My name is Liam Jones and I have been an English Language Teacher in Shenzhen for the past 7 years. I have loved working in China and I want to share with you my experience. This is one of the best TEFL Jobs in China that I’ve ever had.
I come from a small city in England called Coventry. You may know Coventry. Famous for Lady Godiva. I begin by talking about being at home in England after teaching in Thailand for a year.
I had left my position in Thailand at speed. The next thing I new I was sitting on the pink sofa, in my black and white themed room (with Zebra curtains) in Coventry. Feeling a bit depressed I wasn’t sure about what to do next. The one thing I knew that I needed to do was get out and teach English again.
With the laptop carefully balanced on the pink sofa – I googled ESL positions in China, Japan and South Korea. At that time (2013) the requirements were less strict in China.
Degree’s and TEFL Certificates didn’t need to have apostle stamps or notary stamps. Whereas Japan and Korea had more strict guidelines and needed them. So I decided upon China.
After Googling China ESL Positions, I found a recruitment company that placed me in Seadragon Education.
I had to do two interviews and then I was on my way to the country and city that would be my home for the next seven years – Shenzhen, China.
And so with my bags packed, and eagerly leaving the pink sofa and black and white themed bedroom behind, I found myself at London Heathrow airport for the second time in as many months.
I had booked my ticket to Beijing. Here we go again!
My transfer to Shenzhen was through Beijing. And this was where I got a real eye opener into Chinese Cuisine.
I ordered Chicken at a restaurant in Beijing Airport. When my food arrived there was a boiled Chicken head on my plate – something I was not used to. I gestured for the waitress to take it away and bring it back without the chicken head. This is also where I experienced the first Chinese person to laugh at me.
The waitress laughed and me, the chef came out of the kitchen to laugh at me! Heck, the boiled chickens head was laughing at me! This would continue throughout my stay in China. (People laughing at me.)
I arrived at Shenzhen – Boa’An Airport. Where I was greeted by an enthusiastic man named David – he had my name on a placard. I liked this treatment – felt like a movie star.
David could speak quite good English and over the coming months would be my go to man for any problems that I encountered in Shenzhen.
David had explained to me everything that we were going to do during my first couple of weeks in China. Get a metro card, find an apartment, apply for a residents permit, and find me a good school to work in.
If you work for SDE now, these are called ‘Specialists’. David was very good at his job.
I was part of a group of 8 ESL teachers that were starting around the same time as me. This is where I would meet my new friends for the year. There was Irish Cillian and a couple from Canada. That were all very nice and as crazy as me.
The problem being a long term teacher in any country is the amount of people that you meet that will only stay for one year. Nowadays I only make friends with people that stay for a longer term. It’s better this way. Otherwise you are just regurgitating the same questions and answers and it gets quite boring
The First School I Worked At Beihuan Middle School Futian District
It was October 2013 and I’d been told to meet a SDE worker at the school on a Monday morning so we met the contact teacher.
Many schools have a contact teacher – this teacher will organise everything such as timetables, holidays and teaching materials. They are there to help you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
So we arrived at the school ready for a meeting with the contact teacher. We went to the 2nd floor in a back-room office that had leather couches. This is where I discovered China loves leather sofas! And I loved them to.
We waited for the contact teacher. And in strolled an enormous woman called Dong lăoshī. She was a big broad woman with masses of curly hair, and wore big spectacles. She was a very nice lady. And right away she was happy to meet me.
In 2013 classroom teaching demonstrations weren’t necessarily a requirement. Fast forward to 2020 – these demo classes are mandatory for all teachers going to a new school. At least in Futian Government Schools this happens.
Dong lăoshī had agreed with me that I would be teaching Grade 8 classes Tuesday to Friday, ten classes a week, with no office hours. I couldn’t believe my luck. This wouldn’t happen nowadays as things are stricter than before. Most schools require office hours and you should teach up to 18 classes per week.
Grade 8 students are 13 and 14 years old. So maybe equivalent to Year 8 in the UK.
She gave me a book – a Grade 8 English book that the students were studying with their Chinese students and told me to teach from that. I was to teach the English reading and conversation based in this book. I was also allowed to make some of my own classes.
So came the first class. I walked into the classroom you could feel how different it was from a UK classroom.
First the students are sat at single desks. The classes have 40 to 50 students. They usually have a computer at the front of the classroom which is connected to a whiteboard. This makes everything a bit easier for teaching. Just make sure your power-point presentation is saved as the correct file (PPT/PPTX) or it won’t work.
The students love to draw on the blackboards. And they are very good at it. Keep an eye our for their artwork.
The students on the first day are genuinely happy to see you. They are very fun and interesting. As time went by I got to know my students very well.
In Chinese Public Schools there is usually a ten minute break between classes. And this is where I got to know my students on a one to one basis.
Instead of heading to the office I would spend time in the corridors chatting away with the students.
This also gave them some more one to one English practice. They also like it when you spend time on them. They are usually more attentive in class because of this.
Most students have an English name so it is so easy for you to remember. The most common English name amongst the girls is ‘Coco’ and I’d say the most common English name amongst the boys is ‘David’. I met many students over the years.
I have a long list of favourites that makes it impossible to write but here are a few: Elizabeth, Diana, Maggie, Mina, Kelly, Sister, Coco, Charlotte, Obi, Cici, Abby, Skye, Becky, Rebbecca, Winnie, Lucy, Gu, AJ, David, Dragon, Shawn, Big Boy, John, Micahel, Tom.
There are many as you can see they are mostly common English names. I always remember the names of the good students or bad. But the students in the middle – well I forget!
I’ve been living in Shenzhen for so long now. That my students from 2013 are out partying in Coco Park at the bars and nightclubs. And I’ve seen them out – dancing the night away.
They will always say hi if they spot me out and about in Shenzhen. I was even in Hanoi, Vietnam. Late at night, standing on a street, drinking coffee. And a boy approached me and said hello. It was my student from Qiaoxiang Foreign Language School.
The next two and a half years were amazing. I experienced sports days with opening ceremonies, basketball competitions and too many other extra curricular activities to mention. These were always fun and it gave me time to speak to the students one to one.
I would recommend that as a teacher you attend some of these events. Your students will love you for it.
I remember one particular event. Teachers were required to take part in a mini basketball event. Basically just shooting hoops.
At this time I had a bad knee after a heavy fall and I was using an umbrella as a crutch. But the students insisted that I took part. They were all chanting my name just like in a movie. Liam, Liam, Liam.
So I got ready and just threw the ball the best way I could. My balance was off because of my bad leg. I scored. And the students went crazy.
The feeling of making them happy was so immense. Whenever I leave a school or the students move up a grade. It genuinely makes me sad. I offer them my best wishes in the final classes and take a photo. I still remember them all very fondly.
They probably forgot me by now. I never forget.
Teaching At A Summer Camp in the Countryside of Jiangsu Province.
Another Example of How TEFL Jobs in China Can Change You.
I got the opportunity in 2014 to head up to Jiangsu and teach a English summer camp for 14 days. This was one of the best experiences that I had and reminded me of my teaching experience in Thailand.
The students here had never had a foreign teacher let alone seen a foreign person in real life.
My group of students consisted of all girls aged 11 and 12 years old. This was fantastic for me as I had noticed during my teaching that girls try a little more than boys.
In the morning I would teach them basic English conversational skills. And in the afternoon I would plan an activity for them.
Such as a black bin bag fashion contest. Or the great egg race. They loved the activities – and were often heard laughing and having a great time.
This was a very small town. I think it was a ‘factory town’.
This means that most workers were working in the local factory, and this particular factory produced the very famous Chinese Spirit Bi Jo.
The school looked very big. It looked amazing from a distance. But as you got closer you and looked through the windows.
Well you couldn’t see any classrooms in half of the school. The director explained to me that because not so many students attended the school, they didn’t finish building the other classrooms.
It wasn’t a well off town but the people and students that I met here were some of the nicest people I have ever met. They appreciated me being in their school and they tried really hard.
I also got a chance to visit Nanjing War Museum/Memorial which is dedicated to those that died when Japanese soldiers invaded Shanghai. It was the most surreal experience – people were openly crying in public. You would never see this in the UK. I’m not knocking it. It’s just different.
Qiaoxiang Foreign Language School 2016 – 2020
At this point, after 3 and a half years teaching, I knew that I was good enough to teach English in China. Although I was doubt myself. I’d worked at Beihuan, then transferred to a school called Beishida and finally ended up in a school which I would work in for 3.5 more years.
Before this point everything was wonderful. I loved working at Beihuan Middle School and Beishida School in Nanshan. I thought a new school wouldn’t impress me.
But Qiaoxiang Foreign Language School did. Not only were the students amazing – I had a great team around me supporting me in everything that I did. I loved the fact I had one of the best TEFL Jobs in China.
There was Wendy who was the head of the primary school and such a lovely woman. Easily approachable and able to go and share any problems. Next there was Winnie, my main contact teacher. Who has so kind to me. She would do her utmost to help me.
I was able to share any problems with her and we got a long well. She always made time for me. She has welcomed me back at any time for visit or to teach.
And there was Simon, my boss. That often gave me gifts or cigarettes and alcohol. All lovely people.
Not only were the heads and contact teachers professional. I had professional groups of English teachers working with me in Grade 8. That always helped me to ensure that what I was teaching was correct.
Even if they were busy they would go out of there way to help me. I remember one year Iris my grade contact teacher had organised me a lovely birthday cake. It was such a nice surprise.
I loved all of the extra curricular activities held here. But I also got the opportunity to teach drama as an extra class for two years. I studied drama at university so I jumped at the chance to do this.
We put on 2 productions and my students really got into it. The students make everything worthwhile.
I also got to teach my own material and convinced the school to print a huge banner display of Matilda so students could put up there work.
It was huge – not just a normal display. I taught them reading during that year and they studied Matilda. I planned everything and did it my way. I felt really at home doing this.
I loved this school as it was open with me. And allowed me to explore my own teaching methods. And the best part was I more often than not got great reviews for my classes from my students and teachers. I am very sad to leave here.
TEFL Jobs in China – Some Advice For New Teachers
- Don’t walk into a school and act like you are the boss. Be polite and friendly and you will do very well.
- Be consistent – always turn up to classes and go the extra mile.
- Solve Your Own Problems – If you have a problem in your class, try the at the very least to sort the problem out in class. Some students are emotional.
- Respect the school and students, and they will respect you.
- Being friendly will help you in the long run – they will often agree with your ideas. As long as you are nice to them.
- In a big city like Shenzhen – students have had foreign teachers before you. And they will have foreign teachers after you. They might not like you as much as their previous foreign teacher but you can win them over.
In conclusion I have had a brilliant 7 years teaching in China. There has been laughter and tears, mostly laughter! And I would do it all again in a heartbeat. I need to try something new, and this is the only reason I have decided to leave teaching behind.
Please visit sdeteacher.com for more TEFL jobs in China.