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Clarifying things up on salary differences
(1) Not all foreign teachers in China work at private schools. Yes, private schools are businesses and yes their main goal is to make money. That's why it is reasonable (to a certain degree) for many of you to negotiate for a higher salary. But remember, YOU, a mannequin for the school is what the school needs to bring in students. You, the "foreign face" is why students are paying the sometimes outrageously high tuition fees to learn English at the school (as compared to how much they pay for classes taught by local teachers). You, a professional, is to keep the students happy so they will keep forking over the tuition fees and/or bring in new students. Those are the "responsibilities" and obligations expected from you. So, bite the bullet and let them use your pretty foreign face when they need to do a recruitment drive, hold a seminar/presentation/showcase. Hey, you wanted the big bucks didn't you?
In comparison, public schools were not founded to exploit the hungry needs for learning foreign languages. The students are there to get an education, be it primary, secondary, or collegiate level. Therefore, the schools often can't afford to pay that much money (good luck if you want 6000 from a college and you only have a bachelor degree). As a general rule of thumb, a higher-ranked school can afford to pay their foreign teacher more than a school of lower ranking. The reason is simple: public funding and higher tuition fees (primary and junior secondary school students pay no tuition fees in China if they attend public schools). Therefore, you should be able to make a bit more money teaching at say, Qingdao #2 Middle School (ranked #1 senior middle school in Qingdao) than at any other SENIOR middle schools in Qingdao (in China school names often do not reflect whether they are junior or senior secondary schools).

(2) The cost of living differs from region to region, province to province, and city to city. For example, even though both Qingdao and Dalian have about the same population, both are coastal cities, both are considered semi-Western major tourist/vacation/resort cities, things actually cost differently in Dalian from those in Qingdao -- at times significantly. Whereas I spent 8 Yuan on a small bottle of Qingdao beer in a bar last night in Dalian and on average 10 or 15 Yuan in a typical bar in Qingdao, cab fares start at 8 Yuan in Dalian as compared to 7 Yuan in Qingdao. I am not 100% certain, but I feel that a 2-litre bottle of Coke costs more at Carrefour in Dalian than they do at Careefour in Qingdao. Sure, the salary is MUCH higher in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou, but so is the cost of living in these big cities. So if you live in some heavily-polluted small city with a population of say 2 million, you probably don't have to spend more than a few hundred Yuan a month. Whereas if you are in a major city with a population of 10 million, then I doubt even a thousand Yuan a month is enough. Keep in mind: you make more and you also spend more. Also, many schools will deduct personal income tax from your pay if your monthly salary exceeds the limit set by Chinese regulation (I think 4000 Yuan a month is the limit).

(3) Education, qualification, and experience. Who are they trying to kid when they say that you MUST have a university degree to be able to teach in China? I know of foreigners who have no post-secondary education holding decent teaching positions. Why? Because they have some experience. Some of these foreign teachers do nothing but play games in their classes, sing songs, or do silly things -- just to kill time before they open up their next bottle of booze. Some of them don't give a damn whether their students' English will improve or not. As a person once said to me in e-mail, "As long as the students feel at the end of the class they have learned something, they will be happy and you have done your job". But, they do have that distinctly-foreign face which is often more than enough to qualify one as a foreign teacher in China (especially at private schools). Otherwise, why would they have people from European countries who are non-native English speakers coming here to teach English? I know the Chinese government is cracking down on this and is enforcing the "native-speaking country" policy (Canada, USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand) but plenty of private schools just hire anyone who looks like a foreigner. They figure hey, the students can't tell if their English is standard or not so who cares. Having an impressive teaching experience in China is very beneficial. Likewise, if you are TEFL/TESL certificed, you will have no difficulty in getting job offers.

(4) Race and skin colour. Yeah someone once told me that I have a chip on my shoulder. Mind you, what would she know? She is a white Aussie. Beware: many Chinese hold stereotypical racist views towards foreigners of various ethnic backgrounds. If you are of African origin, stay the hell away from here because people will certainly shun you. As I wrote in another article, if you are of Oriental origin, then your chances of getting a high-paying position with a private school maybe virtually impossible since they need "distinctly" foreign faces to attract new students. That is another reason why I like public schools since the students are not there just to take your courses. Let them sleep in class, then give them a nice big fat juicy F on the final exam and watch them come begging at your door at 6am.

(5) Number of classes. Your contract will state that you are required to teach a minimum of xx number of classes a week. So you get an offer from a school offering to pay you 8000 Yuan a month for teaching a minimum of 20 classes a week and you think to yourself, "Wow that's pretty good money" and you see another offer for 6500 Yuan a month while teaching a minimum of 16 classes a week. Which one do you take? Well, if it were up to me, then I would take the 6500 Yuan offer. Why, you ask? Do the mathematics. Divide the salaries by 4 (weeks) then by the number of classes a week and see what the average per-class amount is and you will see why. In this case, the first offer averages 100 Yuan a class while the second offer averages almost 102 Yuan a class. Simple mathematical formula: more classes per week = higher salary per month. Don't forget to also take into consideration bonuses for extra classes!

In conclusion, when I read people writing to imply that us low-salary earners are affecting their chances at the "big bucks", I laugh because they often fail to take into consideration these important factors. You can't compare apples with oranges. So, you can't complain much if you are some young fresh-out-of-college lad with no prior teaching experience teaching in some third-string scummy public junior middle school in some poor countryside for 3500 Yuan a month for 16 classes a week and you know that some chap with a PhD in education is teaching in some big-name private school in some major metropolitan area for 8,000 Yuan a month for 30 classes a week. Do the mathematics and you will see that you two are not really that far apart in terms of Yuan-per-class (not including extra-classes bonuses and private tutoring income).

One thing to keep in mind is the trade-off between teaching at public schools and at private schools. While the money is often much higher at private schools than it is at public schools, public schools often do follow the rules, guidelines, and regulations pertaining to things such as living condition and getting the proper legal documents so their foreign teachers can live and work legally. I have not been in Dalian for too long (less than 3 weeks), but I do not regret coming to teach at this university (and I don't even have a bachelor degree). The apartment has been beyond my wildest imagination. Having experiences semi-deplorable living conditions in Qingdao, I came to Dalian with an open mind, I.e. expecting the worst of everything. To my pleasant surprise, the school is placing all of the foreign teachers in the best suites in the best apartment on campus (only the school's leaders have better accomodation than we do). While I wouldn't say that we've been given the red carpet treatment, I can honestly say that they have been very concerned about our needs and have done their best to cater to almost all of our needs. While I was never formally introduced to the Director of Internation Affairs at the first school I taught at in Qingdao, here I've already had 2 free lunches (one with both the Director of International Affairs and the Assistant Director while one was for my birthday) and a free dinner (could have been 2 but I politely declined their suggestion that they should hold a birthday party for me last week). I never lost posession of my passport for more than a few hours (and it was only one time) and that time they took it because they needed to photocopy it for getting me my Foreign Expert Certificate and my Foreign Resident Permit. Private schools, on the other hand (from personal experience and from reading what many people have written here), would often just put you into any sub-standard two-bit ghetto apartment they could find (especially when they are conscious about the rent). You may be asked to share it with another person or teach extra classes to keep it for yourself (as it happened to me). You are given just the bare necessities and often things may not work. Let me give you an example. I was expected to have my own pillow and bedsheet when I first agreed to teach at my last school. They had promised me an apartment with A/C and microwave oven. Two days before I was to go there, I was told that the landlord had changed his mind about renting out the apartment and as a result another apartment would have to be found for me. Well, the apartment which I moved into was barely 4 years old but the furnishings resembled those taken from some farm village. The TV's remote was broken and missing, and the cable connection didn't work. The washer needed half a dozen repairs within 6 months and in the beginning the hose leaked so much water it could easily fill up a bucket whenever I was doing laundry. The main power fuse in the apartment MELTED resulting in my not having hot water nor electricity for almost 24 hours. Instead of hooking me up with a telephone, I got a Little Smarty cell phone that had the worst reception I've ever experienced (my parents would call me from Canada but the phone never rang) and I had 1000 Yuan of my salary deducted as a security deposit for the phone. The mattress was so old it sagged when I layed down and a spring actually popped through the cover! Likewise, the sofa was old and dirty and it felt as though I was sitting on a bunch of old springs. I had no A/C so I used natural air-conditioning: windows opened in Summer and in winter because the heat was turned up so high it felt like 25+ degrees in my apartment. Mind you, having no A/C meant a relatively low electricity bill (would have been much lower had I not been doing laundry every 3 days) I had no natural gas bill because I only made instant noodles a few times on the small natural gas stove. Did I also mention that I had to supply my own drinking water? Thank goodness Carrefour was only a 10-minute walk away from my apartment, so I did a lot of water, orange juice, and Coca Cola runs every month. Also, many private schools are new so they are not legally allowed to have foreign teachers (private schools are popping up like weeds all over China and almost as fast as new apartment buildings are built). If you sign a contract with them then all I can say is good luck! That may explain why some of you had so many problems. In my own opinion, the school knows that the contract is as good as null. They will terminate your service with the snap of a finger should the Education Ministry finds out they have foreign teacher(s) teaching at the school (which can either cause the school a major fine, their business or both). So, like many people here have advised, DO NOT COME TO CHINA USING A TOURIST VISA TO TEACH NO MATTER WHAT PEOPLE TELL YOU, and DO NOT SIGN A CONTRACT WITH NEW SCHOOLS! New private language and training schools have to be opened for a year before they can have foreign teachers! OK, so maybe I am lucky thus far with the school I am teaching at right now. Maybe things will turn around 180 degrees once the final drop of ink has dried on the paper and all hell will break loose. Maybe it is the luck of the draw, or maybe I have just finally found a good school after 2 prior experiences. Regardless, I am quite satisfied now and just enjoying my days here and concentrating fully on my teaching without any worries or any sidetracks.

By the way, is it my imagination, or has anyone noticed that 99% of people who complain here are Westerners? There are many Africans teaching in China, yet we never read any complaints from them. Is it a coincidence, or is it something worth thinking about? Maybe some of us Westerners' expectations are too high, and we are a little bit too demanding? Maybe we stretch petty issues a bit too far and turn molehills into mountains? I am not implying that too many people are too uptight about the smallest of the small things, but remember this is China and one does have to keep an open mind about things if one expects to make it through our 6 months or one year with our sanity fully intact. So, just chill out, relax, and enjoy the cheap beer and (when Summer comes around) the females walking around in skimpy and revealing clothings. Yes I am a "colour wolf", so sue me! ;-)

Thomas Wang
tw@canada.com
Dalian, Liaoning PRC