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Teaching English in China

I had always wanted to do a TEFL course, and in 2011 I finally got around to doing it with TEFL England; although it took me 3 months longer than expected- juggling 2 jobs with it to save up for my next adventure proved rather difficult.

In 2013, I went to China for one year to work as an English Teacher. I applied for the job on the Monday, went to London to get an emergency visa and by Saturday I had arrived.

Although it wasn’t my first experience of teaching, it definitely was a different kind of experience. The first 6 months i worked in Guangzhou, the third largest city in China, at a private school. The second six months I went to a rurual village called Gaoyao, to teach at a public high school of 8000 students… yep!

My classes held 60-65 students per class, making it almost impossible to manoeuvre around the class to check that students were alive and kicking behind their piles of 20 books on their individual desks. This type of teaching was a new experience to me; and i was advised not to give homework due to teaching over 1000 students in a week! Eek! A lot of my classes had an emphasis on listening and speaking, as it was a huge challenge for the students, who have never actually seen a foreigner before let alone met one, to understand me. I usually spoke my instruction rather than writing it all down and reading it to the class, or dictation, like all of the Chinese teachers did. Initially, it was very difficult for the students to even put up their hand and ask or answer a question, as their classes were usually very strict, formal, and with the teacher leading the class instead of the student.

With Oral English, games are a must have. People always ask me the question, “How can you teach English when you don’t speak their language?!” Well, the answer is simple.
When I think back to learning French at A level, the Teacher spoke no English. Everyone learns in different ways, but body language is universal. Mime, drawings, or descriptions are also an excellent way to explain yourself when misunderstood. There are so many ways to teach vocabulary without actually translating the word to their language, which is something I never do! My mandarin is very limited, but I did pick up a few words, grammar, and basic conversational skills but definitely not enough to translate in class!

After the initial doubt and timidness, the students livened up and started to beg me for competitive classroom games! They would get really into it; shouting and screaming! But there was a class monitor disguised as a student in every class, sometimes 2, and they would always tell the class to “shh!”

When I tell people I taught as many students as I did in one class, their jaw drops, but it really wasn’t as intimidating as it sounds. You stand on a small platform, (some Chinese teachers have microphones but Westerners seem to have a louder voice!) the Chinese are typically quite shy.
As for the students, they were so polite and welcoming and always saying hello or good morning. Sometimes I used to teach the students a new greeting that they wouldn’t necessarily learn in school and they always shouted them at me; “Hey Billie how’s it going?!” or “Hey teacher, what’s up?!” which would always makes me laugh.

I taught Senior High School grade 1. Their English was basic but the higher the class number the better they got. I also had one class of just girls and one boy! But he loved it!
They used to always ask to take photos, or see photos of my life; they are also very blunt, “Hey Teacher do you like to travel because of the delicious food? You used to be very slim.. what happened?” I felt like telling them that I am perfectly normal for a westerner.. but they are so tiny in frame I can imagine that I looked enormous to them!!

The classrooms at my school didn’t have air conditioning- living in the south of China it’s 100% neccessary. On a day I will never forget, it was 99% humidity.. I was dying! Because it was so very humid you would sweat, but dry sweat- very strange. There were 3 fans per classroom; one over the teachers’ desk However, the fans did not cool me down- I had them on winter as I am very active in my classes and I usually end up doing a workout!

I taught the occasional grammar class, and sometimes they asked for a theoretical class. The thing is with Chinese schools is that they are so used to dictations, repeating and being silent in class it is quite difficult for them to use their imagination or relax with their learning; the opposute of the British school system. I think the students gradually got used to me, and they definitely became more vocal as the weeks passed
I also taught an International class which was basically the 40 best graded students in the school. Their English was better than some English people I know! I did debates with them, or practical classes which encouraged using vocabulary out of the norm; for example, a Dragon’s Den style class or a court room scene.

I loved teaching in China, and I stayed a lot longer than I ever could have imagined. it changed me as a person; not only making me more confident in myself and my abilities but I also learnt many things culturally and mentally. It made me more aware of my surroundings, and more open to trying things that I could never have imagined me trying. I loved the experience, and although I may not go there to work again, I believe it may be the most diverse and historically fascinating country on our wonderful Earth.


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