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What it’s Like to Teach Kindergarten in China

What it’s Like to Work in a Kindergarten in China

Writing this blog has given me a chance to finally reflect on my time teaching kindergarten in China.  I’ve spent most of my time in China teaching in kindergartens, and I must say, I  LOVED it.

Granted, teaching very young children is not for everyone. Some teachers don’t have patience and temperament for it. However, having lots of nephews, I found it easy to bond with these little princes and princesses.

As is the case with all school types in China, kindergartens come in all shapes and sizes. There are kindergartens that are attached to international schools that have huge resources and are excruciatingly expensive to attend. The kindergarten teachers that work at these schools are usually highly qualified with Teaching licenses or Early Years degrees.


International Kindergartens versus Regular Kindergartens

Beyond international school kindergartens, you will find government licensed, private kindergartens as well as small neighbourhood kindergartens.  These private kindergartens are usually split up into International and ‘regular’ kindergartens.

International Kindergartens will follow an international program and have experienced teachers, although you won’t need to be fully qualified. They usually follow an international calendar with Christmas and Summer holidays as well as the usual Chinese holidays.

The regular kindergartens usually follow a Chinese curriculum with English as an added focus. They usually follow a Chinese school calendar with Chinese national holidays. Unfortunately, his means less annual leave for Kindergarten teachers working in these programs.

Requirements and pay can vary wildly, but it is still one of the most lucrative teaching jobs in China.

Chinese Kindergartens versus Western Kindergartens

Arguably there is no Chinese school type that has such differences compared to their counterparts in the West.

First and foremost, most kindergartens in China are full-day programs. Children in China arrive at school by 8.30am (just in time for breakfast!). And often don’t leave until 4.30/5.00pm. The good news for teachers is that the day is usually broken up by a two-hour lunch, taken when the children are napping. Bearing all this in mind, all kindergarten teachers will still churn out 40-hour weeks.

Kindergartens in China are certainly not as we know them. While most western kindergartens are play-based and focused primarily on holistic development – in other words, developing good habits that will build the foundation for their primary schooling. 

Chinese programs mean says are jam-packed with classes. Recently, more emphasis has been placed on holistic development and Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). However, there is little doubt the focus for most remains on traditional learning.

The traditional approach is usually a combination of language classes, math, art, music, physical and general knowledge.  This means a busy day for these young students.

In addition, many students take part in extracurricular classes after school. These classes may be run by the school or held in separate training centres in the evening.

Subjects include dancing and art, or additional English-language learning. For the most part, you will not be asked to do these classes. If you are, and you agree, make sure you get paid for them.


My regular week teaching in a Kindergarten

Before I became headmaster of the kindergarten (only in China!), I worked as an ESL teacher for a high-end kindergarten in Beijing. My job involved teaching students the very basics of English. I taught English vocabulary through daily activities and repetition, picking topics that the students found interesting.

I encouraged the students to use as much fluency as possible outside the classroom, constantly asking them questions and getting them to answer. After a few months of this, it was great to see their English language skills improve.

Another big part of the of the English language learning, centers around phonics. To be honest, until I started to teach in the Kindergarten, I had no idea how to teach young children. With some help from friends, a patient girlfriend and YouTube videos, I learned to improve my teaching ability and became an effective kindergarten teacher in no time.

What it’s Like to Work in a Kindergarten in China

What Does a Teacher in a Kindergarten in China Usually Do?

You will find out very quickly that teaching English is only one of several jobs you’ll expect to do. As a foreign teacher, in particular, you’ll be asked to do things that go beyond the teaching scope.

Some teachers are more than happy to comply whilst others will simply grin and bear it. This is, after all, part and parcel of teaching in China.

Going to many meetings and often sitting through meetings held solely in Chinese will be expected. Meetings are held about anything. More often than not, you’ll have to attend a meeting to discuss meetings. It’s maddening but, as said, just another part of the job.

You will also be asked to talk with parents daily. If you are Homeroom teacher, this will be a core part of your job but, if you are an ESL teacher you won’t be. Instead, you will still be expected to build relationships with parents but in a less formal way.

Kindergarten teachers are well thought of in Chinese culture, so don’t be surprised if you are revered by some of your parents and receive presents regularly.

The biggest bug-bear of teachers would have to be the paperwork. Just remember that you are going to work in one of the most bureaucratic countries in the world.

Depending on the depth of the paperwork be asked to do reports often. I always wish they focused more on the content of classes rather than paperwork, but ours was not to wonder why! It seems.

As a foreign teacher, you will also be asked to dress up and take part in classroom activities. I loved dressing up as Santa, the Easter bunny and wearing our Halloween costumes at work. Not everyone will enjoy this part of the job, but for me, it was a blast!

What I Love Most About Teaching Kindergarten in China

This is as obvious as it is cliché. It’s definitely the children. Teaching kindergarten allows the teacher to make a much bigger impact in their lives than other teacher types.

As the year progresses, you can clearly see not only their physical growth but also witness their English-language skills improve. Where once you were teaching them basic words and sounds, you’ll find yourself having short conversations by the end of the year. You also begin to notice the children clearly showing comprehension of more things you’re saying.

As mentioned previously, the two-hour lunch breaks really shorten the day and allow you to recharge your batteries. It’s even enough time to put your energy into a different project, one that isn’t work-related. I spent my time failing to learn Chinese and, primarily, setting up China By Teaching. Time well-spent, it would seem!

The type of kindergarten where you work will dictate the amount of time you get off during the year. As mentioned, International kindergartens give generous winter and summer holiday. Small and less prestigious kindergartens will limit your holidays to Chinese public holidays and some annual leave.

What it’s Like to Work in a Kindergarten in China

Requirements to Teach Kindergarten in China

These at the requirements to teach kindergarten in China:

  • Bachelor’s degree (any Subject)
  • 22 – 60 years old
  • Clear Criminal Background Check
  • TEFL Certificate (Must be 120 hours although you will be excused with an educational or early years degree.)
  • Previous experience in a kindergarten is preferred

While kindergarten teaching experience is preferred, it’s not a requirement. Kindergartens often welcome teachers who demonstrate enthusiasm and care towards children above other things.  This is particularly true in the regular type kindergartens.

Traits to be a Kindergarten Teacher

Traits you need to be an effective Kindergarten in China, are no different from the world over. The most desirable tratis include

  • Passion
  • Patience
  • Role Model
  • Empathy 
  • Creativity

Passion: Undoubtedly the most important quality is passion.  When things are not going right in the classroom or school, this quality keeps you motivated. It’s the sense of accomplishment during the young learners’ progression that will feed this passion. 

Patience: Kids get distracted and they have the ability to get into all sorts of predicaments. So when a student’s curiosity leads them to play with paint on the floor, a kindergarten teacher should take the time to explain why they shouldn’t and not tell get annoyed. 

Empathy: You must have an inherent like of children and the ability to build relationships with them. You must be able to understand that sometimes a child communicates through poor behaviour. Not because they are just being naughty. 

Role Model: As their teacher, you are one of the most important people in their lives and you are expected to lead by example. 

Try to do more than just engage with the children and sing them songs. Children are still expected to learn a lot when in your care and this will be your primary responsibility. For this, kindergarten teachers get paid very well. 

The Salary I Can Earn as a Kindergarten Teacher in China

Tier 1 Cities: 20,000 – 26,000 RMB per month (After Tax).

Tier 2 Cities: 18,000 – 22,000 RMB per month (After Tax).

Tier 3 Cities: 14,000 – 20,000 RMB per month (After Tax).

Salaries for kindergartens, even those at international schools (look at international school salaries), are not that different. Kindergartens in Beijing can range from 20,000 to 27,000 RMB after tax.  The difference between an International kindergarten and regular kindergarten are the benefits. These can result in sizeable differences. 

In Tier 2 cities and Tier 3 cities, the salaries are lower but the cost of living is lower too. Either way, you will be on the right side of things every month when you see your bank statement.

Notwithstanding the money, the experience of teaching in a kindergarten in China was one of the best things I’ve ever done. In the midst of the most frustrating times, when meetings were dragging on, when you were being kept in the dark, when things were changed at the last minute or a parent complained because you didn’t ask their precious child a question in class…… it was the smiles and the laughs with the cutest kids in the world that made it all worthwhile.

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David O Connor

David O Connor

David is China by Teaching’s chief contributor. When not offering sage advice about teaching in China, David is a headmaster of a Bilingual kindergarten in Beijing. David is a lover of craft beers, book clubs and super long road trips.

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