6 Months in: TESOL in China

The thought of teaching can be pretty daunting for anyone, let alone teaching in a developing foreign country. Prior to coming to China to teach I had never taught before or for that matter stood in front of people to give a speech/presentation etc.

Teacher training in Guanxi province to obtain the TESOL certificate included a few seminars/workshops and to teach a class of 15 Chinese students while being assessed by the training/employer company.

This doesn’t sound too bad but as it was the first time to do anything of this nature and that it was being assessed and watched by all the other teachers in training it was damn nerve racking! My class which I had to plan myself was on holidays, where people go, where they stay, what they see and what hotel/hostel problems they may face, despite the nerves it went well and the assessment went well.

Watching the other teachers go through the same experience you could clearly see who was set to be a great teacher and who wouldn’t last 5 minutes before heading off back to their home country (and there were a few).

The teachers, including myself set up a mailing list and agree to keep in touch before we go our separate ways being sent to different schools all over the country.

The senior middle school we (my girlfriend and I) arrived at was in a small city in Shaanxi province, I would be teaching about 2200 16 year old students (grade 2) split over 30 classes. Class 1 has 30 students and the rest average at about 75 students per class. I teach 15, 45 minute classes per week.

The apartment is by western standards poor, the heating system at best can be described as antiquated, no double glazing (in winter the kitchen gets thick chunks of ice on the inside of the windows) you can see yourself breathe! Another drawback is the lack of hot water, only the electric shower has hot water. On the plus side the apartment is a good size, two large double bedrooms, a computer room, a lounge, kitchen and bathroom (with western style toilet). I have been provided with new appliances such as fridge, freezer, computer, rice steamer etc.

Some of the staff (mainly from the English department) met with us and took us out for dinner and we had a nice ice-breaking chat, they were and remain to be very helpful and friendly people.

The first day of work was again a nervous one but the rapturous welcome as I walked through the door of the classroom was very warming, exciting and calming. The students though numerous were not intimidating at all and I settled into the role of teacher much easier that I had expected.

Through the mailing list with the other westerners who I trained with I learned that some were having difficulties adjusting to their new careers as teachers, some had problems with the job, some had problems with the living standards of their new homes (accommodation and cities). Indeed some had returned to their homeland. One thing that struck me was that though there was a mixed bunch of native English speakers, Australians, New Zealanders, British, Americans, Canadians and South Africans the only nationality that has yet to either go home by their own accord or having been sent home (sacked) by the company is British. This is maybe one of two reasons, either it’s British grit or we are just used to a poor standard of living!

Some of the students regularly visit us at our apartment to practice their English and to be friends with us, 99% of the students at the school are lovely, friendly, curious and helpful, the staff are still excellent. We have met some other westerners in this small city, mostly Americans and one Brit, we often go out with them and Chinese friends for dinner. Despite the dust and smoke constantly in the air this place has a lot going for it, primarily the wonderful Chinese people.

During the half term we were invited to participate as judges in an English competition by the head teacher of another language school (owned by our employer) for 7 to 15 years of age, it lasted a couple of hours and involved 50 students. The organisers took us out to dinner afterwards and gave us a cooked Beijing duck each packaged up in a fancy box which was a bit strange but really nice of them.

We look forward to the next 6 months.


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