The Ups and Downs of Teaching in China

Profile picture of
gy_cormac2

View Profile All Posts
Written by: Emma Longman

“You can teach some of our students” said my new boss, in hesitant English. “They are looking forward to meeting with you now.”

“Now?” I said, shocked. “But I arrived late last night and I’m really jet-lagged.” I’d dragged my luggage through customs, been bumped about in the back of a taxi for half an hour – roads in China aren’t fun – and slept for just a few hours. To say I felt like pap was an understatement.

My first day

“It’s ok, just some free talking with them,” he said, with a grin and a quick wave of his hand.

“But I haven’t prepared…” I started, as my boss directed me down the corridor and nudged me into a classroom of about 30 blank-faced 11-15 year-olds, staring up at me. A young, ‘white’ woman was a rare sight for them.

“Hello!” I said, as casually as I could. I quickly introduced myself before asking everyone’s name.

“Miss Emma, you are very beautiful,” said one girl, Rachel, giggling as she covered her mouth with her hand.

“Oh, thank you!” I said, surprised because I was having a bad hair day. The students went on to ask me lots of questions about where I came from and if I was married. Everyone relaxed as we wound up talking about everything from music to family. Each student was delightful in their own way and keen to tell me about their city.

The Job

I’d applied for the teaching job online, independent of any organisations that help people find work placements. I didn’t want to be tied to any particular organisation or have too much structure on my trip. This can be a good idea for really independent people, but it’s also advantageous to have a large organisation’s support in case things don’t turn out the way you expect.

The school offered me a furnished apartment and a good wage for the area for teaching evening classes. Most schools also offer free accommodation, and sometimes food into the package to compensate for the low wage offered. There are also restrictions by law on where foreigners can live, so it’s easier for schools to find suitable apartments for their teachers.

I grew to love my students, and experimented in class using games and role play. Over Christmas we played ‘pinning Santa’ with the children and Christmas hangman with the teenagers. Giving out sweet prizes to winners made getting their attention much easier. I felt bad for the students as they’re under a lot of pressure to succeed academically. If they don’t, it’s difficult to find a good job. Often their classes start at seven (in the morning) and finish at five, and then they have English classes in the evening. It makes long days for the students, so teachers need to create interesting classes so they don’t fall asleep during them. The trick is to find out what they like and use that as a basis to teach English.

Teaching English in China

“What is your name?” I asked one boy, Miki, to distract attention from his mates who were talking in their native tongue.

“A secret,” he replied, cheekily, leaving his friends in giggles.

“OK.” Though he hadn’t told me his name, at least I knew he could speak English. I indicated his friend sitting next to him. “Is he your friend?”

“No, he not my friend,” Miki grinned as all the students laughed.

I looked at his friend, John. “Is Miki your friend?”

“No, I don’t like,” John shook his head.

At least now I had their attention and a (hopefully) fun activity in mind. I asked them to choose a friend and say why they were a good friend.

“He is a good friend because he like to.” Leon started.

“Likes to,” I corrected.

“Likes to play computer games with me,” Leon finished.

“Great!” I looked at another student, called Took.

“Who is you friend?”

Took pointed. “She is my friend. I like her because she is very kind.”

“Good!” I congratulated. From there on, I could teach something the students all listened to and contributed towards. The feeling of satisfaction of getting through to them was wonderful.

The Life

The school was 15 minutes’ walk from my apartment and I soon got into the swing of life in China’s oldest city. I lived down an alleyway where an elderly woman and her two children made a living by manning a fire all day burning scrap wood and cardboard. The children often stopped to stare, recognising at an early age that I was somehow different from them. Vendors and passers-by also stared as I walked up the street, some of them having never seen a white person in their life. Occasionally people shouted out ‘hello’, toothless old men insistent on shaking my hand and teenagers dying to try out the English they had learnt. A man on his bike was so busy looking my way once he almost crashed into a post. Never before had I been in a country where I was so popular but knew nobody.

Every evening beggars approached, haggling and persistent, hunched and tugging on my sleeves for money. The standard reply for natives is ‘mayo chien’, translating into ‘haven’t money’, and usually works. There was one man who stood in the same place each night, begging. The following week I came across a market stall, and looked up to see the same ‘beggar’ running the whole thing. To many, begging is simply a second source of income.

It’s only on the main roads you’ll find occasional traffic lights or wardens controlling pedestrians – the rest of the traffic in China is chaos! I was about to cross a road when I felt a sharp prod in my arm and turned around in surprise. A short, plump lady in illuminated kit had warned me, with her rather large lollipop lady-type stick, that I was not yet allowed to. I waited until they blew their whistles, then we were free to go. It took me a while to understand the fine art of crossing the road. Traffic control leaves a lot to be desired but at the same time that’s what makes China, well, China.

“Come Emma, we must go now,” said my colleague John, pulling me into the road.

“But there’s a car coming!” I said, frantically stepping back to the safety of the curb. John glanced at me but continued walking, narrowly missing the approaching car. I think the trick is if you’re gonna go, then don’t hesitate. At all.

“Crossing the road in China, it can be very – how you say?” John said to me later  “- dangerous. So we must help you find your way so you are – how you say?”

“Safe,” I prompted.

“Yes, safe.” John smiled, delighted. “That’s the word – safe! Sorry, I forget my English often!”

“Did you think that was safe?” I asked.

John grinned. “Emma, don’t worry – this is China. It safe!”

Well, he was right about one thing at least – it certainly was China. And this was only the beginning of my journey…

Check out these teaching in China opportunities

Search

Chinese State School Teaching Placement

from £549

330 days

China

Teach in a Chinese state school for a year and get a taste of what life is like in this...

Jobs in China with TEFL training

from £549

120 - 330 days

China

Positions all over China, including in Shanghai & Beijing, Monthly salary of £650-£1650 depending on location, Online TEFL course &...

Wanderlust Culture Homestay English Teaching Program

from £100

80 - 365 days

China

Integrate educational travel, Mandarin learning, childcare and English tutoring together for overseas youngsters to experience China with an authentic touch...

Teach English in Shanghai

from £400

330 days

China

The state school programme in Shanghai is the ideal way to gain international work experience and have endless travel opportunities!

Study and Teach in China Program

365 days

China

We are recruiting native English teachers in Chengdu, Chongqing and other major beautiful cities in the Sichuan province starting September...

Summer Teaching Programme in China

from £350

14 - 49 days

China

Positions in Haining, Huzhou and Xuzhou, for 2 or 7 weeks, open to all students, no degree required.

5 Months TEFL in China

from £400

120 days

China

Teach in a Chinese state school for one term and get a taste of what life is like in this...

Teach at a University in China

from £400

330 days

China

Our university teaching programme is the ideal way to gain international work experience and have endless travel opportunities! 

Homestay Programme in China

from £550

30 - 90 days

China

Placements in Beijing, Tianjin, Chengdu, or Shenzhen, gain tutoring experience & live with a Chinese family, learn Mandarin.

Search

Cambodia – Temples & Beaches

from £1096

Discover the magic of Cambodia, from the palm-lined coastal fringes to the heart of the country's Khmer heritage. Journey from...

Kolkata to Kathmandu Overland

from £1327

Travel from India to Nepal on an Overland trip from Kolkata to Kathmandu. Beginning in the vibrant streets of Kolkata,...

Trek Mt Kinabalu

from £719

If the idea of conquering a mountain while travelling excites you, then this five-day round trip journey from Kota Kinabalu...

Everest Base Camp Trek

from £839

Everest is more than a mountain and the journey to its base camp is more than just a trek. Along...

Taj Mahal Extension

from £455

Journey to India’s famous Taj Mahal, a majestic monument to love. Built by a Mughal emperor as tribute to his...

Southeast Asia Uncovered

Now that you’ve come all the way to Asia, it’s time to go big or go home. And on this...

Discover Mongolia

from £3299

Discover one of Asia's most under-explored regions on a two-week adventure through Mongolia. Walk through the remote and mysterious Erdene...

Vietnam is calling to be explored.

from £1728

If you haven’t been to Vietnam, this trip is for you. If you're lucky enough to have already visited Vietnam,...

Beautiful Bali – For Solo Travellers

from £710

On this new adventure, designed for solo travellers only, travel to Bali and discover Indonesia's beautiful island escape. Dotted with...

Yunnan & Tiger Leaping Gorge

from £821

Experience the breathtaking natural scenery, historical attractions and rural lifestyles for which the Yunnan province is renowned for on this...

Find more teach abroad inspiration

Search
[contact-form-7 id="4" title="Contact form 1"]