Teaching has traditionally been a well-respected profession in China. Although Chinese teachers’ salaries are not high, they are stable, particularly in big cities, and there are opportunities to supplement income through tutoring, which makes the profession attractive to many top candidates. Furthermore, universities allow priority admissions to teacher candidates, meaning that teacher programs often have the first choice of many top students.
Recruitment and Compensation
Teacher recruitment is not standardized in China. While it is a competitive job in urban areas, rural areas often must employ “supply teachers,” or teachers who are primarily substitutes, in their local schools. These teachers are not held to the same training and certification standards as teachers in wealthier and more populated parts of China. This did not used to be the case; prior to the 1980s, there was no uniform standard for teacher certification, and teachers tended to take jobs in their local communities. However, following a large policy shift, teachers were required to become certified and they were put on the public payroll. This change caused many rural teachers to seek jobs in cities, where the standard of living was higher and their new certificates made them qualified for good jobs. This led to the shortage of teachers in rural areas, a problem that persists today.
In cities, teacher education programs at universities offer priority admission and are seen as a desirable option for strong students. In large, metropolitan cities like Shanghai and Beijing, teaching is seen as a respected, stable profession with competitive salaries. In these cities, teachers must hold degrees that far outpace what was required of teachers just twenty years ago.
Teacher compensation varies widely across China. In rural community schools, teachers are sometimes not even on the public payroll and thus their salaries are subject to local fundraising. In large cities, teacher salaries are competitive with other professions. Teaching is seen as a desirable career largely because compensation is considered steady. Because China’s economy is changing so rapidly, many other white-collar jobs can be unstable in large cities. In addition to comparable wages and stability, teachers are able to supplement their salaries through private tutoring and lectures.
Initial Education and Training
Teachers in China are educated in one of three types of schools. Special upper secondary schools can qualify teachers for pre-school and primary positions with the equivalent of a high school diploma. Normal colleges, equivalent to a junior college, typically train junior secondary teachers for two years following upper secondary school. Finally, normal universities train upper secondary teachers in a four-year bachelor’s degree program.
Following the receipt of the required diploma, teachers must be certified, which requires two additional steps. First, they must pass the National Mandarin Language Test; afterwards, they must take four examinations in the areas of pedagogy, psychology, teaching methods, and teaching ability. Candidates must demonstrate teaching abilities such as classroom management as part of this examination. Teachers who attend a university for teacher education are exempt from the four examinations because it is assumed that they will have this knowledge as a result of their program of study. Despite this rigor, however, teachers are not always qualified. While 98% of primary school teachers were qualified in 2004, only 79% of upper secondary teachers were qualified. This number drops to 65% for upper secondary school teachers in rural areas, though the rate of qualified primary teachers remained high across the board.
In Shanghai, this system is slightly modified for primary school teachers. All primary school teachers must hold post-secondary, sub-degree diplomas, though they may enroll in a teacher education school immediately after completing junior secondary education. The programs are three to four years in length, and result in both a high school diploma and an additional certificate. These programs include courses in specific subjects, methodology and pedagogy. Teachers must also undergo practical training.
Secondary school teachers must hold bachelor’s degrees along with a professional certificate, and many of these teachers also hold master’s degrees. Prospective secondary school teachers undergo a similar set of courses and practical training to primary school teachers, but may only enter teacher education programs after successfully completing upper secondary school. For upper secondary school teaching candidates, the program is typically four years; for those who want to teach lower secondary school, the program may be as short as two to three years.
All new teachers are assigned a mentor for about three years. The mentoring process involves all aspects of teaching including teaching materials, lesson observation and critique, teaching methods and development and marking of exams. Both new teachers and their mentors are held accountable by the school leader for the new teacher’s progress.
Consortium for Policy Research in Education. (2007). A Comparative Study of Teacher Preparation and Qualifications in Six Nations. – An in-depth analysis of teacher training and teacher demographics in six Asian economies, including China (page 19). (PDF)
There are four formal hierarchical grades for teachers that indicate professional status in Shanghai: Third grade or novice teachers; Second grade or intermediate teachers; First-grade or advanced teachers; and Senior-grade or master teachers. Teachers are promoted from third to second grade after five years of teaching and a school-based evaluation. Promotion to the first grade requires another five years of service, in addition to being internally evaluated at the school and externally evaluated by the district. Master teachers are outstanding teachers and leaders. They have usually taught for many years and have distinguished themselves. This is an extraordinary honor, and is only bestowed on 0.1 percent of Shanghai’s teachers after careful consideration by district leaders.
Within these grades there are several levels of pay increments. For novice teachers, are two levels of pay, and for intermediate and advanced teachers, there are three levels of pay each. Teachers are paid for performance. The base pay accounts for 70 percent of their salary and 30 percent is a bonus based on their performance assessment. In addition, pay varies based on the subject a teacher teaches, with salaries for Chinese, English and Math higher than other subjects.
Evaluations of teachers are largely based on observation as well as performing demonstration lessons and orientations for new teachers as well as submitting work and teaching publications. The teaching load and additional responsibilities a teacher takes on (head teacher, class advisor, etc.) also counts in their evaluation, as does a peer and self-evaluation.
For teachers interested in leadership roles, there are numerous paths to become involved in administrative work, and teachers can be promoted to administrative positions within schools, or to administrative and official positions in the education bureaucracy. Nearly all government education officials started as teachers. In order to join the leadership track, teachers must have a distinguished teaching record.
There are many opportunities for professional development in Chinese schools, and the emphasis on teacher evaluation means that teachers are constantly working to improve their practice. Most of the professional development is embedded in their job. Informally, teachers often observe one another’s lessons in order either to learn from a more experienced or more effective teacher, or to serve in a mentorship capacity for a new or struggling teacher. Teachers also often meet in regularly scheduled (often weekly) groups based on subject and level in order to discuss best practices, share advice, and create common lesson plans for the upcoming week. These meeting last several hours and sometimes involve outside experts. Teachers spend hours both together and on their own preparing a 45-minute lesson. Occasionally, teachers will give demonstration lessons; these serve either as a means of sharing best practice with other teachers or as a means of feedback and critique to the teacher giving the lesson. Sometimes these school-based groups meet with groups from other schools to be trained, to plan programs or to share ideas. Teachers in Shanghai spend less than 50 percent of their working hours teaching. Indeed it is reported that they teach about 12 hours per week.
Shanghai schools require teachers to undergo continuous professional development throughout their careers. New teachers are required to spent 120 hours on professional development in their first year teaching and then a total of 360 hours every five years. Senior level teachers are required to spend at least 540 hours on professional development every five years. In addition to this requirement, Shanghai also established that new teachers should spend at least 240 hours of training in their first five years of teaching, with the option of spending 540 hours on training. This training was to be divided among: morality and literacy courses; knowledge and skills training; and practical experience. In addition to this coursework, teachers are expected to participate in school-based lesson planning and sharing. Senior level teachers are also required to spend time on educational research. In 2008, to facilitate teacher development and collaboration, a web platform was established so teachers may access and share curriculum ideas, research papers and various other resources.