Teaching English in China – is it right for you?

Teaching English in China – is it right for you?

Are you contemplating the idea of teaching English in China but don’t know if you have what it takes? Well, congratulations, you’ve found the right blog post!

Today I’m going to talk about my personal experience teaching English in China, why I did it and whether or not it’s something I would recommend. Read ahead to find out what you may be in for!

My story

I went over to China after I finished high school. I completed my TEFL course (two of them in fact) online and immediately set off for Beijing where I enrolled in an internship program.

As part of the program, we did some practical training in Beijing as well which was a nice supplement to the theory I’d learned in the online TEFL course. However, by the time it came for me to teach my first lesson I still felt like I had absolutely ZERO idea what I was doing.

That’s where my co-teacher came in. You see, in some schools, you will be teaching alongside a local (Chinese) English teacher and the two of you will carry out the lesson together.

Having a co-teacher was great. She had lots of experience and of course, already knew all of the kids. I looked to her to drive the lessons forward and I stepped in to do my part when needed.

Having a co-teacher took a lot of pressure off of me.

Aside from that, being a local teacher, she understood Chinese students really well and could yell at them in Chinese when they misbehaved.

However, you won’t always have a co-teacher. Many schools expect you to take the class all by yourself (depending on the age of the children – Kindergarten is different but I’ll get to that).

I should mention that although we were technically interns, we weren’t really interns. We were essentially full-time teachers, with full-time teacher responsibilities on an intern’s salary.

You’re probably wondering, why would you waste your time doing an internship?!

Well, there are a few advantages to doing an internship over getting a full-time job in China.

The first is that interns can teach in China on a student visa. For any kind of full-time position, you’d need a working visa, which can be a real battle to obtain. As an ‘intern’, however, a student visa will suffice.

Internships also typically have short contracts (six months usually). This is nice because if you decide the middle kingdom just isn’t for you, you’re not locked into a 1-2 year contract like most schools would require you to be.

Finally, you do NOT need a degree to be an intern English teacher, whereas many fulltime positions would require this.

Anyway, after the internship, where I had been teaching primary school, I went and got a full-time position…at a kindergarten!

Teaching at a kindergarten

Teaching at a kindergarten was certainly an interesting change of pace for me. Whereas the primary school had been fairly regimented and the day-to-day tasks were pretty similar, kindergarten was unpredictable and all over the place!

Kindergarten children are, obviously, a lot younger than primary school children and so require your constant attention. Although my job title was ‘foreign teacher’, I was, in fact, an English teacher, math teacher, art teacher, fitness teacher, caretaker, and policeman all in one!

In other words, I also taught art, math and fitness classes (When I say ‘fitness’, what I mean is outside play time). I also had to watch the children, play with them and just generally make sure they were safe and happy at all times.

I wasn’t alone, though. I worked as part of a team. In my kindergarten, there were four teachers in every class. The foreign teacher (a.k.a me), the Chinese head teacher, the assistant teacher and the ‘life’ teacher.

We all did our thing and helped each other out when needed. I was lucky to have such fantastic teachers in my class. We all got on really well and my Chinese improved so much because of them.

I should mention that not all kindergarten jobs are the same. You see, the kindergarten I taught at branded itself as an ‘international’ kindergarten and so in every class, there was one foreign teacher.

However, many kindergartens can’t afford to have a foreign teacher in every class and so instead will higher one foreign teacher to teach English to ALL the classes.

It sounds hectic but the upshot is that your ONLY job there is to teach English. You won’t necessarily be asked to look after children or do extra activities with them. Some people prefer this.

I substituted at a different kindergarten, for another teacher at one point and I had to teach 5 classes every day (as opposed to just one at my main job) and I found it exhausting. Not only that but planning 5 different lessons each day was a real challenge.

What I learned being an English teacher in China

Being an English teacher in China I learned responsibility. I was just 19 at my first job but I was responsible for improving the English of a class full of Chinese children.

It was tough but I found it enjoyable and satisfying watching the children grow and improve.

I taught kindergarten for about two years. When I arrived I had many kids in my class who hardly spoke one word of English and I’m proud to say that by the time I left, they could all speak and understand basic English.

However, it’s important to remember…

As an English teacher in China, your job isn’t just teaching English!

You’re there to teach the children about the world, about different cultures and different food. While you’re in China you are an ambassador for your country (and for the West in general!)

Many of the children you’ll be teaching won’t know much about other countries or cultures and sometimes your Chinese colleagues won’t either. It’s your job to educate them!

THIS is the real job you’re there to do.

To sum up, I would recommend teaching English in China to just about anyone. I honestly thought I wouldn’t have a clue about dealing with children but I managed to figure it out. If I can, you can!

If you’re still on the fence, I want you to think hard about the following five questions:

  1. Do you feel as though you desperately need a change?

  2. Do you enjoy being challenged and pushing yourself?

  3. Can you handle responsibility?

  4. Do you feel as though its time you’ve gotten out of your comfort zone?

  5. Are you good on your feet/when you need to improvise?

If you answered yes to these 5 questions then get off the fence, buddy! You’re going to China!

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