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What it’s Like to Work in a 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 what a mad and wonderful time I’ve had teaching in China. I’ve spent most of time in the country teaching in a kindergarten and. I must say, I’ve LOVED it. Granted, teaching very young children is not for everyone, but 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 foreign teachers here are usually highly qualified with teaching licenses or Early Years degrees.

Beyond international school kindergartens, you will find government licensed, private (individual and franchise) kindergartens as well as small neighbourhood kindergartens. Requirements and pay can vary wildly, but it is still one of the most lucrative teaching jobs in China.

Chinese Kindergartens versus Western Kindergartens

There are no other Chinese school types I think of that has such fundamental differences compared to their counterparts in the West.

First and foremost, most kindergartens in China are full-day programs. Children in China arrive at kindie 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 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 – developing good habits that will build the foundation for their primary schooling – the Chinese programs means says are jam-packed with classes. Recently, more emphasis has been placed on holistic development and Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), but there is little doubt the focus remains on learning. With a combination of language classes, math, art, music, physical and general knowledge, it’s 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.

A regular week Teaching in a Kindergarten in China

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, centres 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 made some serious headway 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 expected 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 and, 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 will still be expected to build relationship 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: you will frequently be asked to do weekly, monthly, and quarterly reports. I always wish they focused more on 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, so 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 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, the children clearly showing comprehension of everything you’re saying.

As mentioned previously, the two-hour lunch breaks really shorten the day and allows 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. 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

What You Need to Teach Kindergarten in China

Requirements for teaching at a kindergarten are not consistent. Kindergartens at international schools will require tertiary education, like early childhood.

International kindergartens will require teachers to have prior experience, particularly if it’s for a homeroom teaching role. You may have to take a side-trip via a different kindergarten first if you don’t have tertiary experience in education. This experience should be enough to bag a job in an International kindergarten. In more provincial cities, these requirements may be relaxed as it’s at behest of individual kindergartens.

In terms of personality and temperament, kindergarten teachers are expected to be patient, have an inherent like of children and the ability to build relationships with them. As their teacher, you are one of the most important people in their lives and you are expected to lead by example. Additionally, teachers are expected to be passionate, flexible, creative and high energy (even when you feel tired).

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

It’s difficult to predict the exact salary you can expect, but it’s safe to say it’s one of the best paid teaching types in China.

Except for kindergartens at international schools (look at international school salaries), salaries for working in private kindergartens in Beijing can range from 20,000 to 27,000 RMB after tax. In Tier 2 cities, the salaries are lower but, 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 parents 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.

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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