Center on International Education Benchmarking

Shanghai-China: Teacher and Principal Quality

Overview  | Learning Systems | Teacher and Principal Quality  |
Supporting Equity  |  Career and Technical Education  |  Governance and Accountability

Teacher Recruitment and Compensation

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.

There is no standardized system of teacher recruitment in China. Teaching positions can be quite competitive in urban areas but rural areas often suffer from a shortage of candidates. As a result, they often must employ “supply teachers,” or teachers who are primarily substitutes, in their local schools.

In recent years, the Chinese government has issued a set of policies aimed at improving the quality of rural education. The government has initiated and funded several programs to address teacher shortages and has set up programs to attract young people to work in rural and disadvantaged regions. For example, in 2006 the Special Teaching Post Plan for Rural Schools provided funding to recruit graduates from universities to work for three years in rural schools in central or western China, mainly in remote regions with minority populations and educationally disadvantaged counties. After three years of teaching, teachers take a qualification exam. If they pass the exam and are willing to stay, they can keep their teaching position. In 2015, about 90 percent of the teachers who finished the three-year teaching period stayed in their posts. In addition, teachers in large and medium cities are required to work short periods in rural schools at regular intervals.

Part of the challenge of bringing high quality teachers to rural areas is that teacher compensation varies widely across China. Typically, teacher pay in large cities is on par with other professions while teachers in rural community schools are paid far less. In 2015, the Chinese government announced a plan to raise rural teachers’ salaries to the level of their counterparts in urban areas by 2020.

Teacher Initial Education and Training

The Ministry of Education (MOE) licenses teacher education programs, approves training content, and certifies teachers. 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, which is the equivalent of a junior college for teachers, typically train junior secondary teachers for two years following upper secondary school. Finally, normal universities, again specifically for teachers, train upper secondary teachers in a four-year bachelor’s degree program. Subject knowledge is emphasized more than pedagogical knowledge as nearly all teachers only teach one subject, even at primary schools. The curriculum includes general education, subject knowledge, and pedagogy and teaching practice.

In Shanghai, there are only two teacher training institutions: Shanghai Normal University and East China Normal University. In 2001, Shanghai instituted its Teacher Qualification System establishing slightly higher minimum requirements for entering teachers than what is required in the rest of China. 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 in Shanghai 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.

After earning their diploma, teachers in China 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 are required to demonstrate teaching abilities such as classroom management as part of this examination. In the past, teachers who attended a university for teacher education were exempted from the four examinations because it was assumed that they have this knowledge as a result of their program of study. However, now all teachers must pass the examinations.

Once hired, new teachers in China must finish at least 120 hours of training before starting their jobs. In Shanghai, in addition to this training, 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.

Teacher Career Ladders

There are five formal hierarchical grades for teachers that indicate professional status in China: Third-level, or novice teachers; Second-level, or intermediate teachers; First-level, or advanced teachers; Senior teachers; and Professor Senior teachers. Teachers are promoted from third to second level after two years of teaching and a school-based evaluation. Promotion to the first grade requires another four years of service (or two years with a master’s or doctoral degree), in addition to being internally evaluated at the school and externally evaluated by the district. There is also a special title, Special-Grade teacher, which is an honorary title for teachers who are considered outstanding. The Professor Senior Teacher grade is a new addition to the ladder, and grants these teachers equal status with professors at the university. The teacher career ladder was initially developed in Shanghai in the 1980s and then expanded to the rest of the country.

Promotion to a higher level usually requires publications in research journals and awards from teaching competition; however, in 2015, the government waived these requirements for teachers from rural schools.

There are a limited number of spots for the higher levels, and promotion can be competitive. Teachers in the upper levels have major responsibility for leading the lesson development process, demonstrating effective lessons and bringing along teachers who are not as advanced as they are. 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 China’s teachers after careful consideration by district leaders.

Within these grades there are several levels of pay increments. For novice teachers, there 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; 30 percent is based on their performance assessment. In addition, pay varies based on the subject a teacher teaches, with salaries for teachers of Chinese, English, and math higher than other subjects.

Evaluations of teachers are largely based on observation, performing demonstration lessons and orientations for new teachers, and submitting classroom 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.

Teacher Professional Development

Teacher professional learning takes many forms in China. Teachers are required to undertake at least 360 professional development hours and renew their teacher qualification certificate every five years. In addition, there are also many other job-embedded opportunities for professional development, and the emphasis on teacher evaluation means that teachers are constantly working to improve their practice. Teachers are given significant time during the school day to collaborate with other teachers, often half of their day. In Shanghai, a leader in this policy, teachers teach only about 12 hours per week to allow for this collaborative time.

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 to discuss best practices, share advice, and create common lesson plans for the upcoming week. 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. In Shanghai, a web platform was established in 2008 so teachers may access and share curriculum ideas, research papers, and various other resources.

School Leader Development

Since the early 1990s, China has been focused on the importance of making sure the most capable instructional experts are leading schools. All principals come from the teaching ranks and many of them maintain teaching duties after moving into principal positions. In 1991, the MOE articulated National School Principal Qualifications and Job Requirements that guide the selection, annual assessment, and training of primary and secondary school principals.

Since that time, the MOE has moved to professionalize the job and introduced processes for promotion, compensation, and appraisal as a means of driving school improvement. In 2013, the MOE launched the national Professional Standards for Compulsory Education Principals (followed by standards for senior secondary principals in 2015) benchmarked against examples from around the world. In 2014, the MOE implemented the National Training Program for Primary and Secondary School Principals. This plan is intended to give principals the skills they need to implement reforms in rural areas and serve as role models for other principals. Highly effective headmasters and teachers are allowed to take a half-year sabbatical leave every five years. During this time, they can join study programs abroad. China recently added a requirement that newly appointed principals have 300 hours of training within their first six months on the job and no less than 360 hours of training every five years after that.

Shanghai is unique in China as it has a career ladder for principals. The principal portion of the ladder has five levels, and ends with the Master Principal role. Because principals needs to move up through the teacher career ladder in order to become a principal, most principals in Shanghai have more than 10 years of teaching experience and have demonstrated their accomplishments. Shanghai pioneered a training requirement for principals, including the training within their first six months on the job followed by ongoing training, which is now required across China. This training is designed to help school principals create strong teaching cultures and support teaching and research groups to encourage teacher development. The Shanghai Municipal Education Commission (SMEC) accredits training programs, most of which are offered by district teacher colleges. Shanghai’s principal career ladder is another way in which principals receive professional development, since principals receive different responsibilities and training as they advance up the rungs of the ladder.

Getting the opportunity to participate in additional professional development opportunities is considered an honor for principals in Shanghai. The SMEC honors 200 early- and mid-career principals per year with the opportunity for special training and leadership development. These principals are selected on the basis of their evaluation results, which reveal both their demonstrated potential and the areas of growth they should most focus on. Every five years, the SMEC selects 100 principals to be trained as “model principals” for the jurisdiction; these principals mentor their peers and coordinate their professional development, while being eligible to participate in international study groups. Of these model principals, the SMEC selects 10 to be “nation-wide principals,” who serve as exemplars of good practice to the whole country, regularly modeling practices and speaking. China is now expanding Shanghai’s pilot trainings for outstanding principals to other provinces in the country.