American Schools in China

Teaching in China has been a dynamic landscape for foreign and local teachers. As the country progresses economically, it has opened its shores to welcome a plethora of international education institutions that embrace both Western and Asian pedagogy approaches.

Coupled with the fierce motivation for children to excel at academia, Chinese parents have been increasingly keen to explore American schooling systems in hopes to send their children for further education overseas. In the past years, China has witnessed a growth of international schools that cater to the expatriate community and elite locals.

Metropolis cities such as Shanghai and Beijing have been home to established international schools offering good quality education from preprimary to high school. Local schools are not shy in producing top-scoring students as well with their emphasis on acing entrance university examinations.

As a foreign teacher considering a teaching career in China, understanding the pedagogy approaches in either an American or local school helps match your current strengths and skillsets to the required job scope and expectations at an international school. With a steady demand of teaching jobs in China among local and international schools, teachers only stand to gain an immersive teaching experience when embarking on an overseas teaching opportunity.

Teaching Approach

The main and most distinct difference between local and American schools is the method of learning and teaching.

Local schools place a strong focus on entrance exams, gaokao. The curriculum requires large amounts of memorisation and rote learning. Chinese students are exceptionally strong in Mathematics as they are not allowed to use calculators throughout their foundation education. There is a relentless pursuit of precision in the way of the Chinese and strictness is highly valued in the schooling culture and society at large. Retention of information and concepts come easily to students who undergo the rigorous Chinese education system which is no wonder that many Chinese students ace Mathematics Olympic Competitions.

Chinese classrooms are very focused on the teachers as they are regarded as the sole source of knowledge. Discussions are a rare sighting and students are often seen to have buried heads in their notes.

American classrooms are often booming with activities and teachers and students have a deeper and livelier interaction. The American teaching approach is largely centered on problem-solving and pushes students to independently and actively seek knowledge.  This approach is definitely more hands-on and students can freely voice their opinions and criticize subject matters which is seen as constructive and creative classroom participation.

American schools want to see their students apply themselves in more real-world situations and allow for the use of calculators in their curriculum as gaining the knowledge and skillset of problem-solving is more important than the end result.

As a teacher considering your career options, either teaching approach has its benefits and advantages in both the short and long run. A Chinese school may cramp your style while an American classroom can be too rowdy for you. Either way, it is important your own strengths and weaknesses in assessing which classroom vibe would suit you better.

American school teaching qualifications

Every international school will have its own unique set of criteria that is specific to its programme. Speak to your recruiter about fulfilling the requirements or have a thorough discussion with the potential school of employment.

Teaching opportunities can be seasonal despite the constant demand. Hiring policies are also affected by policies introduced by the Government to regulate the education industry. While this is not in your control, it is good to stay updated and adapt accordingly.

To teach English in China, here is a brief guideline of requirements:

  1. Be a native English Speaker
  2. A Bachelor’s degree in any field
  3. Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) Certificate or 2 years teaching record
  4. Under 55 years old
  5. A clean criminal record

As a teacher in an American school, you would have to be familiar with either the SAT syllabus or International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum as parents send their children to these institutions for an internationally recognised education. Overseas universities may not necessarily recognise local education and as such the IB course is popularly used as tertiary education acceptance.

Salary of teaching in an American School

As a guide, teaching in international schools ranges between 15,000RMB to 30,000RMB depending on your qualifications. On top of a decent monthly salary, accommodation and return tickets are usually part of the competitive package.

The workload is expected to be on the higher end with teachers required to take on extra-curricular activities and programmes that aim to provide a holistic approach to a child’s education.

The salary also depends on the city you are teaching in. Tier 1 cities offer the most attractive remunerations backed with a demanding schedule and expectations from parents. American or generic international schools in other tiers of cities have less attractive pay packages but with the lesser workload, it can grant you greater flexibility in your time. In that spare time, travelling across China is also a great option.

On this note, being a teacher in China does not necessarily mean that you have to be fluent in Mandarin. It is definitely helpful to be conversationally proficient to get around the city and make new local friends. However, in bigger cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, the locals are relatively conversant in English since the language is taught as a subject in schools.

Teaching in an American school requires teachers to be qualified and experienced. If you have accumulated some teaching experience and would like to have a foot in the door into the industry of elite teachers, relocating to China can be one of the considerations in your career choices.

Teaching in China is one of the more rewarding overseas experiences. China is on a path to cement itself as an international powerhouse and with that comes an upbeat demand for workforce talents. Job opportunities are rife and one way or another, the demand for a hybrid education of both Asian and American curriculum is on the rise as Chinese parents begin to accept Western values.


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