extent! I have just graduated from University where I studied journalism as part of my Mass Communications degree. I had a internship offered to me from the Shanghai Daily, which took around four months to sort out, only to fall through at the last minute as China have stopped all internship visas. They were not keen on amending my invitation letter to make it a month business visa, which was very disappointing considering all I wanted to do was work for free and gain some experience and the amount of time it took to sort out, but I could understand the complications for them too. I have put a lot of energy into learning Mandarin, which I now speak to an intermediate standard and feel I could be fluent living in China for a year to two, so if I do not go back I feel I will have wasted so much time. My friend, who is nothing like the people mentioned on here, is teaching in Zhuhai and can get me a work visa teaching in a teach centre. I want to go back to China and try and do some voluntary work experience on the side for a Guangzhou paper, but I hate to go and have this stigma attached to me if I teach. Therefore I do not know what to do for the best, it is very disappointing to know that I will be looked at, judged by both foreigners and Chinese, for being a ‘loser’ English teacher who can’t make it back home. I can make it back home in the UK, living near London, I just love China and I want to travel more of the East. Anyway, I have to make a decision in the coming days as to what to do :(

    • Ken Morgan

      Dan (surprised to see a 16 day old post in a 3 year old thread). Anyway the tag of loser back home only applies if you really are a loser back home. I have an acquaintance (was previously a friend). He really couldn’t find a job in the UK as he had an ego the size of a planet. So he went off to teach in China illegally. He teaches in the worst schools and acts like the teachers in the original post. Turning up to lessons drunk and giving good grades to the women only if they sleep with him, smoking a ton of drugs daily. Essentially he has nothing no skills, he can’t return home he has spent the last 5 years drinking, smoking and sleeping with Chinese students.

      He doesn’t care THIS is a loser. If you go and do your best for the students and put your heart into it you will quickly shake the image of loser back home teacher.

      The joke is on many of the bad teachers though, China is a bad place for them as it massages their egos. As such many treat it as a gap year which easily turns into two, three, four or even a gap decade. At which China’s ageism kicks in. They can’t go home as they have no marketable skills. They can’t work in China except for ever worse jobs as newer whiter faces under 30 turn up. Many end up snookering themselves.

      • Daniel Vesey

        Yeah I know I just happened to come across it because I saw another article about English teachers so thought I would search elsewhere to see if everyone felt the same.
        I am going to Zhuhai to teach at the start of Oct, currently sorting out the work visa now which required me to do a medical. I went to do one at my local surgery and I was in for literally ten mins, cost me £100 haha!! I wasn’t able to do an x ray, blood test or ECG test there though which will cost more so I am hoping they will let that slide, especially as I will have to do another medical when I am there!!
        Anyway like you said I am going to try and shake off that ‘loser teacher’ reputation and obviously I will care about the students I teach, which I did do last time I was there. I am also going to be editing for ‘The life of Guangzhou’ paper and website which is what I wanted to do. I want to work for the English news channel CCTV in Beijing but I need some more experience first. Hopefully I can get fluent in Mandarin after a year living in Zhuhai too, but I think a lot of people speak Cantonese there.
        Zhuhai is a lot smaller than Guangzhou so I do not think I will see as many foreign teachers there, my friend who teachers in the school is very good so I am not worried what they think of me there, it is just everyone outside.
        Looking forward to going there though as it is right on the border with Hong Kong, can get a ferry from Zhuhai and with a work visa you can leave and enter as many times as you like I think, which will be cool!
        Cheers for replying back to the comment mate :)

  • disqus_gidK0SoB8t

    This is a byproduct of supply and demand. Personally, I teach in Taiwan which is far more hospitable and accommodating to foreigners. I’ve been to China as so many of my friends, as well. You couldn’t pay me enough to live and teach there.

  • Honestjones

    Those who can’t do… Teach! Those who can’t teach…Teach Gym! Those who can’t teach gym…. Teach English in China! Of course, there are some experienced and qualified English teachers, but most of them have been Described above perfectly!

  • Melanie Pierluigi

    I was surprised at how many European teachers are employed, even at top Universities, despite that English is not their first language. I teach right now at one of the top Universities in China and this is the case. I also taught at Universities in South Korea for two years and it’s the exact opposite. There are some horrible teachers in Korea also, particularly in the private schools, but for the University, they will not consider you without a Masters, two years teaching experience at the University level and from one of the native-English speaking countries.

    But I’m taking China with a grain of salt and will most likely head to the Middle East as my next teaching location, where you need a ‘crap-load’ of education and experience!!

  • Poodle Tooth

    100 percent truth.

    After my last employer had a bunch of legit, experienced, native-speaker Z-visa people quit (due to HR fuckery which I had escaped due to timing) more or less simultaneously, they hired a bunch of Eastern European part-timers. Most of them were good teachers, and for the lower level students, it wouldn’t really make much of a difference whether they were native speakers or not. But their English was no better than the best local English teachers. They were hired because they were white; they had no other advantage.

    edit: That’s not entirely true…they did have one advantage over us westerners, as a group. There was a smaller fraction of dirtbags among them.

  • Helmethair

    The unprofessional actions of one or two makes news precisely because it’s unusual. The people I know in this line of work are hardworking and take their job seriously. To take one case and try to argue that it’s the rule is horrible journalism. It’s simply ranting.

    • Ken Morgan

      One or two? You mean per school? The very fact that it has become a stereotype and there are 1000s upon 1000s of posts all over the web of people boasting how easy it is and how little responsibility they hold demonstrates how wide spread this is. Go look on the China reddit it is dominated by non Chinese. Pretty much all of them have their jobs because of me white face. There are 21000 /r/china visitors a day.

      Many of them say white face is the ONLY qualification you need. Simply if you are not teaching in a school which has a pre-defined curriculum. Regular formative assessment as well as summative assessments where you can FAIL the students.

      Then you’re just a white monkey an entertainer not a teacher.

      Every single forum seems to have a white monkey who boasts how easy it is and how little responsibility they have. Look at bikechatforums I wanna go teach in China a number of wasters ended up in China. They openly boasted about how they didn’t know much about grammar or rules of English they just looked white.

      • Mihel

        I don’t know what is with China and english teachers. Never heard anyone having this much problems with anglophones teaching english.

        • Ken Morgan

          It isn’t just China. If the internet was as wide spread in the 80s and 90s they would be talking about Japan, S Korea and Taiwan as well.

          The VERY low standards and shitty economies of the west giving them a good standard of living (relatively) means that it attracts a lot of shady individuals who go and chance it.

          Once standards increase like Japan and S Korea shady teachers generally vanish. Plus once the economies of the west get better it looks a whole lot less of a good idea to go there.

          Of course the shitty ones who have limited qualifications get stuck and utterly screwed as they can’t go home due to being unemployable and having to compete with new grads. While also facing Chinese discrimination of ageism.

  • Tony Hartley

    I appreciate that this thread has generated so many comments based on personal experience. As a perspective, I have been teaching mainly Chinese students on-line for almost two years now, and I am delighted to say that I have not encountered any of the somewhat disturbing trends that are mentioned below.

    My demo classes always involve both parent(s) and child, and I am sensitive to the students’ genuine desire to improve/supplement their ESL and/or Science learning. I am very happy to say that a tiny minority of my students have failed to maintain interest and achievement. Occasionally I will advise parents that I think that I may not be a suitable teacher for their child, but the majority of my studeurther their schooling ind.

    I am a UK native, and I was warned that telling parents that I am based in the Philippines would lead to a significant rejection rate. This has proved to be completely unfounded – (Yes, I did take the precautions of installing a substantial UPS, having three computers and two independent ISP’s here). In the last 18 months I have experienced only 1.5 days of down-time – always due to extreme weather conditions.

    My IELTS students have, so far, achieved entry to the Universities of their choice and two of my students have moved on to further their schooling overseas.

    Bottom line is that my personal experience is that many Chinese parents and older children especially have a genuine desire to learn English and a clear vision that their future is in a multi-national world of overseas education, travel and trade. Obviously there are no absolutes in any situation, but I do feel that the parents of my students, at the very least, dispute the rather jaundiced views of many of the contributors to this thread.

    Please feel free to share your views and experiences direct through :

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