If a couple of years ago someone had told me I’d move to the other side of the world by myself to teach English with no teaching experience, and not only do it, but enjoy it, I would probably have laughed and told them they had the wrong person. However, it’s one of the best decisions I ever made. Funnily enough, it wasn’t the idea of moving to a different country where I didn’t speak the language that daunted me, but actually the prospect of teaching! I was nervous that I’d get all the way there and I’d be a rubbish teacher or that I’d hate it and want to come home immediately. Luckily, that was definitely not the case; I was in charge of teaching a range of kindergarten classes in Dongguan, and actually ended up enjoying it more than I thought possible. Here’s a rundown of my favourite things about teaching in China.
1. The students, obviously
I never considered myself a natural when it came to interacting with small children; I was never around them enough to get the knack of it. That swiftly changed however, when I was in charge of teaching and looking after them for multiple hours a day. After a few weeks of apprehension and getting to know each other, we all slowly became acquainted with our dynamic of not understanding a lot of what the other said, but still enjoying their company. A few months in, and I’d remembered the names of all my students, was able to see clear progress in their English, and had bonded with several of them so that they were like little ducks following me wherever I went. Whenever I’d sit down, I’d have a swarm of 6 year olds fighting to sit next to me to ask me questions and practice their English with me. In class, they would all try to raise their hand the highest so that I’d pick them to give the answer and tell them ‘Good job!’. Once, I was out at a restaurant for dinner and one of my students was also there with his family, so he brought his food over and started eating with me, smiling the whole time. While there was a bit of a language barrier between me and my students, we were still able to communicate, and our interactions were definitely a highlight of my entire experience in China.
2. The schedule
When I first got my schedule, I was a bit taken aback by the fact that my typical working day would be 7:30-17:30; how would they keep all those kids awake so long?! Turns out, they don’t. My day was typically split into three segments: morning classes, lunchtime, and afternoon classes. I’d teach from 9-11:30, at which point everyone would have lunch and the kids would all be put down for a nap. Classes didn’t start again until 15:00, so I’d have lunch and then go for a well-deserved nap for a few hours before my next class. Effectively, I was only in the classroom for 5 hours a day.
At first I thought it was odd to have such a big gap in the middle of the day, but after giving into temptation and having a midday siesta, I was revolutionised! I could use the time to get any outstanding work done, or I could simply take it easy for a couple of hours. A brilliant idea, in my opinion.
3. Socialising with colleagues
While I was the only foreign teacher at my school, the other teachers were nonetheless wonderful company and incredibly welcoming. To my surprise, there was no shortage of staff dinners and outings. Any minor achievement or celebration was always marked with a trip to the local karaoke where I serenaded everyone with Bohemian Rhapsody, or a new restaurant with our own private room (very common for large parties in China). It was this way that I was introduced to so many new dishes I never would have thought to have tried or even knew existed. Everytime I would try something new, everyone would look at me to see what my verdict was, and either an emphatic yes or respectful squint with a slight grimace would elicit hearty chuckles from everyone. And even if I’d eaten enough dishes to see me through an entire week, someone would always look at my plate and say “duō chī diǎn!” which basically means “eat more, please!” to which I’d always say that I’d never been so full in my life and I couldn’t possibly. After an evening of raucous conversation and laughter, I’d always return home absolutely brimming with food feeling utterly content.
4. Event Days!
One thing I didn’t realise before coming to China was how many event days there would be at school. Whether it was a typical sports day, the nationally celebrated Children’s Day, or a traditional Chinese New Year celebration, there was always something going on. Sometimes I would show up to work prepared for another day of teaching, and I’d turn the corner to see a massive bubble machine in the courtyard, transforming the entire playground into a foamy wonderland. I’d gather that my lessons were cancelled for the day and “chaperone” the kids by diving headfirst into the bubbly mess. For safety reasons, of course. As well as occasional fun days like that, there were also huge events like the end of year graduation celebration; the school would hire an actual theatre venue where the students would perform songs and dances they had spent months rehearsing, and then put on an entire showcase. I’ve honestly never seen anything like it, the production value was astounding. People in China know how to celebrate, that’s for sure.
5. Pride in my work
As I’ve mentioned, I went to China without any prior classroom teaching experience, so that aspect was incredibly daunting to me at first. After a few weeks of finding my feet, I finally got a good sense of how to make my lessons interesting and enjoyable, both for me and my students. As well as my classes, I also tutored a couple of my students after school to help them prepare for English-speaking competitions. After a few months of tutoring and teaching, I was able to see real improvements in my students, their comprehension and confidence increasing by the day. Being able to see first-hand how my job was helping these kids was an incredible feeling, and I can’t emphasise enough how rewarding it felt. It was also extremely rewarding when I got a literal reward for it; just before Chinese New Year, all the teachers got a performance report, and mine said that I had become a favourite of both the students and their parents, so the school had decided to give me a bonus in recognition of that. Definitely a highlight of my time teaching in China.
While I enjoyed a lot during my time teaching, those are the key things that stood out to me and enamoured me both to the job and the country as a whole. Going to China was one of the best things I ever did, and if anyone is even a little bit on the fence about doing the same, I couldn’t recommend it enough.