Teach English the Right Way

Newsflash for some ESL teachers out there: China does not owe you a living. Either get your job the right way or quit complaining.

On some English teachers’ WeChat groups, one hot topic of discussion has been the fact that they are being discriminated by prospective employers because of the color of their skin, nationality, gender or age.

Let me start off with China’s requirements for ESL teachers. They must be nationals of the US, UK, Canada, Australia, NZ, Ireland or South Africa. They must also hold—as a bare minimum—a Bachelor’s degree in any discipline. This is neither a diploma nor a certificate from some technical college—it’s a Bachelor’s degree.

They must also hold either a TEFL certificate or have at least two years’ teaching experience. The age range for males is 18 to 60 and 18 to 55 for females. Alternatively, a non-native English teacher is also eligible to teach in China if they hold a Bachelor’s degree from an English speaking country.

I am fully aware that there are teachers who meet the above requirements, but are awful teachers. There are also teachers who do not meet the above standards, but are great teachers. Still, standards have to be set somewhere because it would be impossible to screen every single teaching applicant.

They cannot say “well, this is China” when referring to their own illegal working status and then decry China for not having the same standards for discrimination as the “developed world.”

There were teachers in these groups complaining that some job ads specify that they only want white, native English speakers. Others say that they only want a female or male teacher or that no one over 40 need apply.

I whole heartedly sympathize with teachers that meet China’s requirements for teaching ESL, yet experience such discrimination. This is wrong and should not occur. More should be done to ensure that such discrimination does not happen. However, I strongly suspect that most of the teachers complaining are working in China illegally.

Their point of contention is that discriminating on the basis of color, nationality (in some cases), gender and age is wrong (I agree). They usually go on to say that in the “developed world,” (I put “developed world” in quotation marks because this is how some teachers referred to other unspecified countries not named China) this wouldn’t be happening.

Now, this is what does my head in. In the “developed world” illegal foreign workers are exploited and discriminated against all the time. Let’s not make any mistake about it, these teachers are illegal foreign workers, whether they’d like to admit it or not.

If you do not meet the above criteria and did not obtain a working visa to teach English in China, then you are working illegally. By doing so, you leave yourself open to being exploited just as much as the restaurant workers in Australia or fruit pickers in California illegally work full-time jobs on student visas.

Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t care less that there are teachers working illegally. I wish them the best, but some of these people need to wake up and realize that while they remain illegal, they face the very real possibility of being exploited. Legally, they do not have a leg to stand on and complaining about it is hypocritical. They cannot say “well, this is China” when referring to their own illegal working status and then decry China for not having the same standards for discrimination as the “developed world.”

Here is my suggestion to teachers that are outraged over discrimination: if you are from either the US, UK, Ireland, Australia, NZ or South Africa, go home and do what you need to do to meet the requirements. I worked hard and spent a lot of money for my degree. I am currently spending even more time and money doing my Masters in Education. I don’t see why you think China should just accept you without the necessary education.

If you are a non-native English speaker, I recognize that it would be a lot harder and costlier for you to enroll at a university from one of the above countries, but again, either do what you must do to be a legally employed teacher in China or remain illegal and take your chances. Even if you do go ahead and do all this, just remember that you may still be discriminated against, anyway.

So, yes, China does have a lot of work to do to bring it in line with other countries in the world when it comes to discrimination. However, illegal foreign teachers are not the individuals who will ever be bringing about these changes.