Also published on January 19, 2014 on LinkedIn.
I am a recruiter in China; I find teachers from the U.S. and place them with positions teaching with our AP program in some of the top high schools in the country.
During the interview process I hear from teachers that are ready and eager to travel and teach in our program, even though some have never been outside the United States. The prospect of working and living in a foreign country may be daunting, but in recent years it has become an increasingly viable option for teachers frustrated by the lack of professional and personal development in the United States.
A few years ago the New York Times published an op-ed from a university English lecturer. Titled ‘Go East, Young Man’, the piece encouraged young people feeling disenfranchised by the lack of opportunity in the U.S. to go abroad, teach English, and experience life in a new culture.
I would go further than that. I have never taught in the States myself, but after speaking with upwards of a hundred educators from across the country, it’s clear that China offers opportunities beyond what teachers in the United States realize.
There are of course opportunities for recent graduates or mid-career changers in ESL teaching, but there are also a growing number of schools looking to include a Western style curriculum and provide other subjects in English to prepare their students to attend college in the United States or the U.K.
Teaching high schools here involves little of the day to day tedium, like classroom discipline and administrative redundancies, that plague many teachers in the U.S. In Chinese schools, teachers’ days are structured with classes, office hours, and for the most part they do not take their work home.
In other words, they work from 9 to 5, and they do not spend their weekends making the choice between working and spending time with their families. Indeed, living and working abroad should be about the opportunity to explore a new country and culture, and we make sure our teachers have the time to do that.
The low cost of living in China also allows teachers to accrue substantial savings, much more than they would be able to in the U.S. Some teachers I have interviewed (usually those just starting out in low-income school districts) make barely enough to cover necessary expenses, let alone save money to buy a new car or go on vacation.
In China, you don’t need a car. Bullet trains connect most cities, and tickets are cheap and easy to buy. Chinese cities in general have advanced metro and bus systems that will take you anywhere you want to go. Living abroad, while you are working and not technically on vacation, still gives you a day to day immersion in cultural differences that is much more interesting than simply spending a week in another country.
We always check in periodically with new teachers to see how they are adjusting to their school, their classes, and their students.
David Dorfman, a teacher at our high school in Yixing, enjoyed his first year teaching AP Human Geography and History. He was particularly struck by the stark contrast between the U.S. and China when it came to discipline and behavioral issues. Near the end of his first year he described a conversation he had with a Chinese coworker about his previous experience as a history teacher in South Carolina.
“When was the last time you walked in to the student bathroom and saw smoke rising from the stall?” and “When was the last time you turned a corner in the hallway and suddenly found yourself breaking up a fight?”
These experiences are typical in many American schools, while Dorfman’s Chinese colleague, “couldn’t imagine any of this as ‘routine.’” However, as Dorfman acknowledges, it is commonplace for teachers in America to spend much of their time disciplining their students, with the result that many teachers feel like babysitters rather than educators.
Make a difference
This is not to say that the education industry in China is perfect. In fact, it’s far from it. Education in China still has a lot of problems, ranging from rampant cheating and plagiarism in the classroom to dubious education management (see: the OECD’s 2012 PISA test results).
However, most students in China dream of going to college in the U.S., and recently English levels in public schools and a burgeoning middle class have made that a reality for many Chinese families. For students that aspire to study abroad, the opportunity to study with a native English speaker can open up many doors.
There are also plenty of opportunities for passionate and talented teachers to help bring quality education to Chinese classrooms. As the U.S. struggles through new regulations, standards, and administration systems, teachers should indeed look East for an opportunity to get back to basics and accomplish what they wanted to do in the first place: teach.