My favourite saying in life is, “every day is a school day”. For someone teaching English in China, this is literally true, but it’s the other meaning that I appreciate the most. To me, this statement means that every day is a new opportunity to learn something new. Since moving to China, I (like most expats) have had to learn how to function in a new country. The nuances and differences from my home country posed challenges, and every day I learnt something new and rose to the occasion.
Another area that we are constantly learning in, is our job. By this, I don’t just mean we are learning job-related skills, but we are also picking up important soft skills that can be used in our everyday lives as well. My journey with EF so far has been one of constant learning. Now, I can comfortably say, I have picked up three essential life skills that have changed my life for the better, and I am sure that you can also benefit from these as well.
Believe it or not, I was a disorganised person when I started with EF. Lesson plans were written on any piece of scrap paper I could find, and more often than not, were lost just before the lesson started, leaving me to make it up as I went along. Barely two months after I arrived, we started the 2010 winter course. I was still struggling to pad out two hours of a lesson but three hours just about killed me. The tipping point came during a Trail Blazers Low class, where once again, I had lost the paper containing my lesson plan. I struggled through the first two hours and for the third, they just watched a movie because I had nothing more planned for them.
I felt so embarrassed after that class that even though I was free to leave at around 5 pm, I stayed until about 9.30, cleaning and organising my desk and printing out proper lesson plan templates to write on. I also kept complete plans in folders with printouts for upcoming lessons, a habit I still keep to this day. After doing that, my lessons improved and those extra few hours may have saved me from getting fired at the end of my probation. Being organised at a big company isn’t just desirable, it’s essential. If you’re not organised, you may not last very long.
When I first considered teaching ESL overseas around 2006, I went for an interview in Canberra with a Japanese-based company. For a while, it was a typical Q&A but then suddenly, the interviewer announced that we would do a role play – she would play a student and I would be her teacher. It was a little awkward and I wasn’t surprised when I didn’t get the job afterwards. The most important lesson I took away from that interview is that in this industry, it pays to expect the unexpected and to be able to think quickly on one’s feet.
Just like in many workplaces, there are many things that can and do go wrong. You may need to cover for a teacher at literally the last minute due to sickness or lateness. If the documents you need for your lesson won’t print, you may have to quickly think of something else for the students to do. If your computer breaks down during the lesson, you may need to quickly use the old-school method of teaching with papers, pens and the whiteboard. Sometimes you might need to change classrooms during a lesson. Very occasionally, this might all happen during the same lesson but no matter what the challenges, the best thing to do is just accept it, change the course of the lesson and make the best of it.
The very first lesson I ever taught in China was a demo at my old company, with staff members pretending to be students and it wasn’t a huge success. I felt down afterwards but I consoled myself with the knowledge that I had just overcome a major hurdle and things could only get better. I really felt that I would succeed at this with just a little time and effort.
It was tough for a while because I was nervous about standing in front of the students. I hardly knew any games and I relied on my more experienced TA to guide me through the first few weeks. Over time, my experience and my confidence grew and after about 6 months, standing in front of a class no longer fazed me at all.
Despite improving as a teacher though, there have still been awkward moments. From setting up for a HUBS workshop in the wrong centre to having a computer break down in the middle of an orientation (just before my phone rang. Twice), to unintentionally messing up my centre’s annual dinner performance, I’ve been embarrassed in so many different ways. But the worst that came out of that was feeling silly for a day or so, then carrying on as normal. So if you feel yourself getting nervous before class or a presentation, just remember that even if it goes badly, you’ll at least gain experience and wisdom.
Teaching is many things to many people. It can be just a job to fund travel, it can be a profession to build a resume, or it can be a career. It doesn’t matter what you see it as you will walk away with life skills and experiences that will change your life for the better.
What skills do you want to improve?
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Post by Adam Benson, EF English First Guangzhou
Adam is an Australian Senior Teacher based in Guangzhou, China. He’s addicted to writing and has been feeding that addiction by writing freelance articles for magazines, newspapers and online sites in Australia and China. When he’s not working, he loves helping his sons practice their English.
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