I’ve been teaching in China for several years.
Although I’ve taught at many different schools in China, the bulk of my time has been spent teaching at universities and colleges.
The wording of the university contract has always seemed to be standard. Very little has changed from year to year apart from the salary.
However, I’ve just renewed my present university contract and noticed that the new contract has some terms that I’ve never seen before.
So, how are university contracts in China changing for some TEFL teachers?
In this article, I’ll be exploring this question as well as the implications for current and aspiring teachers.
Standard terms of the ‘old’ contract
A teaching contract in China will usually cover the obvious things like your start date, working arrangements (number of classes and teaching hours), salary, working times, sick leave, and the probation period.
In addition, it should also mention that the teacher’s work will be supervised and evaluated through teaching observations without notice and getting feedback from students.
Other terms may include:
1. Complying with the relevant laws and regulations of China.
2. Not interfering with China’s internal affairs.
3. Not conducting any religious activities.
4. Complying with directives from the school.
5. Looking after school property.
6. Fulfilling the tasks assigned to a high quality.
7. Things that the teacher is forbidden to do, e.g. being late for class or dismissing a class early.
8. How the contract may be revised, cancelled or terminated.
New terms that were added to my contract
When I recently renewed my university contract, I noticed with interest that it had a number of new clauses.
These included the following:
1. A prohibition to talk about or initiate political and ideological (e.g. religious) topics and comment on the Chinese government’s policies and ideology regulations in classrooms, on campus and social networking sites.
2. Teachers have the right to refuse to work more than 16 periods a week. This clause has never appeared in any of my previous contracts.
3. Teaching ‘accidents’ are now prohibited. These include:
a. changing lesson times or venues without approval
b. using a mobile phone in class
c. failure to answer a student’s questions or to mark homework
d. being more than 5 minutes late for an exam and doing things that are unrelated to invigilating
e. having an exam failure rate of over 30% or over 50% over two years, and
f. failing to complete marking an exam within 10 days.
4. An express prohibition of all forms of intimate or sexual relationships with students, not only in class but also on campus and via social media.
5. An investigation will only be started if more than half the students in a class or more than a third of a teacher’s students make a complaint and undisputed records of social media posts are available.
What are the implications of contract changes for TEFL teachers?
The implications of these changes for teachers are significant and include the following:
1. Previously, no school had ever informed me about the three ‘taboo’ subjects in China, namely sex, religion and politics. This is one of the things that one picks up on their own, through participation in online EFL forums and reading blogs. Teachers can therefore no longer claim ignorance as an excuse for breaking the rules.
2. Teachers need to be very careful about everything that they say or write about China, not just in the classroom but also in casual conversation, on social media, in blogs and online discussions.
3. There is now a lot more transparency. The university would be obliged to inform teachers of any complaints. Previously, in order to give the teacher ‘face’, they were not informed of any complaints that had been made against them until the end of the year when contract renewal decisions were made.
4. The fact that a school will only investigate or uphold a complaint if it is made by more than half the students in a class gives a teacher more rights and more job security.
5. The ‘two strikes’ rule gives errant teachers a chance to improve before having their contracts terminated. This brings China more in line with workers’ rights in the UK.
6. Teachers would be under greater pressure to inflate grades or to award arbitrary grades that don’t reflect their students’ performance in order to meet the required targets.
7. Students might become lazier once they know that 70% of them must pass the exam, regardless of their ability or performance. Classroom management might become harder.
Why did these changes come about?
There were too many teachers who were having their university contracts cancelled for misconduct.
A male teacher I once knew was dismissed for trying to seduce female students.
Another teacher lost his job for discussing and commenting on sensitive Chinese political issues in class.
A third teacher was fired for being overly strict with his pupils.
Not only that, but his students also complained that they couldn’t understand much of the content of his lessons or his accent.
There is also a desire in China to improve the quality of the foreign teachers that are being hired.
Chinese schools and universities realize that hiring incompetent or irresponsible teachers is a disservice to students, may impact on exam results and even the reputation of the school.
Are these changes a good or a bad thing? Here’s my view
Teaching in China has traditionally been viewed as a ‘backpacker’s profession’.
Any Caucasian person, regardless of qualifications or experience, was deemed to be qualified to teach English.
Many of the foreigners who came to China in the past were only out to have a good time, drink, party and get girlfriends.
This has resulted in the de-professionalization of the TEFL industry and a bad reputation for TEFL teachers.
Nowadays, you need a degree and a TEFL certificate to teach in China.
In addition, the prohibition of what China views as ‘teaching accidents’ can only serve to further improve professionalism in the classroom.
From the foreign teacher’s perspective, these changes mean more transparency, more protection and more rights. This can only be a good thing.
Improved professionalism on the part of the teachers can only result in more respect from the students, thus making classroom management easier.
In my opinion, no teacher who is professional and passionate about their work should object to these new terms.
Overall the changes are positive, progressive and should be supported.