Why I Quit My Teaching Job in China on the First Day

I was very excited about the chance to work at a well known international school in Guangdong Province last year. The working hours were very reasonable, the salary was great, and I even found out that a friend of mine was working on the staff. I traveled many hours by train to reach the school’s city. I could hardly wait to get started.

On the afternoon that I arrived, I was warmly welcomed by the principal and given a tour of the school. I was told that I could start teaching the next day while the school began applying for my work visa.

The next morning, I enthusiastically walked into the school and received my schedule from a secretary. The first class was easy enough to find and soon, I was standing in front of around 30 eight-year-olds. This is when my troubles began.

For one thing, none of the students seemed to be able to speak English and there was no Chinese assistant anywhere to be seen. No one introduced me and when I began to talk, no one seemed to want to listen. I spent most of the class trying to introduce myself and talk about my rules for the year. By the time that the class finished, I felt as if I had never had a class at all.

The next two classes of the morning did not go much better. The students showed no respect for me and there was no one to help me with crowd control. I spent the morning as  a glorified ‘babysitter’ and it was the first time in my teaching career that I felt like I had no control.

During the lunch break, I immediately went to the office to ask if I could have some help – especially since it was my first day.

“Sorry.” They shook their heads sadly. “All of our teachers are busy with other activities.” I shook my head sadly too. I was afraid that this day was only going to get worse.

My fears were well founded. After lunch, I was late for two of my three classes because I had no idea where they were. Half of the classrooms in this five-story school were missing numbers above the doors and it seemed to me that the layout of the school was illogical.

In all of my afternoon classes, I once again found myself serving as a babysitter instead of a teacher. Children were eating and drinking in my classes and for the most part, refused to listen to what I had to say. After the final bell rang, I was exhausted and frustrated. This was the worst day that I had ever experienced teaching anywhere. And it was only the first day. Usually – for me at least – the first few weeks of teaching were great until the novelty wore off. With these students, the novelty of my arrival never even existed.

Before I returned to the office, I spent some time walking around the school and thinking about the day.  I had never quit anything, but I had a sinking feeling about this school. I was pretty sure that I would lose my sanity at the school after a few days.

With a heavy heart, I walked into the office that day and politely explained to the lady who had recruited me that I was no longer interested in teaching there. They were very gracious but I could tell that they did not understand my decision. I felt bad for them but I was also relieved because I had ‘gone’ with my instinct and I believed that I was saving myself a year of struggle.

A week later, I found another job that offered a little lower salary but that was a lot more rewarding for me. I never regretted my decision to walk away from that international school.

While it is usually a school or training center that will want to ‘try’ a teacher out, it is not a bad idea for you to ‘test’ your school out before you sign a contract. If you have the chance, why not spend a couple of days teaching before you make your final decision? You may save yourself a world of stress and heartache in the future.

Do you have a story to share with us about teaching in China? Leave us a comment below.

31 Responses to Why I Quit My Teaching Job in China on the First Day

  1. Renan says:

    Robert,
    I am a Filipino and currently teaching in a High School here in Thailand. I found that your articles are helpful to me since I also teach ESL. I have experienced some hardships in teachings especially my first few days since, my students can’t understand English, they enjoyed chatting to each, teasing, playing and do not show interest on what I am saying. It was very frustrating that in my career as a teacher in the Philippines for Korean and other foreign students, I felt disrespected by my students. They were hard to control, I guess most of them love to play than to study. I always encourage them that listening is the most important part of learning, so if they don’t give their 100% attention (even 80% is enough i think) I told them that they couldn’t learn English. I believe that ALL of them really want to learn and speak English, but they don’t devout their time and attention to the language. I think they just want to learn English like buying something they want in 7/11. As we all know, learning a foreign language takes years of practice and application. Thai English teachers teach the grammar part and they required me to do the speaking part. The school required me to make a weekly lesson plan, it wasn’t easy because they didn’t give me any reference materials. So by the help of internet and the skills I have gained from my previous school, I tried my best to prepare my lessons. Reading your articles and reading comments from your readers help me a lot. How I wish that all students in Thailand will be very interested in English like us in the Philippines. Filipinos loved the language so much that we sometimes feel difficult to express some words in our own language.

    Thank you very much for your help!

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  2. Jim russel says:

    Shit Happens, especially in China!

    They smile in your face but as soon as you’ve turned your back on them you get an knife between your ribs!
    They lie about everything and don’t even realise that it’s a lie!
    They pester, cheat, spy ,falsely accuse you and setting up traps for you when they wanna get rid of you!
    There’s a deep dark side on the Chinese culture.

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  3. Robert Vance says:

    Yes…I agree with you about training centers. They are worthless. In fact, here is an article I wrote about that:

    http://www.teachabroadchina.com/hate-english-training-centers-china/

    I do think that teaching at university in China is the best option. The pay is lower but you will much more peace of mind.

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    Mr. X Reply:

    I disagree about teaching in a university in China. I am working at one now (Hubei University of Economics), I can not fail students so the “students” have no interest in doing anything- all in all I baby sit 50 young adults. One teacher had a student threaten to kill him, just because he is white! When he talked to administration about it no one seemed to care or worse they told him to go away. The house provided to teachers is mold filled and has no hot water.

    [Reply]

    Devon Reply:

    Hey I work at a university too in the sticks of a city. A branch university (engineering) such as yours that was Econ.

    My classes are “optional” which they only told me this at my evaluation. They read 4 statements on a paper in Chinese and told me that 3 of them think my class is too easy, 1 claims they cannot understand a word I say. I explained to them that my classes were filled with students that couldn’t understand much, so I took the liberty of making sure they all speak even if the exercises were “easy”.

    They told me EVERYONE hates me and NOBODY wants to take a fall semester with me. They asked me what my next step is and told me to make a decision by the end of Finals week in July.

    I already have job agents I can easily find another university. I am not sure I can easily GET HIRED, but finding a job is not hard.

    Right now my focus is the end of Finals week is approaching soon and they want my “final decision”. So, I’m planning on writing a letter explaining that I love my job and this school and I’m saddened they want to terminate my contract. The whole “nobody wants you everyone hates you” is bull. Now, if I can PROVE that it’s bull I can claim their reasoning is invalid thus they breach contract. I don’t know an easy way to do that, and I also understand Chinese concept of “face”. Wouldn’t it be better just to find an expensive return airline ticket, so that I don’t have to prove their reasoning wrong just that they want to terminate my contract, and they should pay my return trip airfare?

    Any suggestions how to handle this situation? I have the little 1 month’s salary in my pocket and obviously that’s not going to last past 3 weeks when I’m homeless and with no work visa backing me. That’s why I’m trying to get as much as I can out of this so I can have enough to survive until the next gig plays out, OR I can throw my money into funding a small business.

    [Reply]

  4. Sean says:

    Teaching in China is a joke. Frankly all the training schools are just money making scams where they promise gullible students that they will become fluent in return for hard cash. Most students don’t prepare and don’t even recognise you as a professional. The students ignore most of what you tell them in deference to their Chinese lecturers/teachers. Their arrogance is collosal. They spend 10 to 15 years learning English from their Chinese teachers and can’t string 2 sentences together. Most teachers who come to China stop teaching the children here after about a year because few Chinese parents teach their children how to behave and leave that to the teacher. Robert had a class of 8 year olds, imagine a class of 12 3-6 year olds I was given with a non-trained TA for a 40 minute demo class.
    Training centres are just about entertainment. As long as little Wong had a happy time in class and Grandma and Grandpa could have a break from looking after the little b@$tard. All is sweet.
    People who say “Oh but they’re just kids”…give me a break Chinese kids are the worst.

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  5. Ozzie says:

    China is like nothing you have ever seen…..Get ready for a ride…..It’s total anarchy.

    Each province is different…..Most Cops are buyable….Drive really nice cars……No money? Be very nice to the cops.

    On the other hand: There is probably more personal freedom in China than there is in the USA.

    No war on drugs. No cops giving speeding tickets. No cops sitting in front of the bars. No seat Belt laws. No radar guns. No general harassment That raises revenue for American cops.

    On the other hand: If you want to ask why cant we have Facebook, twitter and youtube? Well you just might disappear off the face of the earth.

    SO: Be Cool.

    The U.S. Embassy will ask : What happened to MARY SMITH and China will answer MARY WHO? and that will be the end of it.

    So watch your ps and qs. ( I have no idea what that means. ) Just and old American saying. We all know it means BE NICE.

    Teaching? It’s on you. If I can not communicate, I go make a fuss till I get some one who can. I always get my way. The Kids always love me. The school maybe not so much.

    China parents want school to be fun all the time, but still want their kids to learn. So come with a basketful of games. Easy games, because getting Chinese Children to stand in a straight line or make a circle is a days work.

    That is all, Ozzie

    [Reply]

  6. jioh says:

    you did the right thing. more teachers should give Chinese the hairdryer treatment and take off to where they appreciate you. well done mate

    [Reply]

  7. Name (required) says:

    Hm… It’s sad how many people use this topic as a way to express their abilities. However…

    *pointing at the person who wrote: my English and Mandarin are on a native level*

    I’m the best teacher alive anyways. (Joking…)

    I think, giving up on the first day is pretty whack, though, truth be told. No matter what, you should at least have tried it again. It’s easy to chicken out, it’s honorable to fight against bullshit even if you don’t have to.

    (Don’t get me wrong, if the school is pulling off some really mean stuff, such as not paying the salary or suddenly confronting you with a different contract -
    Better get outta there as fast as you can.)

    But an illogical school design is a luxury problem, in my opinion. Also, OF COURSE at day 1 you’re not familiar with the school yet. If the management doesn’t give you a hard time about – who cares?!
    The day after you would have known where to go.

    Also, you don’t know what the kids have been through before, I assume. A friend of mine worked at a terrible school where teachers we’re changed weekly.
    I truly wouldn’t blame a kid for not taking stuff serious after they’ve had 3 teachers in 2 weeks or so.

    Like: “Don’t even try it, man. You’ll be gone next week anyways…”
    Well, in your case it was the next day.

    In the end… It’s children.
    And there’s (almost) no kid in the world who doesn’t enjoy fun. This is a fact and there’s no room for discussion here, especially since we’re talking China, where kids literally live in and for the school.

    [Reply]

  8. Eddy says:

    a sad true story….
    just wana say that im also living here in Xi an, China…more than 3 years….and its so true that THR BIG BOSS of ur school of admin always turn their face away from their promised deals…so be careful ….in my experience never trust a chinese regarding money or any other issue….
    no doubt they are kind…but u will never know their intentions…

    [Reply]

    Sheryl Reply:

    Hi, Im planning to go Xian to teach English…
    but first I want to learn the Chinese language..
    How long does it take and how hard.. ?

    [Reply]

    timmy Reply:

    do u have tefl,celta,bachelors degree and r u willing to work for a shitty 5000 a month shared apt, probation time and get no respect from anyone? if so welcome to china. all i say is NEVER AGAIN china.

    [Reply]

  9. Westie says:

    A common problem with ESL beginners – i teach ESL and find it so frustrating when the student just doesnt focus or have an eye contact, seems like an attitude problem to me. I found that being strict with lessons and activities make them take the ESL time seriously. BTW, am a volunteer and do spend a lot of time on gathering/ creating materials and sometimes it feels like i need to just leave this “good deed”.

    [Reply]

  10. jj says:

    my best advice is to use humour, to make up songs ,draw pictures, and play games, otherwise they just won’t listen. It’s more than just teaching.also get someone to translate the lesson for you before you teach and write it down

    [Reply]

  11. marckuz says:

    I just had the same experience.. but sadly i have signed the contract.
    though the first day was different as they welcomed me warmly and i was the only male teacher in the school. by the way, i am teaching kindergaten.. teaching 3-year-old children..
    afetr a few days, my life in hell started.. they said i would be a head teacher 4 times a week.. and they would leave the kids to me.. i started shouting and and raising my voice just to get the kids attention but they were just laughing.. and then the principal and the head chinese teacher said that i am incompetent as i cant control the kids.. so i tried to talk to the kids in chinese just to make them understand.. i don’t have an assistant.. the teachers who are arouond me cant speak english,,
    I AM NOT TEACHING ENGLISH HERE… I AM WORKING HERE AS A BABYSITTER..
    i will just finish my contract and try to find another teaching job..

    [Reply]

    timmy Reply:

    why stay in china at all? same or better salary in cambodia, vietnam and thailand. a lot better i s korea and japan. china sucks. they think u should b greatful just to b there.

    [Reply]

  12. Andreas Noah says:

    Hello Robert!
    I read your story.
    I also worked for a year in China and I know how disappointing it can get. I had a few days like yours, once I was assigned a 120 students class! Students constantly fell asleep in the class, they would have their noodles in class, sometimes it seemed to me that I was speaking to deaf people who didn’t have any intention to communicate with me.
    But after all, the experience was great, so much, that I am hoping to go back.
    Chinese (civilization) have walked for thousands of years in a different direction to ours. Many of them have never eve seen a foreigner, and hey are very proud (although some times erroneously) for what they believe they have achieved as a culture.
    I remember the first days I walked into the school bus, trying to be nice, with a big smile on my face, and saying ‘nihao’ [hello]. Nobody would answer, they would only look at me as a weird thing, and say something (which to me sounded like mockery) to themselves… how sad!
    Their concept of hygiene is very different to ours, and I, being a vegetarian, had some difficulties at first to find food at school. But after some time my wife and I started to become popular among the students in he dining hall (teachers had their own dining area and they almost never “mixed” with students).
    I think it was after they saw all my desire to be one of them, that they started to be nice to us.
    When it was time to come back, I had the Communist Party leader at school giving me a very personal and warm farewell. He told me I had been “a friend” to them. He said he had seen how much I liked my students and that he was very thankful.
    If anybody reads this and is intending to go to China, GO! I have been teaching ESL (although not continuously) for around 20 years, and I found in Chinese learners the best students! The most respectful and committed ones (with their very own exceptions of course).
    Before going to China I would widely advise you to prepare yourselves for a very different way of life. I found a booklet called “The Living in China Guide” – unfortunately to me, I got it after some months of being in China – which helped us so much in understanding our Chinese fellows!
    I found in China a home. I returned 3 years ago and I am still in close contacts with some of my former students – and hoping to see them again soon.
    May God grant me the chance.
    Zaijian! (good bye)

    [Reply]

  13. Willy Wonka and the Language Factory says:

    Interesting story Robert, despite some lame attempts by a particular person to discredit you. (Oh, yes Kakert, that particular person would be you.)

    As I doubt Diana is coming back to answer your question, I figured I’d put in my proverbial two cents. While having an all-English class has its merits, it just doesn’t make sense to me to ban all use of the children’s native language. Especially in your case, when most of what you were trying to teach them probably went straight over their heads. (Imagine having to listen to someone speaking a language you don’t understand at all and you can understand why some kids may have had trouble concentrating. Apart from being spoiled brats of course…)

    On the other hand, by allowing your students to use Chinese in class they may end up crawling back into the “safe shell” that is their mother tongue. And obviously much depends on the teacher’s fluency in both languages. New teachers don’t really get far with their extraordinary “ni hao”-saying skills, to put it mildly. (I suddenly got a mental image of thirty spoiled brats trying to mimic the teacher’s pronunciation of Chinese by shouting “NI HAO! NI HAO!”. The horror!)

    Anyway, I hope you don’t mind this long post on your blog. Long texts seem to scare people away these days, so I’ll leave it at this for now.

    (Oh, and thanks for the post on non-native speakers and jobs in China. I’m currently in the process of looking for a teaching job in China and I got myself all worked up over all the job ads demanding speakers from the US/UK/Canada etc. You know the deal… It’s a bit of a consolation that there’s still a chance for us poor people who were born in the wrong country.)

    Anyway, best of luck with the site!

    [Reply]

  14. Robert Vance says:

    @Diana,

    Thanks for the comments. Actually, I had this experience a while ago, and by now, my Mandarin is good enough where I could use it to communicate with the kids. Some schools however, discourage their teachers from using Chinese in class because it is believed that a ‘good’ ESL class should consist of ENGLISH only. What do you think?

    [Reply]

  15. Diana Marlan says:

    Dear Robert,
    I understand completely how you feel and I could imagine what kind of chaos you must face, since I also have an 8 yrs old son. I do wish I could help you in the class that time since I speak Mandarin & English in Native Level, and I do know how to catch kids attention. Even I’m not a qualified teacher, but I do enjoy teaching/coaching my niece/nephews. I guess, I can only suggest if you spend some time learning Mandarin from locals.

    Wishing you luck and lots of courage.

    [Reply]

  16. Mary Adams says:

    My reply appears to have gone astray. 2nd go. I wish to commend you, Mr Vance,on the courage you displayed for moving on rapidly from this unpleasant experience.Had you been in China long before this occurred? I ask you this because for many a new arrival this would have been rather daunting & , perhaps, led to a fast flight out of China. It’s a shame when that is the reaction, but also understandable.
    It does appear apparent that 3 certain young scallywags have also been posing as others on this site. Oh dear me. But this has been dealt with.
    Josh, you are absolutely correct in assuming certain commenters are indeed unqualified.

    [Reply]

  17. Mary Adams says:

    I commend you on your courage to move on from this place of employment. I equally comend you for not running away from China back to your home country with your tail between your legs because of 1 negative experience.
    As you can see 3 certain young ‘hi jacking ‘ rascals have also been posing as who they are not in reality here also. Oh dear me. But at least that has been dealt with now.Josh was absolutely correct, the scallywags in mention have absolutely no qualifications,yet. They are, in fact, students.

    [Reply]

  18. kakert says:

    boo hoo…

    [Reply]

  19. I think there are more than two types of teachers, and all of then have something to bring to the table. Just as there are more than just two types of classes, ie. well behaved and poorly behaved. MOST classes are a combination of both. No matter how much experience I have aquired those kids keep throwing you cuve balls. My bigger head achs have come from the fellow teachers who don’t want to loose their face long enough with their own poor English skills to help you you out. Anyway, having been there/done that, and continue to have monkeys in the class who want to see if they can do a power play and win. I probably need to research more information on class room managment or consult with the U.S.Marine Corps. In any case, those simple books on puppy training or that one on titled; Horse Wisper, has helped me the most ! Its also amazing to see the power in ‘humor’, and SEE REALLY just how badly they DO NEED YOU.

    [Reply]

  20. Josh says:

    I’m with Robert. Kakert revealed that his level of decent teaching experience matches that of his sympathy.

    There are really two types of teachers in China: babysitters and teachers. Babysitters “cope”, as kakert said, while teachers wish to teach. If you’re willing to just sit and waste your life in a classroom watching kids run all over you, then be my guest. Otherwise, follow Robert’s advice and check out your school!

    [Reply]

  21. Robert Vance says:

    @Kakert,

    You have no idea what my qualifications are although if you had bothered to read anything else on this website (which I happen to operate and own) you would probably figure out that I have extensive experience teaching in my home country and around the world.

    BTW, what is with posting multiple comments on this post and another one? That’s annoying..

    [Reply]

  22. kakert says:

    Only time I ever ended a contract early was finding out a school did not have legality to hire foreigners,,& even though I was conceived here but born in HK (before it came back to the mainland) because I was a twin & hospitals not so good back then for foreign mums to be..I am still a laowai..even if Chinese who know me & my family over so many years mostly regard me as otherwise..apart from that one experience ( I avoid dramas of any kind) my career has always be such an el-sweeto number…but I guess having lived most of my 32 years in China hepls heaps..

    [Reply]

  23. kakert says:

    Such a sad story..but them’s the breaks..oh my goodness, 30 students that could not speak English..hang on , where were you…oh yeah, in China…funny that!& you the sole teacher..oh poor you…where were your so called qualifications? If you had some then you could have coped …instead of running away..sorry , my sympathy level is ZILCH!

    [Reply]

    Martin Kennedy Reply:

    Have you ever taught anywhere other than China. Try Thailand sometime.

    [Reply]

  24. Elly says:

    Well done Mr V. I am sure that it would have been an awful experience, and if day one was like that, who knows what would follow. I’ve heard some pretty bad stories, but happily they are in the minority.

    This network should be helpful for all of us who choose to try teaching in China. Not everyone can do what you did – for a whole range of reasons. Glad it worked out for you.

    [Reply]

  25. Josh says:

    This is definitely excellent advice.

    I have found from watching others (thankfully not from personal experience) that you also need to keep your eye out for other potential problems. There are a few friends I’ve seen who have been promised paid airfare to be reimbursed after a set period of time only to be infinitely delayed. Others have been offered other perks in their contract which when it comes time to pay up the school is reluctant to hand it over.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that sometimes you just have to be willing to walk away, willing to tell your employer that if they don’t hold up their part of the deal they will lose a good teacher. Maybe this only works in Xinjiang where teachers are harder to come by, but there doesn’t seem to be any other reliable recourse when you have actually signed that contract but find yourself in a very unpleasant situation.

    [Reply]

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