Teachers vs. Backpackers














In China, the bar is lower than most other countries when it comes to being hired as a teacher. There are a lot of reasons for this, including inadequate screening procedures, wage scales offered, perceptions of the role of Foreign Teachers, etc.

What this translates to, in some cases, is a nineteen year old high school grad teaching at a University on the English Faculty. Meanwhile, an experienced teacher with a Masters degree in Applied Linguistics may be offered the same wages as the complete newbie with a freshly inked degree in a discipline unrelated to the English language.

Whenever teachers congregate, the argument about who is a “real” teacher invariably emerges as well as discussion about the influence of “backpackers”. These arguments usually shed more heat than light on the subject. A definition that works for me is that a “real” teacher is one that can impart knowledge and spark student’s imagination and interest.

“Backpackers” are widely considered the scourge of ESL teaching in China. Basically, backpackers are considered transients who take teaching or other easily available jobs as a means of supporting their travels and then move on whenever the urge strikes and payday arrives. They hurt the reputation and professionalism of the ESL field.

This is not to say teachers don’t love to travel; they do. It just means that real teachers take teaching seriously, not as a sideline until enough funds are available for the next leg of their Nepal trip.