You've seen the pictures: smiling teachers and students playing fun games while learning English. It looks like the best time ever, right? While this is often the case, is teaching English in China always that great? Many people only share the good parts; I am not many people. In fact being an ESL teacher brings great material for a standup comedy routine which would also be good therapy for ESL teachers; picture kids and all the crazy things they do and couple that with language and cultural differences, it's crazy real life for ESL teachers here in China! So here it is, the absolute truth about teaching English in China.
Now, picture this: you've got wild kids, crying kids, kids pushing and pulling and poking each other, kids that want your attention, and mostly they don't speak or understand much English AND you are tasked with teaching them English. You might spend an entire Saturday with a full schedule of classes like this with no time to even think, finding yourself sitting down after a class and breathing a sigh of relief you didn't realize you needed. Truth be told, thinking of creative ways to teach the different age groups, abilities, and preferences can seem impossible at times. And being an effective teacher in any case, requires a lot of creative thinking and effort (and a sense of humor) which can stretch our mental capacity every day. The effect of the emotional strain of the job on anyone depends on the individual teacher. However, it boils down to this: as teachers we must be well prepared with lesson plans and also, we have to be 100% emotionally and mentally available for our students all the time, even when we don't feel like it. It's tough stuff!
Ok, all of that may have sounded a bit harsh, so on the converse side of the difficult stuff about teaching English in China and regardless of how demanding the job can be, it is also one of the most enjoyable jobs out there (in my completely biased opinion). Essentially, we get to play games with kids for a living! If you plan the game activities to correctly correlate to the aims of a lesson, the students will have so much fun during class that they won't even realize they're learning.
With older students you don't play as many games but rather begin to build rapport with them that allows opportunities for banter and conversation in English. I often say that once a student can be funny in their second language, that's when they really start being proficient at it.
Even during your first year with EF, you will witness the incredible progression your students make in speaking English. Watching them grow as children and as students, with your help, is one the best feelings ever. And a valuable reward of this job is the positive impact your teaching has on your students. The effort in creating engaging and fun classes encourages student's enthusiasm for learning English and keeps them coming to class week after week, and this makes it all worth it!
Well, there it is— the truth about teaching English in China. It requires planning and effort, and it is taxing emotionally and mentally. But though it can be one of the toughest and most demanding jobs, it's also one of the most incredibly rewarding and special jobs I've ever had.