Teaching English in China isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but there are many companies operating out there that will help you get over here and get you into the classroom pretty quickly. There are far too many public schools that want foreign teachers than there are foreign teachers available. You’d think that would help teachers get the best deal, but when you’re going through an agency, that won’t always be the case.
Take CTLC, the Center for Teaching and Learning in China. This company has been operating out of Memphis, Tennessee, since 1997. Their recruitment methods are officially approved by the Chinese government, and it’s no surprise why. Public schools employing foreign teachers through the CTLC program will get a great deal. They probably won’t have to pay your salary, which instead will be given to the school by the Chinese Education Bureau. They also don’t have to spend a lot of time training you, as that should have already been done by CTLC.
I’d urge anyone thinking about joining CTLC to stop thinking about it right now. You can get a much better deal if you just do a little homework and find an employer yourself. It might seem daunting, but it can be done, and your year of teaching English in China will be so much better because of it. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why.
If you’re planning on heading over in the group that CTLC is recruiting now, and which will arrive in Beijing for summer training in August 2013, your salary will be 6,500 RMB/month. That equals about US $1,030/month. Let me tell you right now, that is a pitiful salary.
Still, it’s a far cry from the 5,000 RMB, or US $880/month that I received when I did the program in 2008. The only reason I was able to live on that is because I was living in a school dorm room with most of my meals coming from the cafeteria for free. And whenever I told any other foreigners what I was making, they were shocked. Some of them laughed.
During my second year as a returning teacher for CTLC I was paid 6,000 RMB/month, or a little less than what starting teachers are making now. That was in 2009, and it was much more difficult to live on as I wasn’t getting a lot of my meals from my school anymore.
You can do so much better than this! People with absolutely no experience teaching, and without a college degree, will come over to China and more specifically Shenzhen, with no problem. They’ll get employed with schools and training centers that will pay them 10,000 to 12,000 RMB/month. Some of them can even get up into the 14,000 RMB/month range if they know how to negotiate and sell themselves.
If you’re excited about getting paid 6,500 RMB/month, then good for you. I’m just saying you’re really selling yourself short in this sellers market that is currently in China. You could do a whole lot better!
You’re going to be paying a lot of money for the privilege of making peanuts, and when you factor in all the fees and costs associated with joining CTLC you’ll quickly find that you’re not going to be making 6,500 RMB/month.
The first thing they’ll hit you with is a $300 deposit just for getting a guaranteed spot in the program. You can get 50% of this back by March 31st, which means it’s already too late for most. Considering that they’ve got about 150 to 170 teachers joining the program, the coordinators will receive about $41,000 to $55,000 even before they send a single person over to China.
Let me give you some advice, never pay to work for a school in China. There are many companies and schools in China that will pay you just to agree to work for them, not the other way around. This right here should be raising some red flags for you.
If you thought the deposit was bad, wait until you hear about the program fee. I simply cannot believe the audacity of these people! The fee is $2,200 or $1,900 if you don’t include the earlier deposit. Considering that most of the people that CTLC recruits are those just graduating from college, it’s almost like taking on another semester’s worth of debt right there.
Many participants will have their parents pay, but just the prospect of losing 2 months of your salary before you even start working should really give you pause. What’s more, you won’t even be getting your first paycheck for teaching in China until right before the October holiday at the end of September. You’ll need enough money to live on while in Beijing for a month, and then more to get yourself set up and through September at your new school.
The CTLC website lists all of the benefits you’ll get for this fee, including your visa, residence permit, medical checkup and insurance, and more. Let’s take a look at each of them in turn:
Everyone in China has to have this now, and your employer will pay for it or it will come out of your taxes. I’ve worked for companies that have never even mentioned this to me, and I certainly didn’t have to pay any out of pocket costs. I’d be real wary of this cost.
Chinese Entry Visa
This is your Z visa which is what you’ll need to get into the country. It will last anywhere from 1 to 3 months, at which point it needs to be switched over to a residence permit through your employer, or school. These things are not that expensive, and CTLC is surely making a tidy sum off of these.
August Training Course
This includes the tuition, housing, and TEFL textbook that you’ll need when you go to the month-long training session in Beijing. Now, to be fair, I never did training in Beijing. The Olympics were going on in August 2008, so we went to Zhuhai. The training was a joke, often given by people with little more experience than you’ll have. Your textbook will be written by the program administrators, which is therefore almost like a double payment to them. Quite a way to drive up book sales, huh?
It says on the CTLC website that the August training is “specifically geared to equip you with the skills to be a successful teacher in Shenzhen.” Let me tell you right now, no amount of training is going to equip you to deal with what you’ll find waiting for you in those classes of 50 to 60 students. Teaching in a setting like that is nearly impossible, and the students’ ability to learn English is greatly reduced with so many students. Their behavior, meanwhile, will be abhorrent.
Get ready for a lot of headaches and a lot of false starts. Expect three months to go by before you settle into a comfortable routine that gets you through your classes, and which may not always be conducive to language learning. I’ll talk more about teaching in a CTLC classroom in a later post.
They say you’ll receive this, and CTLC makes it seem like you’d have to pay for this. You don’t. Your employer does this for you. They also make its sound like you’re paying to get paid your salary. Again, this is a red flag.
If you’re going to be living and working in China for a year you’ll need this permit and all employers get it for you. It comes along with your foreign expert certificate, which your employer will keep and which you most likely will never see.
You won’t have to pay for your electricity in Shenzhen. The charge wouldn’t be too high anyway, consider that most participants in the program will live in a single dorm room. Don’t worry about heat in the winter either; there are no heaters south of the Yangtze River.
One thing we were warned about in training was keeping the air conditioners running all the time. You’ll have it running a lot, but I don’t think this will cost too much for such a small space.
Water will also be paid, but watch out. I had running toilet my second year, which you had to jury-rig to stop. One time before I went to Hong Kong for the weekend I forgot to do that, so it ran for 2 to 3 days. A few weeks later my contact person at the school called and wondered why there was a 500 RMB water bill. I told them they needed to fix the toilet, which never happened.
One of the biggest things in your program fee will be your flight ticket. It costs a lot getting to China, and you’ll also be given a round-trip ticket. You’ll get half that money back in February before or after the Chinese New Year holiday, and the other half when you finish up your contract in mid-June.
Every single company recruiting foreign teachers in China will offer the same, although you’ll have more options on how, where, and when you purchase your flight ticket than CTLC will give you. When I was working for EF, that money was given back in increments of about 660 RMB/month on your paycheck. I can’t help but think that CTLC is making a tidy profit off of this, at your expense.
One of the things I liked in 2008 when I joined the program was the prospect of not having to pay my student loans. You’ll get a nice deferral letter saying you’re not making enough money to pay your loans, which is very true. You’ll also be racking up the interest on those loans the longer you’re in the program.
I really wish I would have paid more on my loans for the 2 years I was part of CTLC; I’d have a much-lower balance today. There is no way to do that when you’re only making $1,000/month or less, which you will be when you factor in the taxes and social insurance contributions you’ll be paying out of each check.