Teaching English in China didn’t only allow me to fully immerse in Chinese culture, but also to better understand Western culture from Chinese perspective.
By working in Chinese kindergarten I could clearly see the major differences and inequalities when it comes to dealing with Western and Chinese employees. I was utterly shocked how this powerful country can create so many opportunities for foreigners and on the other hand treat their residents with disrespect.
Here are the most outstanding differences:
The most important motivator for the majority of people. Every English teacher earns at least 3-4 times more at the same position as native Chinese. Having a white skin is status in China and Chinese parents are willing to pay more to have their kids educated by Westerner.
Almost all Chinese teachers I worked with had an outstanding work history. They usually started working with 18 years or when they completed their studies. The salary of inexperienced teachers was even lower that the salary of Chinese teachers with 3-5 years of experience. Most of the English teachers on the other side had no teaching experience and upon starting their new job, they could already earn 3-4 times more than Chinese teachers with many years of experience.
3. Working hours
English teachers usually have fixed schedule. They start working at 8.00, have lunch break from 11.30 to 14.30 and finish working at 17.30. Chinese teachers have to be in the kindergarten before 8.00 o’clock, have to stay in the kindergarten during lunch break and sometimes stay until 18.00 or 18.30, as long as the kids are there. They don’t work fixed hours, and their salary is always the same, no matter if they work extra hours or not.
The only responsibility of an English teacher is to teach English and play with kids. Occasionally he has to plan activities or lessons, but nothing more responsible. Chinese teachers are in charge of everything. They are responsible for the kids, the class, lessons, outdoor and extracurricular activities. In case of an accident, it is their fault. The kindergarten management always increased their responsibilities. Every year they had to perform more duties apart from their regular ones, but their salaries stayed the same.
5. Working days
Sometimes English lessons were dismissed due to an unexpected event. In that case English teachers could stay at home, while Chinese teachers had to come to the kindergarten and be with the kids. Kindergarten regularly organized trainings and meetings for teachers during weekends or after classes. However, they were only obligatory for Chinese teachers. English teachers never had to come to those meetings. Even during summer holidays, when there were no kids at school, Chinese teachers had to come one week before the semester started and perform some duties.
I still remember how I had to have my blood checked and get x-ray done before I could start working in the kindergarten. Even after I was already working there I was absent two times due to an appointment with my dentist. I just had to let the kindergarten know in advance that I would be absent and everything was totally fine. Chinese teachers were limited on how many days off they can take and even then they have to fill in special form to let the kindergarten know when and for how long they will be absent. It wasn’t that easy for them to take a day off.
English teachers had in general much better reputation among parents and kindergarten management. They were never criticized and judged from their side. Chinese teachers on the other side were never good enough. Every little mistake was seen as a big failure and a reason to criticize them.
These are some of the most distinctive differences I was able to witness during my short career as an English teacher. Life in China is certainly not easy for Chinese people and only now I can understand why Chinese people feel so bad about their jobs. I haven’t done a research about working conditions in other fields such as IT, medicine, economy or engineering. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they would be the same as teaching. No wonder why China remains one of the highly desirable places to work in for foreigners.
One of the saddest things I have seen in the kindergarten was watching my Chinese colleague work during her pregnancy. On some days she just looked so tired and exhausting, she couldn’t even properly handle the kids. When I first left kindergarten, she was pregnant for 7 months and when I returned 5 months later, she was already working. She told me, that she only stayed at home only one month after giving birth. I just couldn’t believe that. Another example: one Chinese teacher that was pregnant as well, worked in the kindergarten right until giving birth. She was still working on Tuesday and on Wednesday her child was born.