Published on:
March 20, 2019

by: Guest

My Top 5 Tips for New English Teachers in Shenzhen

My name is Shehan, and I’m an English and Drama teacher living in Shenzhen, China. In the not so distant past I studied Drama at Exeter University, followed by (somewhat paradoxically) Law at Cardiff University.

I’m an inquisitive wanderer; I love sport, the arts and I’m learning (or at least trying to learn) Chinese.

Where I’m most likely to be found: Somewhere in Shenzhen eating my weight in noodles.

So, you’ve arrived in China and you know absolutely no one. You’re faced with the daunting task of teaching English to a class of excitable students whose English abilities vary from competent to downright non-existent- and it’s quite possible you probably don’t speak an iota of the language. What do you do? (Tip number one, start learning the language ASAP. This will help enormously.)

During my first year in China I worked in a variety of settings, including a public school and a training centre, as well as doing some private work from time to time. My advice is based on these experiences. I hope it helps!

1. Use a Reward System in Class

You’ll have your favourite classes. You’ll also have ones that you anticipate with death-like dread.

At least one (or in my case, more than one) of your classes will get out of hand at some point. This is inevitable. So, what you’re going to have to do is dangle a carrot in front of your unruly students to incentivise good behaviour. I generally offer a video which is age appropriate. (You could also offer chocolate or sweets. FYI, Chinese students adore milk sweets.)

I showed my classes the full catalogue of Pixar shorts to my students during the full course of the year, which went down very well. Pixar shorts, as well as being highly creative, often contain a moral or ethical message, which will stand you in good stead with any observing Chinese teachers. (Pixar created a short film this year called “Bao.” It’s predominately about a relationship between a mother and a son but the overarching story concerns a family of Chinese descent who live in Canada. It recently won an Oscar. Take a look.)

2. Eat Lunch with other Chinese Teachers

Most westerners upon arrival in China, soon discover that the Chinese food they ate back home is altogether different from authentic Chinese cuisine. (What? No sweet and sour pork?) Like me and many other westerners, you may find certain aspects of native cuisine not to your taste. (The oil, oh God the oil.)

However, I would recommend at least initially, dining in the canteen with other Chinese teachers. Breaking bread with your colleagues is one of the best ways to get to know them. It also sends out a message that you want to assimilate into the school culture. During this time you can strengthen professional relationships and bond with your fellow teachers.

3. Dress to Impress

Dress smartly for work. Look your best.

Sartorial splendour is the way forward.  Wear a pair of ironed, work appropriate trousers, (not jeans) a smart, freshly pressed shirt and polished shoes. A smartly dressed teacher gives off an air of professionalism and this will help to earn respect from students and colleagues alike. So, polish those shoes, press that shirt/ dress/ skirt and turn up looking spick and span.

I hasten to add that I know many excellent, competent teachers, who chose to dress more casually than myself for work and I respect their decision to do so. However, I believe that first impressions are important (and one of the first things students and fellow teachers will notice about you is how you present yourself), which is why I have provided the foregoing advice.

Training centres often provide their own attire. The training centre I worked at provided their own clothes to staff, which had the logo of the company embossed on the front.

4. Get a VPN (Virtual Private Network)

I cannot emphasise this enough.

Many ‘western’ websites are censored in China, including YouTube, (YouTube is invaluable for obtaining educational videos which you can then download via a YouTube converter.) Google, Facebook and Yahoo; the list is ever growing. A VPN will enable you access any sites that are blocked. You’ll want Google to search for ideas and get pictures for your PowerPoints. There are other search engines available in China; is still available at the time of writing this post but in my humble opinion, Google has a broader and generally better choice of media.

I use Express VPN which is 8.32 dollars per month if you buy a yearly subscription. (That’s about 75 pounds for one year.) It’s the most widely used and is considered the most reliable. Although there are other VPNs available which are cheaper, I would choose Express.

5. Have a Spare Lesson Prepared

Always have a spare lesson in mind.

In the schools and training centres that I’ve worked in, many of the lessons are delivered via a smart board connected to a computer. A computer in one of your classes will in all likelihood go down at some point and you’ll be expected to deliver a lesson nonetheless. It’s good to have something in your head or written down, whatever suits you. You could also play some games on the board, such as charades or hangman.

That’s all folks. Thanks for reading and good luck! Feel free to get in touch at  (what a mouthful, right? A lengthy surname is a curse all people of Sri Lankan decent have to bear.)

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Teacher Guest Post by Shehan Nithiananda.


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