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.
When I first came to China, I worked 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 knew that 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 we have 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.
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 a business and you are seen as an integral part of it. You may not be used to dealing with parents and might find it intimidating, especially if you are a new teacher. Parents may question your methods, your accent, and your energy in the class. It can be difficult not to take this personally and 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 can cause a new teacher stress. It’s important to focus on improving your skills as a teacher and with the training that 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.
Of course being in a new country, you will be navigating communication with the Chinese and in a new culture which can prove to be difficult. Likewise, don’t underestimate potential 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 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 not only work with your foreign colleagues but might also share a flat with some of them. For your peace of mind, peace in the teacher’s office, and overall good relations, it’s essential that you don’t fall into passive aggressiveness as it will only make things difficult and you miserable.
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 now irritates you every single day. When this happens, it's time to reflect 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, or really start learning the language. Learning to speak Chinese can help ease your transition into the culture. Think about holiday seasons ahead of time and make a plan; what are you going to do? Who will you going to spend them with? Making plans will help you make the most of your time in China and you’ll see new places and make new friends!
Yes, seriously! You may be asked to perform as sometimes the assumption is that 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.
China can be challenging and fascinating at the same time – it never is quite what you think it is, which is also part of the fun. 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 that you are ninety per cent prepared for your new adventure.