Before coming to teach in China, I had a vague idea of what exactly I was getting myself into. My friends and family had asked me multiple questions about the job that I could not answer. Yet, I still thought that I had done a thorough amount of research before coming here. As it turns out, there are some things that no amount of research can prepare you for. I had few expectations for teaching in China because I did not know what I should expect. Having had little teaching experience, I was going into totally unfamiliar territory, taking a leap of faith that I was making a good decision.
I expected teaching in China would be different and challenging at times, but I could not comprehend the magnitude of just how different and challenging it is in reality. The brochures of smiling teachers made by the countless ESL companies rarely mention any difficulties of being a teacher. There is a lot that they do not tell you.
Before leaving, I spoke to many foreign English teachers in China. For the most part, they made it seem like a fun and fairly easy job. After arriving, I met a couple of English teachers who all said “our jobs are really not that hard.” While this was a relief to hear at the time, it gave me misguided expectations.
Speaking from my own experiences teaching thus far, I have to disagree with those teachers. I think teaching English is quite a tough job and that teaching, in general, is one of the hardest jobs a person can have. Those teachers failed to mention the countless hours that go into lesson planning and making PowerPoint presentations, struggling to get students to participate, being disrespected at times, and having things you planned go wrong. I have always respected teachers, but my respect for them has grown deeper now that I have the opportunity to walk in their shoes.
Another expectation I had before teaching here was that I would have some kind of training before teaching my first class. Surely no one would trust a complete amateur with control of a classroom? But they do! I was not even given an English book to go off of. In China you are thrown into the water, and you either sink or swim.
Despite all the difficulties and unmet expectations, teaching English can be extremely rewarding. It is a wonderful feeling when you see a shy student participate or have a student come to your office to teach you Chinese. I still get happy each time a student of mine smiles at me and says hello in the hallways. As a teacher you also learn a lot about yourself as a person, such as your strengths and weaknesses. There are also valuable life lessons learned from being a teacher, like having things not work out according to plan. You learn to improvise and take a more creative approach to learning.
While reality usually does not match up with our expectations, there is still much growth and enjoyment to be gained from it. When teaching in China, it is best not to have expectations and approach new experiences with an open mind. There are no guarantees in life, but as an English teacher in China you will be sure to get one heck of an adventure with plenty of rice.