Erica Fairchild

Congratulations! You’ve taken the first step in deciding that teaching English in China is your next venture in life. You’ve done your research about the documents you will need to live and work abroad. You’ve thought about what country you’d want to live in and what city appeals to you most. Maybe you’ve even thought as far as what age ranges you’d like to teach. But has anyone ever asked you “what type of school you want to teach in?”

This doesn’t usually cross people’s minds as you might only think of the traditional western public school system. Well, the difference between public and private schools are distinct. Public schools in China are typically referred to as government (or state) kindergarten, primary, high school, or university level school. Private schools in China will usually be English training centers (or language schools). Read on to find out more about the difference between private and public schools in China, and which is a better fit for you.


Training center. The biggest difference between training centers and state schools (no matter what age you teach), is the schedule. Training centers are extra classes that students take after their regular schooling or that adults take after their work day. For this reason, training center teachers start their work day around 2:00PM to start planning lessons or have in-center trainings. First classes of the “day” can start at 5:00PM, and a typical language school teacher will end work around 8:00/8:30PM. Also, weekends will be teacher’s busiest days, so ESL teachers typically have Tuesdays and Wednesdays off.

EF offers new teachers 10 annual leave days as part as the salary package. You’re able to use these days in conjunction with the Chinese National holidays (about 11 additional days) throughout the year to maximize your vacation. You will be expected to work summer and winter courses on top of your training center schedule and most training schools will compensate you for the extra time and days worked.

State school. State schools are similar in schedule to the western schools where a teacher’s day can start at 7:30/8:00AM until 4:00/5:00pm, but will be working Monday to Friday and have weekends off. Most working professionals will have these office hours as well, so Saturdays and Sundays in China will almost always be crowded wherever you go. However, state schools compensate will in terms of holidays. Generally, all holidays will be paid including the 2 weeks for winter vacation, 3 weeks for Chinese New Year, and anywhere from 4-8 weeks for the summer holiday.

A similarity between training and state schools is the teaching hours will be about 20-25 hours in the classroom. The rest of the 15-20 hours during your work week will be allotted to office hours, lesson planning, and in-center trainings. It depends on your school, but some (training centers and state schools alike) will decide not to have office hours/lesson planning time; which means more free time for you!


Training center. Because private language schools generally care about the satisfaction of children and parents that attend the school, the largest class size you’ll teach is typically about 15 students. At EF, students aged 3-6 will have no more than 10 kids to a class and students in the ages of 7-18 will have no more than 16 children in one classroom. In terms of adult language centers, a typical classroom has about 10 students in one class. As training centers are additional schooling for students, you may not have the same students for one calendar year. For example, at EF, one course book takes 6 months to complete. You will generally be with the same students for the course of that book but the enrollment might change for the next one.

State school. Depending on what grade you teach, class sizes will vary at state schools. As a general rule of thumb, public kindergartens will have about 20-25 in a class and as you increase in level, the more crowded classrooms will be. It is normal to see a middle or high school classroom filled with 50-60 students. And a university level teacher could have up to 70 students in one class! For the most part, you’ll be with the same students throughout the course of your teaching year. Another thing to mention with state schools is you could be the only foreign teacher in the whole school (depending on how rural the school is), or you could have a large number of international teachers in your school.


Training center. You will see a big difference in terms of teaching styles depending what school you choose to teach in. As training centers are for-profit and care about appearances, you’ll generally see top of the line technology in the classroom, brightly colored and newly renovated classrooms, and course books with specifically designed lesson plans already organized for the teacher. Language schools might require teachers to host demo lessons to encourage students to apply and learn at the school. In the classroom, there will be tests and presentations; but for the most part in younger classes, games, dancing, music, and lots of interaction will be the focal point in students’ learning.

State school. As mentioned before, state schools have large class sizes. For this reason, there physically may not be enough room to move around and play games or get up to do interactive activities. Most of the equipment in your classroom will be minimal. Expect to have blackboard with chalk and erasers to write on. If you’re lucky and get placed at a more affluent state school, you will have a white board and/or a smart board and computer to project material from. Central heating and cooling will be hard to come by in most classrooms, but generally standing fans and plug-in heaters can do the trick in the hot and cold seasons. Public schools will give a syllabus and textbook to follow, but how the lessons are executed are generally up to the teacher.

As you can see, training centers and state schools have many differences. Be sure to do your research on the different types of schools in China, because the one you decide on, will determine the lifestyle you lead abroad. If you decide a training center is right for you, click the button below to get a conversation started with our recruiters.

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