Why Teaching In Hong Kong Isn't For Everyone

Why Teaching In Hong Kong Isn't For Everyone

Work-life balance is essential, and it's something you should think carefully about before coming to teach in Hong Kong. Luckily, this article will give you great insight into what working life may look like as a teacher in Hong Kong.

So, do teachers have a good work-life balance in Hong Kong? In reality, it depends on a lot of factors like the school board, your principal, your colleagues, and how established the school is. If you end up joining a start-up school, you will be working a lot harder than if you were to join an established school. This is because established schools tend to have a lot more systems in place that work, and that makes teaching there a lot easier.

Now, let's look at real information from teachers who have been teaching in Hong Kong for many years. They have insight into what will be taking up your time as a teacher and understand if teachers can achieve a good work-life balance in Hong Kong or not.

Does work-life balance exist for teachers in Hong Kong?

Hong Kong is famous for its gruelling work hours and punishing schedules, which generally translates across all industries. Even teaching, but there is still a broad spectrum to work with here.

Let's start with international schools. Even amongst those, work pressures vary greatly. In one example, you might start at 7:30 in the morning, but be able to leave by 2 pm. Admin task like lesson planning may be minimal, and your duties, such as things like playground duties, might only be a few per week. You may only have to work a few Saturdays a year and attend minimal evening events like parent-teacher conferences. If you end up at a school like this, you could say you have a great work-life balance as the pressures put upon you are quite minimal.

In another example working at an international school, you might be required to start after eight and be lucky to escape twelve hours later. At this school, you have no free periods, so all your admin tasks have to be done after your students have long gone home. You end up wolfing down your lunch because you only have half an hour before you next lessons starts. You end up working every other Saturday and feel continuously exhausted. If you end up at a school like this, your work-life balance will likely suck.

Then we have local schools. Local schools can be even more intense, but again, there is great variation here. In a forty-hour teaching week, you might have to teach only half of that time with all materials provided for you. On the flip side, you might end up in a school where you have to teach 38 of those 40 hours, and on top of that, you will be required to create all of your materials from scratch. Most people would want to avoid that kind of deal!

The important take away here is this: Pick your school wisely and get as much information on them as you possibly can. Only then will you be closer to achieving your desired work-life balance. Asking questions in forums like GeoExpat will generally give you the answers you seek pretty quickly. Here are some questions you should be thinking about when looking for a school in Hong Kong that offers a good work-life balance:

  1. How many teaching hours will I be doing a week?

  2. How many different lessons will I be teaching per week?

  3. This one is more of a reminder, but think about how many meetings you're going to be involved in per week. This has a real "time" cost!

  4. How much time will I be spending doing marking and planning?

  5. Do I have to stay after school to run extra-curricular classes? If so, how many days a week?

  6. Will I have lunch duties? If so, how many?

These questions should get you started when thinking about choosing an ideal school to work at. We've also written an article about how busy teachers are in local kindergartens which offers a great look at workload and what work-life balance looks like in early years.

What Percentage of Time Do You spend Teaching VS Admin Tasks?

A common theme is emerging as we look over the different types of schools that exist in Hong Kong. Even if you look at the small world of international schools, you can see that start-up schools and well-established schools offer vastly different working environments. Start-up schools spread their staff thin, and they often don't have any time to attend to admin tasks as they are so busy teaching multiple different lessons. In addition to this, they are spread across various grade levels, making a teacher's working day even more fractured as they have to manage multiple subjects and multiple grade levels.

In contrast to this, well-established schools have the staff and infrastructure to support their teams better, and typically give their teachers a workload that is a little more human-friendly. Great schools are often built on the shoulders of an initial anaemic staffing situation in the early years of a schools life. In a well-established international school, your workload will be fairer. This is generally because there will often be human resources to help you handle tasks that are too much for one lone teacher to finish. You should expect that you will have enough downtime to attend to admin task with the teaching to admin ratio relatively even. Of course, each school will always have their own take on this ratio. As such, it's vitally important that you find out as much information about your prospective school as possible, so you know what you are getting yourself into.

What Pressures Affect Work-Life Balance in Hong Kong For Teachers?

Photo by  Marten Bjork  on  Unsplash  edited by Jamie Thorne

Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash edited by Jamie Thorne

One of the stranger elements that exists within Hong Kong culture is the notion of "famous" schools. Essentially, this means expensive schools that have good connections with other expensive schools and universities for the uber elite. With expensive schools come wealthy parents that have a multitude of demands. This might seem unimportant to your work-life balance as a teacher, but it affects it hugely because of the expectations parents have of the school and you, their teacher. These expectations that parents have are often highly unrealistic and border on the insane.

It's common to have parents ask why their child doesn't have any friends having attended school for only two days. Similarly, don't be taken aback when a parent pulls you aside and breaks down crying because their child hasn't mastered advanced algebra. There will always inevitably be parents front-loading you with as much information as possible about their child in such a way that they think you've never handled or taught a child before.

Learning to manage this stuff is important, and it's equally essential to be able to say "No" to these kinds of demands. In addition to parent demands, you'll also be faced with requests from your school management, often as a reaction to parent demands. If you haven't guessed it, parents have a lot of say on what teachers should and shouldn't do.

Related Questions

Q. Do you have any say in how you teach or assess students?

A. Most schools have specific assessments tools they use, but they tend to be open-ended. Differing teaching styles are generally supported as long as you are covering the required material.

Q. Which PGDE should I do?

This totally depends on what age group you want to teach. If you're going to teach kindergarten, you should be doing an early childhood PGDE. If you're looking to get on the NET scheme (link to our awesome guide on getting on the NET scheme here) or teach older children, you should be looking at doing a primary or secondary PGDE. If you are thinking of doing a PGDE, we've written an excellent survival guide for those of you who are looking to do a part-time PGDE.

If you've got this far, well done, and thank you for taking the time to read our article. Teaching is a rewarding job, but it’s not for everyone, especially in Hong Kong. Now that you have better idea of the work pressures in Hong Kong, it might make your choice a little easier. Please sound off in the comment section below, and if you want to be a little more personal, feel free to email at jamie@navigatehk.com.

Title image by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash edited by Jamie Thorne

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