How Can One Become a Teacher in China?

Written by Aihua Hu.

Teachers play an indispensable role in education. The significance of this role cannot be underestimated; teachers educate future generations for the advancement of a nation. Research has indicated that qualified teachers should possess knowledge of the following three fields: subject matter, professional knowledge (didactic knowledge and psychology), and practical knowledge (teaching practice). However, according to various sources, it seems that there is a prevailing problem within most countries when it comes to recruiting teachers who possess this requisite knowledge. The Chinese education system is no exception.

To attract talent and to facilitate high quality applicants, the Chinese government has taken different approaches to recruiting teachers. I have looked at the changes in the practices for recruiting teachers in China at various stages. The first stage is before 1995, when the teaching profession was generally open to those with subject knowledge. The second stage is from 1995 to 2013, during which time it was possible to take up the teaching profession via two routes. And the last period spans from 2013 onward, when only those with official teaching certificates are eligible to teach.

Before 1995

Before 1995, teachers were recruited via two routes. One was through allocation, meaning that the local Education Bureau would allocate teachers to schools according to either the needs of the schools or the number of graduates that year. The vast majority of these allocated teachers were graduates from teacher education colleges or universities, which were called ‘normal colleges’ or ‘normal universities’. This approach sometimes meant that there were times when, even though schools did not require any new teachers, new teachers might be assigned to them. Another means of schools recruiting teachers was via open recruitment / vacancy announcement. Applicants with the desired education and who passed the job interview, which would include giving a teaching demonstration, would be employed. As part of this process, the schools were required to send an application to the local Education Bureau to ask for “quota”. Quota (名额in Pinyin Ming’e ) was a very popular term in the 1970s and 1980s. A teacher awarded the the quota was regarded as a state employee and as such was paid by the government. Teachers not awarded the quota would not get paid by the government and thus would not get stable and fair pay. This is because salaries of teachers were allocated by the government at that time, thus only teachers with “quota” were entitled to a salary allocation from the government.

From 1995 to 2013

As a result of the economy’s development, teacher education became largely marginalised, resulting in a decrease in the quality of teachers. Realising this problem, the government implemented a process for controlling entry into the teaching profession. In 1995, the State Council issued an ‘Ordinance of Teacher Qualification’ requiring that those who had not received a formal teaching education take exams to become a teacher. There were still two routes for taking up the teaching profession. Graduates from teacher education programs could directly take up teaching jobs and automatically receive a Teacher Certificate upon their graduation. Those who did not receive this Teacher Education could enter the profession by taking exams organised by their provinces. Those who held an undergraduate degree and a certificate of Mandarin Proficiency could take the Teacher Certificate exam – a test on the examinee’s spoken proficiency of Mandarin, comprising three grades with six levels. Grade I A (score of over 97) and B (92-97), Grade II A (87-91) and B (80-86), Grade III A (70-79) and B (60-69). Teachers who taught Chinese language had to hold Grade II A; for teachers of other subjects, Grade II was enough. The exam tested the knowledge of two main fields: education and psychology. After the applicants passed the exam in these two fields, they applied to the Education Bureau in their province for a Teacher Certificate. The certificate was valid nationwide without an expiry date. Demonstration teaching and a face-to face interview were also mandated as part of the application requirements. When all elements had been achieved, the applicant would receive a certificate and was able to become a teacher. No professional training was required.

After 2013

Since 2011, changes have taken place in the exam for Teacher Certificates. As mentioned previously, the exam for the Teacher Certificate was organised at provincial level and the certificate was valid nationwide. However, in 2011, an exam for teacher certification at national level was introduced, which meant that applicants would take a uniform exam designed by the central government. This national Teacher Certificate Examination initiative was trialed in six provinces in 2011. From 2013, all provinces were required to follow suit, which meant that anyone who wanted to be a teacher would have to take this national examination. Consequently, since 2013, there is only one way to become a teacher in China and that is to take the national exam for the Teacher Certificate. However, student teachers who were enrolled on teacher education programmes before the implementation of this policy are still able to automatically get the Teacher Certificate upon their graduation. Table 1 illustrates the types of certificates and the contents of the written or computer-based exams. Compared with previous Teacher Certificate exams, more content has been added.

Table 1. An overview of the components of national exam of Teacher Certificate

Types of certificate Subject 1 Subject 2 Subject 3 Mode of exam
Kindergarten Comprehensive quality Knowledge and skills in pre-school education Computer based
Primary school Comprehensive quality Knowledge and skills in education Computer based
Junior &Senior secondary Comprehensive quality Knowledge and skills in education Subject matter knowledge and teaching ability Paper-based


To obtain the Teacher Certificate, all applicants must first pass the paper or computer-based examination and then go through a face-to-face interview in which they are asked to demonstrate their teaching and answer some questions raised by the interviewers. The major goal of the interview is to test the applicants’ teaching skills and techniques.

These three stages of the recruitment of teachers illustrate that professional knowledge and practical knowledge of teachers were not seriously taken into consideration during all the changes that have taken place. However, according to studies, teachers’ professional knowledge and practical knowledge play as important a role, or a more important role, as subject matter knowledge. Those who have not studied psychology, education, or pedagogy know little about these areas. The great majority of applicants usually memorise what is going to be tested in the exams. Although there is a demonstration of teaching and a face-to-face interview, this is far from enough to judge whether a person can teach in a real classroom setting. Worse still, few of the applicants have practical experience. They do not really know what teaching is. Their knowledge of teaching is what Lortie calls “apprenticeship from observation”. The extent to which the new Teacher Certificate policy can help improve the quality of teachers thus requires further investigation.

Dr Aihua Hu is based at Hong Kong Baptist University. Image Credit: CC by Marco Klapper/flickr.

4 replies »

  1. Its so disheartening to see that in many countries teacher are the catalyst to other professionals but they are not equally appreciated

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