How Teaching English in Asia Sucks

A few weeks back, I wrote a post about how teaching English in Asia can help one to establish a financial base. While I still believe that teaching English can be a decent gig, there are times when it absolutely sucks.

Teaching English in Asia
Dancing like a clown is one skill that ESL teachers in Asia may need to know…

Most people that think about teaching in China and get their first job overseas searching online will likely end up teaching at either a training center or a university. Generally speaking, both have their drawbacks. Training centers often have grueling hours and office politics to deal with, but the pay is reasonable, especially for people that are willing to commit to a frugal lifestyle. Universities, on the other hand, offer more freedom, but at the cost of offering low salaries. This can of course be made up for if accommodations are provided.

Personally speaking, I have only worked at training centers, and while I am indeed thankful for this opportunity, and my financial situation has been drastically improved, something inside of me cannot be satisfied doing this for a living long-term. In fact, teaching English in Asia probably shouldn’t be one’s final career objective, but rather a springboard to other opportunities, whatever they may be, to build a financial buffer, pay off debts, or see the world while earning an income.

The Hours

Heading in to work at eleven in the morning might sound appealing, that is until you realize that you will have to work until nine at night. This might sound cool to people that want to drink every night away and party (which is something that I experienced two years ago in Xi’an), but these hours make life very difficult for those of us that want to explore or build a business on the side. Given the hours that most venues operate here in China (places, including the gym, all seem to open at around ten in the morning and close at ten at night), there is not much time to do anything in a day except for work.

Chigang Pagoda in Guangzhou, China
It would be nice to have more time to explore, but it’s hard with my teaching schedule.

Biased Lesson Plans

Depending on the company that you work for, you may be presented with biased lesson plans. For example, I have had to teach lessons regarding gender equality and multiculturalism. Of course, these lessons were not about real equality, but took a rather Leftist-biased approach to the topics. Of course, I’d love to live in a fantasy land of equality, but this simply is not the truth. Part of why I am not a full-fledged teacher in America is the fact that I cannot bring myself to teach political correctness which would not prepare students for the real world. Living in China, a country that can often display open racial bias and pure Machiavellianism, I would think that such lessons would be thrown out the window. I guess that I was wrong.

Occasionally, I slip in some of my personal beliefs and redpill rhetoric into such lessons; I am supposed to share culture and engage students with my own personal flare, after all.

They Try to Control Your Life

Depending on the company that you work for and the contract that you sign, you might not be allowed to have a side hustle at all. Oftentimes, your main salary will keep you afloat, but it is tutoring on the side or doing business outside of teaching that brings in the real money. If your contract does not allow you to do anything else, then essentially your company has capped your income and made you a financial slave to their whims.

To top this off, some schools may try to force you to socialize with your coworkers after hours. I have nothing against my colleagues, but I would much rather come home to some delicious cooking or hit the gym than spend my time not getting paid, and probably spend more money on transportation, activities, food, and beverages.

As always, avoid shaming tactics. Use your contract to your advantage is at all possible. If you are contracted to teach five classes a day, then you shouldn’t have to spend more time goofing off with colleagues if you do not want to.

Being the Foreign Sales Monkey

One of the selling points of English training centers are the foreign teachers (particularly the blonde/blue ones). Although I look nothing like Leonardo DiCaprio, I am still expected to perform sales duties, without being paid a sales commission. From what I have heard, this varies between different companies, so those with good sales skills might be able to make a substantial amount of income if they work for the right company.

At the end of the day, I realize that I am an expendable employee, and as long as this is the case, I will have to put up with things that I disagree with. This post is not written to complain, but rather to point out some issues that I have with my experiences in the ESL industry, and to potentially warn you, dear reader, of some things that might tick you off should you come to China to teach English.

Teaching English in Asia is still better than working at McDonalds
Teaching English in Asia is still better than working at McDonald’s

I would still recommend teaching overseas for those that are interested, or might have reasons to do so. It certainly is a wonderful opportunity, but it is not all sunshine and rainbows like some people (particularly one’s superiors and recruiters) might try to make it out to be.

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  • Good post.

    I agree – teaching in Asia sucks, or at least can suck (I think it sucked my first year but I didn’t realize it sucked so bad until my second year, it wasn’t until my third year that it sucked less, and then by year four it really sucked. By my fifth and last year it sucked balls).

    I started at 5,000 RMB back in 2008 and lived in a shitty dorm. By the time I was fired in 2013 I was making about 14,000 RMB a month.

    I’m so glad I got fired, except it was a real hassle getting my visa switched over for the last three months that I lived there (not so easy to change plane tickets). I had the plane tickets because I’d told my employer – China’s EF English First – that I was quitting, had been forth months.

    It’s nice for EF when they can get gullible new teachers really fast from America, however, and that way they don’t have to give you the year-end bonus that you’d put in your notice for.

    But anyways, I think you hit it when you said all or at least most companies want you to do the sales thing.

    EF was getting that way in 2013 and one teacher was quite pissed about it by the end of her contract. She wanted to be a teacher, not a salesperson. They get you talking to parents more and more, however, and that’s a sales tactic.

    Really, just a lot of money-grubbing, but it’s China so you have to expect that. I did 5 years there so don’t think you can’t do some stuff. I’ve seen some people get totally immersed, learn the language, become Old Hands.

    I bet it’s a lot different over there than it was in the early-2010s, however. Economy was still doing 10% and just dipping into the 7% growth stages. Wasn’t nearly as much press crackdown as there is now.

    I have hope for the Chinese people, as I’ve written a book on their history from 8500 to 1046 BC. They’ll throw off this current set of rulers abusing the Mandate of Heaven. We all must at some point in our lives.

    • Thank you for your comment. You’re right that the big corporate schools are all about money, money, money. “Be a teacher and see the world” goes out the window once you’re really in the trenches.

  • Jason

    I’ve worked in a university and an English training center, and I agree with what you said here about teaching English not being your final career objective. Universities absolutely offer lower pay, but I know some people that work as little as 8 hours a week for full salary, a free place to live and airfare. I also agree that training centers are much more controlling. No one ever told me what to do at the university. Just had to show up.

  • Thank you for writing this article.

    I was considering teaching abroad in Japan when I graduated and found this article very helpful.

    • No problem. Not trying to deter anyone if it’s part of their plan, but just be aware that it has its cons too.

  • Dimitris Vlachos

    As with all things, I suppose it depends on what you are looking to achieve as well as your natural preferences and perspectives. I have found that deciding on the correct city, connecting with the right school and getting as much feedback and information as possible are the best ways to avoid disappointments. Regarding teaching English in China, many first timers go with the big city institutions, and overlook the smaller schools in the more rural cities, and become disillusioned with some of the factors you’ve mentioned in your write up. It’s really good to let people know that it isn’t all roses when deciding to pursue this career, and you’ve highlighted some vital aspects to take into consideration. For anyone interested in an English teaching career in China, I would suggest taking a look at the full picture first, and get all your information in one, credible place. I highly recommend checking out in order to avoid some of the negative pitfalls highlighted here.

    • Thanks for the comment. This is all great advice. You have to take the good and the bad when it comes to, well, just about everything in life. Weigh the options.