Hong Kong has a very active and diverse education industry, so if you are in Hong Kong and looking for a teaching job, or if you are moving to Hong Kong to work in schools, it is a good idea to know what to expect. This article will outline the most common teaching settings and the requirements that they have for teachers.
What kinds of schools teach English in Hong Kong?
As a major second (or third, depending who you speak to) language in Hong Kong, English plays a role in education at all levels.
Education is highly competitive in Hong Kong, with high levels of pressure on kids of all ages to achieve high scores in assessments which will allow them to enter the most prestigious schools at every level from kindergarten upwards.
English proficiency is one academic area which can set a student apart from others in their age group, so ESOL classes are common for students at all levels of their education.
Pre-school and Kindergarten English
In Hong Kong, the academic process starts early, with babies and pre-school kids as young as two years old studying specific classes focused on English.
This kind of setting is typically designed to give these Very Young Learners (VYLs) exposure to an English-language environment, and to get them attuned to the sounds and rhythms of English, rather than expecting them to read, write or speak in English.
Play-based learning, songs and story-telling are common in these settings, and centres often look for experience with pre-school ages in their teachers.
This kind of centre can be found all across Hong Kong, Kowloon and the New Territories, with individual centres, small franchise groups and large school groups all operating in every district of the area. Job postings can be found on websites such as CPJobs, JobsDB, or by contacting schools or school groups directly.
Primary School English Teaching in Hong Kong
In order to teach English in any public school in Hong Kong, there are several routes to consider. If you are quite flexible in the type of school, hours and conditions that you are willing to accept to gain experience, you may want to start as a freelance or contracted English teacher. This type of position offers little in the way of stability or salary (depending on where you work, of course), but will give you a wide range of experience in the local school industry. In this type of position, you may find yourself teaching in two or three schools simultaneously, which can be stressful, especially without the benefits of holiday pay, but gaining connections in different institutions will be a good first step into the local job market, as experience is highly prioritised by employers.
A more formal (and much more lucrative) route into public school teaching at Primary level is the Education Bureau (EdB)’s Primary Native English Teacher (PNET) scheme, which offers a very attractive salary scale, more consistent working hours and conditions, with teachers assigned to specific schools for whole years, and a higher overall level of quality.
Requirement: To become a PNET teacher, you will need a first degree in English or a related subject and a recognised qualification in TESOL (a Trinity College CertTESOL or Cambridge CELTA certificate). PNETs are typically posted into one school for a year or more, and receive a package of benefits including sick and holiday pay, as they are employed by the Education Bureau directly.
Secondary School English Teaching: Public Schools
The same range of employment options is available to secondary teachers in public schools, with some teachers choosing to work on short contracts or on a freelance basis, and those with accepted qualifications joining the Secondary NET scheme as SNETS.
Again, the salary and conditions for SNETS are far preferable to those of contracted teachers, and the salary scale is a very attractive year-on-year proposition.
Secondary School English Teaching: International Schools
International schools, being the more prestigious and often private institutions that they are, often have their own recruitment processes, and will require demonstrated experience and skills along with internationally accredited qualifications in TESOL, as their international qualifications are often validated by external bodies in the US, Canada or the UK, depending on the curriculum which is taught there.
Some international schools provide packages for their international teachers including paid return flights and accommodation reimbursement. However, these conditions vary, so always check the job ads for these extra benefits.
How can I succeed in an interview for a teaching position?
The educational environment in Hong Kong is quite specific, with school heads, parents and educational authorities holding some very strong assumptions about teaching and learning.
All students must work towards some very proscriptive language assessments, so teaching styles often reflect this in that they are very focused on rote-learning and paper skills rather than communicative competence and oral/aural skills.
Class sizes are typically large (over 30 students per class) and mixed-ability, so these issues will probably factor into any interview for a teaching position.
Employers may ask you to describe the content you would teach to students at a specific age, and the methods you would use to do so, so it is definitely worth getting familiar with Hong Kong language assessments such as the HKDSE, and TSA exams.
In addition, there is an expectation that all teachers, regardless of nationality or experience, should follow the expected teaching style for preparation for these exams.
Doing things differently from these expectations can cause conflict, and lead to a clash of expectations which can lead to problems.
In an interview, focus on the needs and expectations made of specific age groups in the school, and the assessments that they will have coming up, and be ready to outline some specific ways of teaching a key language point or skill when asked.
All in all, teaching in Hong Kong can be challenging from a professional and academic point of view, but hard work and local connections can pay off, especially if you work towards application for the EdB NET scheme. Look for a position which offers stability, and working conditions which suit you, and your life as a teacher will be a lot easier.
About the author: Tom Garside is the founder of Language Point Teacher Education Ltd., an education development organisation which leads professional development and teacher training activity with the aim of empowering teachers in the contexts where they work and increasing sustainability to the development activity that they participate in. He also delivers Trinity CertTESOL courses to English language educators around the world.If you like this article, please share: