Teaching at a University in China

The University in China that I am currently teaching at is far different to what I was doing before. My first job abroad was at a buxiban but I always wondered what the public schools and universities were like in Asia. 

Tongji University LibraryI jumped at the opportunity of teaching with EPIK but couldn’t help being steered towards a job at a university in China. China has always kind of scared me and I always wanted to give it a try—so I did! Here is a glimpse into my life teaching at a Chinese university!

Campus

There are actually a couple campuses for my university. The campus in Chengdu is split so the freshman and sophomores live separately from the juniors and seniors. There is also a campus where the school is based—MianYang. The campus where I teach, Chengdu, has either a two, three, or four-year program.

There are 5 floors of classrooms, not enclosed, no elevators, and no western style toilets. There are no screens on the windows and the doors are always opened to the central courtyards. There are no heaters or AC units, so it can get a little warm or a little cold in the summers and winters. Sometimes you might see a bird in the classroom.

There is plenty of fresh air, though, and each class is equipped with a projector, podium, and computer for your classes. The cafeteria is loaded with different food vendors and delicious food, there are grocery shops and a coffee shop. The campus is beautiful, clean, and taken care of very well.

Students

I have 14 classes a week, all with about 30 different students in each class. If you count that up right, that means I have about 400 kids cycling through my lessons each week.

There are 9 other foreign teachers who teach about the same number of classes as I do. And there are students who do not take English or are taught by Chinese teachers. And these are just incoming freshmen. If you add that up, well, it’s a lot of students!

Coming from Iowa, I’m still having a tough time wrapping my head around that many students!

They are all freshman, which at this point means, they are all fresh out of high school. I don’t know if you know or remember the feeling of being a freshman, but they are pretty much what you expect. They are worried about how they look, they are on their cell phones all day, and they are knee-deep in college life and homework.

There aren’t really any behavioral issues to deal with except truancy or cell phone usage, unlike the buxiban, and both parties are well aware that you determine their grade.

This makes things pretty easy! The only pressure is on how you want to run your class. Will you be a benevolent dictator? Perhaps an off-hand motivator? It’s entirely up to you!

Classes

Classes are split into two 45 minute periods with a 10-minute break in the middle. You can have up to 5 classes a day but that’s pushing it. You might have four or five days working a week but you will always have the weekends off.

I usually have about three classes a day with a two-hour lunch from noon to 2pm—a nice break in the middle to tweak your lesson or fit in some extra work if need be!

My class runs more like a speech class than straight English, because at this point, many Chinese speakers haven’t had to actually speak with a foreigner. They need interaction, correction, and motivation from someone who has spoken English for a long time.

They need to see your mouth, hear your voice, intonation, and nuances. Teaching sentence patterns are kind of a drop in the bucket because there is so much to teach them—just trying to find things to focus on can be quite a challenge!

Being here for a month, I’ve already learned so much about life in China, life as a professor, and how to teach a varied level of English speaking, interest, and necessity. I’m very happy with my decision to teach at a Chinese university as it is teaching me as well!

Have you ever taught at a University in China? What were your experiences like teaching this age group and in this setting? Let us know in a comment below, we would love to hear from you. 

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4 Comments
  1. I’m currently teaching at a uni in Changchun and your experience sounds similar to my own. I’m teaching writing, however, and the students are tackling the concepts of proper formatting in MLA style as well as the usual sentence construction and grammar. It’s a challenge to communicate at times because as you mentioned they have had little interaction with Westerners and much gets lost in translation. But it’s early in the school year so I have high opes we can overcome the language barriers in front of us.

    • Dear Karla,

      Thank you for your message. I taught in Changchun from 2003 to 2006 and I also noticed that the language barrier there was much bigger than in other parts of China. My students adapted to my teaching style quickly, and it was great to see how much progress they had made in just over a year. I am sure that you will notice the same as you get further into your school year.

  2. Hi Carrie. Great information and just what I was looking for! I am very interested in teaching in a university in China. I have minimal experience however. But I have a BA in English and Philosophy, MA in screenwriting and TEFL – which is very rusty now. Would there be any chance of finding work? I would love to teach an English literature course. How would I even go about it? Thank you in advance.

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