When teaching ESL in China you will be inundated with job offers. Your contracted work, usually a training center, university or public school, is your bread and butter, providing consistent checks, housing and visa assistance to keep you legal. You will be hunted after, especially in smaller cities outside of Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, etc. Not a week goes by that I am not approached on the bus, in the street or through a friend of a friend for more job offers.
These jobs will often come in the form of ESL private tutoring. I have worked with children as young as four to university students preparing for a life in the United States. Before starting your side career ask yourself these five questions.
1. ARE YOU CONFIDENT ENOUGH TO FILL ONE OR TWO HOURS IN A ONE ON ONE SETTING?
You just got in Beijing two weeks ago, your killing it with Old McDonald song and you’ve been hearing about the foreigners making the big bucks doing the one on one. Before applying, ask yourself, are you ready? This isn’t a 20 minute English circle or a 35 minute pre made Interactive White Board video game session. These people are paying big money. Often times they will have very good skills in their field such as math or chemistry, they just need help with the English. Don’t be surprised if your junior high school student can multiply by Pi with her pen and paper faster than you can with a calculator. If you are still in your honeymoon phase and find yourself in Sanlitun five nights a week, rolling out of bed ninety minutes before your due at work, this may not be for you. At least not yet. These jobs require an hour-to-hour planning (meaning if the class is one hour you should be spending around one hour planning before hand) and if you want to be called back you better look professional with a nice button up and a clean shave.
2. WHAT AGE GROUP DO YOU FEEL MOST COMFORTABLE WITH?
When tutoring young children the parents often just want you to have fun with their kids. One of my first private tutoring sessions was in Beijing, the child was 3, and all we did for two hours was watch cartoons and play soccer. I kept looking at the parents wondering if they were mad at how little I was doing but the smiles gave me plenty of satisfaction. At 300 RMB an hour I was earning $50 an hour to just be a goofball, hardly a problem.
Working with older students they are going to want more structured sessions. You will often times be given a text book to plan with, almost always in English, and expectations can be all over the place. One of my math students only wanted to review English names and vocabulary. Her math was perfectly fine but the word problems were such a chore for her so the entire lesson was spent doing word problems. I would prepare in advance and make sure I had enough material to fill two sessions in the weird chance we hit a section she would blow past. It never happened but the thought of being stuck without pre-made material and flipping through the book for the first time with her is embarrassing enough to make sure that never happens to me. They know when your not prepared.
3. HOW MUCH ARE YOU WORTH?
These jobs carry very large price tag with them paying anywhere from 150 RMB per hour up to 300 RMB and I have even heard some people claim to earn 400 RMB per hour of private tutoring. Never short change yourself and stupidly say you will do it for anything less than 150 RMB. If a parent balks at your request, move on. The sun will rise tomorrow and you will receive another offer sooner rather than later. My minimum price point is 200 RMB and I will sell myself for 250 RMB to negotiate down a little. Just keep in mind the negotiating principle that you can never go up, only down. Whenever Netflix even teases increasing the fee for their services the public panics. If you say you’ll do it for 150 RMB they will expect it to be 150 RMB until you die.
3. DO YOU TRUST THAT YOU WILL BE PAID FROM THE ARRANGEMENT?
If you are doing private tutoring outside of a school or agency, as in someone approached you on the street to tutor their nephew or daughter in their home, demand cash the same day. I have seen these situations get hairy and you have no legal recourse to get your money. If the job is being handled by an establishment, such as a tutoring center in a shopping mall, make sure you have known other friends who worked there and definitely got paid. Get it in writing, either by email, text or in a Wechat exchange, when you will get paid and in what form. I always prefer cash for obvious reasons. Because you don’t get paid for the work you do until the following month you could be working for 45 days until you get your first paycheck, you want as much of a guarantee as possible but the first time will always be a little bit of a leap of faith.
4. WILL IT INTERFERE WITH YOUR “REAL” JOB?
Schools in China will often times include a provision in the contracts forbidding working for other establishments. As long as you don’t open your mouth too wide this shouldn’t be too much of a problem but keep in mind snitching in China often leads to promotions, including for other foreigners, so keep it very close to the chest. Make sure you know the bus routes and schedule yourself so getting to work on time won’t be a problem. Your ESL job is what got you to China and is more than likely keeping you legal, that should always be four first priority.
5. DO YOU NEED THE MONEY?
Most ESL teachers will be making a very good living already and, if your even slightly cautious with your spending, should already be saving over half their check. Taking on these extra jobs are a great way to stack up that extra 3,000 for a flight ticket in February or make up lost income from that phone you had to replace after you left it in the taxi. I only get two days off a week and in those two days I work on my website big time, record podcasts, I try and go on hikes and play Mahjong, meet with my friends and get my party on, catch up on TV viewing with my wife, take train trips to different cities and I love turning the alarm clock off. Yes I’m making upwards of $50 an hour but what if my free time worth? Life in China, especially large cities, can be hectic and your time off may be the only think keeping you from having a bad time in what should be an amazing and incredible period of your life.
Private tutoring is a great way to make that little extra chunk of change to afford that trip you’ve been eying but don’t enter into the agreement without knowing you can properly plan, fulfill all of the allotted time asked and that you will be mentally committed. Word travels fast and if you have a few bad sessions you might be screwing yourself out of opportunities at a future time when you are actually ready.
When teaching ESL in China you will be inundated with job offers. You will be hunted after, especially in smaller cities outside of Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, etc. Not a week goes by that I am not approached on the bus, in the street or through a friend of a friend for more job offers. Before starting your side career ask yourself these five questions.
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What is ESL?
English as a second language (ESL) is the use or study of English by speakers of different native languages. It is also known as English for speakers of other languages (ESOL), English as an additional language (EAL), and English as a foreign language (EFL).