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Teaching Chinese in the US


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Dear all,

I've moved to the US (New York) from Hong Kong just recently. I've been an English teacher in Hong Kong. But, it seems very unlikely to find a job teaching English here in the US. In the mean time, I'm thinking of teaching Chinese in high school/college instead. I've obtained Grade B Level 1 in the Putonghua Shuiping Ceshi in Hong Kong. My questions are:

1) Shall I go for a MA in Chinese? If yes, which college and which program should I go to?

2) How competitive is it getting a job teaching Chinese in high school/college?

3) What else should I do?

Thank you very much!

Best wishes,


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Contact the Department of Education in New York first. For high school you only need a bachelor degree and a teaching certificate, you may have to take exams showing you are able to read, write, and speak Mandarin Chinese. Those exams are usually provided by the ACTFL. For college you may need a masters degree. As for how competitive the job market is, if you can go anywhere in New York maybe not so competitive. You should join the New York chapter of CLTA and network in there.

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I would not completely discount teaching English as a second/foreign language if that's what you're trained to do. For example, I know a Chinese lady who has only a master's degree in TEFL from a mainland university and taught English at a private language school in Toronto. My impression is that most English teachers in NYC private language schools taught English abroad for a year or two and/or have one of those a-few-weeks-training certificates. There are literally *tons* of ESL schools in the Koreatown-Penn Station area, as well as recent immigrant-dense areas in the boroughs (e.g., Flushing). Many students in these schools are from abroad (East Asia, Middle East, Latin America) and generally study for the TOEFL so that they can get into a local college. I recently got a gig at a language school (different, unrelated language) and while the pay is quite good (about $100 per classroom hour, but as a freelancer, i.e., with additional tax liabilities), I don't get many hours per week. I'd say the requirements for getting hired are *very* low (I think something like: speak the language, dependable enough to show up on time, and not being a creep).

Another option is to get a job as a lecturer in a college. While these jobs typically require a master's degree, I've definitely seen some adjunct positions that don't. That said, adjuncting doesn't really pay much more than teaching in a language school, although it might be more prestigious and the students might be less bratty / more serious. To get a position, the best way is probably to check out college career websites (they often have continuous postings that allow you to add your resume to their adjunct database) and/or contact the department directly. Full-time lecturing positions would be *much* better (salary, benefits, etc.), but are much harder to come by and would most definitely require a master's degree (I'm not sure if it'd need to be in Chinese... maybe one in education might do as well...!? Definitely worth looking into!)

If you want to teach in a public (or public charter) school, you'd need a teaching certificate as mentioned by Meng Lelan. Positions for teaching Chinese are most probably difficult to come by (and might be part-time only) as most public schools spend money mainly on math and reading (that's what their students are tested on and their school gets rated on). On the other hand, public school ESL teachers are quite in-demand in the NYC area, so if you can figure out some way of obtaining certification, you'd probably find a job. That said, teaching in a NYC public school as a newly certified teacher is supposed to be brutal, especially if you're planning on teaching older kids (newly certified teachers only get jobs in the most economically deprived neighborhoods, e.g., rougher part of the Bronx, East New York...). More generally, teachers in the US are quite underpaid and definitely don't enjoy the social status they deserve (not sure if you're aware of this yet, given that you moved here only recently...?).

If I were you, I wouldn't get an MA in Chinese, unless perhaps I got a full-ride scholarship and/or was independently wealthy and was really passionate about the program. Scholarships are probably hard (but apparently not impossible) to come by. Why? Because decent (i.e., non-adjunct) college lecturing positions are hard to come by and an MA in Chinese would be fairly useless for just about everything else (especially if you're fluent in Chinese already!!)

If you want to continue your career in education and cannot get certification with your current credentials, maybe a program like this might be of interest to you? In NYC, the education schools at Columbia and NYU are obviously a cut above the rest (and priced accordingly), while a CUNY college (like Hunter's) might offer somewhat better value for money (in a most-definitely more run-down environment).

Sorry, just realized that you didn't specify whether you're in NYC or upstate. If you're upstate, feel free to disregard my post -- I really know nothing about the situation there!

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Getting a MA in Chinese: Most scholarships, if you do obtain a scholarship, will pay only 20 to 40% of the tuition. That will be the case with private schools such as Middlebury in Vermont and Valparaiso in Indiana. As a full time graduate student in public universities and colleges you might qualify for a teaching assistantship or research assistantship which will waive your tuition.

Public schools, public charter schools: Public charter schools offer lower pay, the turnover rate is high. Public schools offer higher salaries, but especially here in Texas have extremely fierce competition for jobs because the colleges and universities churn out too many education majors every year. The public schools tend to discourage foreign language study because of so much attention paid to core subject areas in annual state assessments and testing. I would not say teachers (in Texas) are underpaid, but really, you are working nine months a year so you are being paid like someone working nine months a year. When the state undergoes a budget crisis (like most states faced two years ago) teachers are laid off, re-assigned, programs cut. They even reduced the Chinese classes here in my district by taking away Chinese classes from five campuses. Just one campus will have Chinese classes starting next year.

Adjunct: Look into community college teaching. To teach Chinese you need a master's degree in any field (yes, even ESL) and 18 hours of graduate level courses in Chinese. However, this is usually a part time job and the pay is iffy.

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