SEPTEMBER 11, 2013 11:07AM

CFTU Reports 8% Drop In ESL China Foreign Teachers In 2013

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The China Foreign Teachers Union just released their annual 2013 census report of foreign expat teachers working in China and there is clearly a big shift taking place.  According to the CFTU survey, there are now 12,472 less ESL expat teachers working in China (as confirmed by SAFEA), but there are also now 3,298 more subject and AP teachers working in China for a net loss of 8% expat foriegn teachers in China.

According to Denise ******, one of two CFTU Co-Administrators, there is now a growing trend in the China private school market to provide an AP curriculum which requires special certified subject teachers. "This is a positive move that will clearly improve the level of educational standards in China" she remarked. At present there are 72 AP-Certified high schools in China but the CFTU expects this number to triple by 2015, which Denise claims will certainly result in higher wages for the certified AP foreign teachers.  Currently the average salary for foreign expat teachers in China is $1,750 per month or roughly $21,000 per year.  AP-Certified teachers earn almost double this amount at present.

But Denise and her CFTU colleagues predict that the demand will outpace the supply of foreign teachers willing to come work in China given the growing competition for ESL teachers in the Middle East, Turkey, Russia, Korea, Japan and 81 other countries which pay teachers at least 40% more than schools in China.  At present, foreign teachers in China are the lowest-paid expats in the country by a significant margin. 

They may also be some of the least qualified teachers since no TEFL or other certification is required to teach in China. But now due to some cases of bad behaviour by foreign teachers, including a high-profile pedophiliac case, a criminal background check is now required to obtain a working (Z) visa.  Unfortunately, only about one third of the foreign teachers now working in China have a degree in education, nor previous teaching experience.


The 2013 CFTU Teacher Census also states "82% of foreign teachers in China claim they will leave the teaching profession, or China altogether after their contract ends due to exploitation and cheating by both schools and agents".  Most of these complaints seem to eminate from private school teachers, whereas the comments coming from international  and public school teachers are far more positive, as are those working as professors at 67 of China's universities. The most positive comments were those of kindergarten teachers in China, which despite some administrative issues, found their job teaching China's youngest students, the most rewarding.

China has historically been plagued with greedy and fake recruiters that regularly target foreign teachers for identity theft, and excessively high placement fees that average between 30%-60%.  In their 2012 Annual Report, the CFTU identified 12 different frauds that target expat teachers and 52% of all the China foreign teachers surveyed in 2012 reported being a fraud victim. This article explains some of the most common scams foreig teachers in China have to contend with:

With all the bad publicity the China education and recruiting industry has received over the last few years, it is understandable why less foreign teachers now choose China as their career venue.  Likewise, the CFTU's famous blacklist keeps growing with new scam agents and dishonorable schools added every three months.  There are now over 300 schools and 65 agents identified on the CFTU blacklist.


The CFTU clearly has their hands full arbitrating disputes and Denise says 50% of her time is answering inquiries from abroad, about 300 per day from people who are thinking about teaching in China.  "Of course China still needs qualified foreign teachers, but the emphasis is on qualified.  Someone who speaks great English but never taught a class in their life is not qualified to teach in China. Yet more than half of China's current expat teachers fall into this category. We also don't want more teachers coming to China based on the hype and false pretenses they were fed by some greedy and unethical recruiter"  Denise explained.

The CFTU web site gets roughly 4,500 visitors per day and when I asked Denise which pages are the most popular she said "Its really a tie between our blacklist page and our form letter page" When I asked her to explain, she just sent me this link which needs no explanation:

Teaching in China is clearly an adventure for those who can handle the extreme culture shock, low pay, and love history. But if you are one with a family to support or a student loan to repay, Denise advises you to weigh all your international options very carefully. 

The CFTU just turned 4 years old a few days ago, and remains China's only private labor union.  Oddly, they maintain two web sites which Denise said was by design. "One web site is primarily directed to our 6,395 members, and the other is for the public."  The CFTU website for the public can be visited at


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