5 things to be aware of before you come to teach in China

So, you have decided to come and teach in China, and you are wondering what to expect. You may have heard from people who absolutely loved it and possibly some horror stories, too. Your experience will be impacted by the company and school you choose, the size of the city where your school is located, and the age of the students you’ll be teaching. Here are 5 things to be aware of before you become a teacher.


Adaptation is key

When I first came to China, I was working in a small city in what is known as a training school, it had very few resources including current text books. I was expected to teach the students from a book that I deemed, as an experienced EFL teacher, very old fashioned and not very helpful for the students. However, the book was seen as essential in helping the students with their public school exams, and I was stuck with it. So, I had to get creative and think of ways to make the book more interesting. The school also did not have a photocopier, so I had to resign myself to paying for my own copies of extra worksheets. Should I have moaned constantly to manager about this? Maybe, but I had to focus on the students and the adage that Rome was not built in a day, and things were not going to change as quickly as I would have hoped. In the long term my ability to adapt paid off, by the time I left, managers were happy and were asking me to stay.

EF schools are located in very large and small cities alike. At EF we have all the tools and resources we need to teach our students. Our curriculum is current and EF has a dedicated team that updates curriculum regularly. Teachers are given regular training on how to use tools and resources and on how to improve their teaching techniques in the classroom to meet the needs of their students. When choosing your school be sure to ask about curriculum and maybe even speak with current teachers on staff.


Parents hold the power

Even if you are in a well-resourced school it does not stop there, Chinese parents take education very seriously, and you also need to keep in mind that the school is also a business, and you are seen as an integral part of it. You may not be used to dealing with parents and find it intimidating, especially if you are a new teacher. Parents may question your methods, your accent, your energy in the class. It can be difficult not to take this personally, being far away from home can add to this. Parents pay a great deal of money for extra classes and they can be demanding, which could cause a new teacher stress. It’s important to focus on improving your skills as a teacher and with the support we have at EF you will find positive support. This will help you slowly and consistently to build up the confidence to communicate with parents about their child.


Can you dance?

Yes, seriously! You may be asked as a foreigner to perform, as sometimes the assumption is that what foreigners enjoy singing and dancing and as a foreigner you are what will attract new students to a school. Or you may be asked to do a spontaneous marketing activity that you are not prepared for. It’s easy to get frustrated and angry at these events, but you can calmly explain that you can’t dance or sing. Or come to a compromise as to what you are willing to do.


The honeymoon is over

So maybe you are in China and you are loving it…then you hit that six-month ceiling and the homesickness kicks in. What you used to love about China not irritates you every single day, this is when you need to reflect again about why you are in China and what you hope to gain from the experience. Keeping in contact with family and friends is obviously important, but they are not here with you so you will need to find ways to stop feeling sorry for yourself; join a gym, learn to play an instrument, maybe this is the time for you to really start learning the language. Learning to speak Chinese can help ease your transition into the culture. Think about the festive seasons ahead of time and make a plan; what are you going to do? Who will you going to spend them with? Are you going to make your flat as Christmassy as possible? Making plans will help you make the most of your time in China and you’ll see new places and make new friends!


Cross cultural communication

Of course being in a new country, you will be navigating communicating with the Chinese and a new culture which can prove to be difficult. But, likewise don’t underestimate conflicts that could happen between you and your international colleagues who are not Chinese. Open communication, including listening, is essential at this point; not only are you in foreign country but you will also have to start learning to accept that other people’s work ethic and way of socializing can be different to yours. Why does this matter? You may have to not only work with your foreign colleague, but also share a flat with them. For your peace of mind, peace in the teacher’s office, and overall good relations it’s essential you don’t fall into passive aggressiveness as it will only make things difficult and you miserable in the long run.

China can be both challenging and fascinating at the same time – it never is quite what you think it is, which is also part of the fun, too. But, keeping in mind that there will be challenges, such as those mentioned above, and that you will need to learn how to face them positively and effectively will mean you are ninety per cent prepared for your new adventure.



Teach English, travel and work abroad with EF English First


Post by Yolande Deane, EF English First Harbin

I arrived in China from London in 2012 and I have been working at EF Harbin for more than two years. Harbin is in the most north-eastern province in China, and despite the long cold winters I enjoy living in this part of China. I love learning Chinese, doing yoga, going to the gym, eating out, playing the guitar and blogging about my observations and experiences.
Click here to learn more about Yolande