Employment Contracts for English Teachers Working in China
Teaching contracts in China vary widely depending on the school, the city in which it is located, the demand for English teachers, and the credentials of the teachers. This lack of an established system can either work for you or against you. The things you can count on being included in your contract are clauses regarding housing and medical care, and a clear statement of your wages and classroom duties, but if you are a savvy negotiator you might come out of the deal with considerably more. If possible, you should ask for references from former employees and people whom might be familiar with the institution and you should talk with teachers who are currently employed at the school. Be sure to have any contract that is written in Chinese translated independently before you sign it.
Keep in mind that these negotiations may take some time (one teacher we know of didn’t sign her contract until the end of the first semester), but it is necessary to give everyone the opportunity to save face, which can be a slow process. The following information should help you with negotiating:
- Housing: Most schools, universities, and private companies make housing provisions for their teachers, so unless you are teaching in a bushiban, you can count on having someone else pay most, if not all, of your rent. Some schools will put you up in a motel for the duration of your contract, but others may require that you share a room or an apartment with another teacher. In any case, living near your school (or even on the grounds) will help you cut down on other expenses, such as transportation.
- Food: Depending on where you are being housed, one or two meals per day may be included in your contract. Be sure to arrange for this up front, because if meals aren’t included in your contract from the beginning, it is unlikely that they will be added a month or two down the road.
- Salary: Teaching salaries in China are almost entirely dependent on your educational background and the status of your degree. If you have an advanced degree or significant teaching experience, you’re likely to garner higher wages than someone with a bachelor’s degree in a non-English related field.
- Classroom duties: Although you may be hired to teach conversational English, your in-class duties are likely to fluctuate; an English teacher may be asked to give occasional lectures on American culture, geography, or art. Be sure to work out exactly what your teaching arrangements are before signing your contract, and be firm. If you are not happy with the classes you’ve been assigned, or feel you’re being exploited, firmly but politely state your case, and refuse to sign your contract before these differences have been worked out.
- Taxes: Find out if the school automatically deducts your taxes from your wages or whether you are responsible for keeping track of your total earnings. The Chinese tax system is much like that in the United States, so you will be required to file a form at year’s end regardless. Whether the school makes automatic deductions will dictate whether you will have to pay more at the end of the year, which could be a nasty surprise if you aren’t expecting it.