So, you have decided to teach in China. You have done your research, got your visa and packed your bag. You have made it to China, you have got your TEFL certificate and have done your orientation training.
The next step is going to your school. It maybe big, it maybe small but it will overwhelm you. It can look like a prison. Guards at the gate, bars on the walls – will this be fun or punishment?
You will meet your contact teacher and possibly the Principal, be prepared for some personal questions, not just about your education. My first visit to Primary school the Principal said something to the contact teacher, and then she asked me directly, “Where is your family?”
I am single, my parents have passed away and this is why I decided to try something new. When this was explained to the Principal I could see confusion on her face. People of my age should be married with children by now in Chinese Culture. There will possibly be many, what we in the West consider “personal” questions, asked at this interview.
You get set up at your desk, possibly in the same office as Chinese teachers or maybe in a foreign teachers office. Personally I prefer to be in with the Chinese teachers and try to become part of the team. You may get set up with a computer at your desk, there is no guarantee it will be set up for English though, and it will probably be riddled with viruses.
Although Foreign teachers are a novelty and quite a bonus for the school, don’t expect everyone to adore you. Not because people do not like you, the problem maybe with the fast turnover of foreign teachers. Some people don’t like to get too friendly as they just get to know each other, then either they or the foreign teacher moves on to another job. It can be emotional to see colleagues and students moving on from your school.
You may have already been given a timetable before going to school, but it is more likely to appear just before your first class. So now it is time to go and find that classroom. You grab your stuff, usb, notes, lesson plan and props and then you get to the assigned classroom and get ready to walk in….
A class will typically have around 50 – 60 children, so the second you walk in that door, over one hundred eyes will be watching and scanning you, scary right?
This is the reason why you must prepare, plan your lesson, rehearse in your mind and have a back up plan. If you are unprepared you can walk in, become aware of those eyes watching you, and freeze. It is very easy for your mind to go blank, so having your plan or notes with you is very important.
If you have seen classrooms on the internet where all the students are waiting quietly, sitting up straight and hanging on every word of the teacher, it has probably been staged. The real truth is that you will have to try and settle the class first, hopefully with the help of a Chinese Teacher. Once settled, which could take a long time, you will still get some students who think your English class is a time to do their homework or to read a Chinese book. You will have to set rules early for the class to get them to listen to you.
You will get frustrated, maybe even downhearted, so is it worth it?
Yes, it is worth it if you enjoy seeing some little faces light up when they see you, talk to you after class and think you are great. Sometimes a lesson to the whole class can feel like a disaster and they did not learn anything. Then a student will come up to you and tell you about their pet or you will hear them singing a song you just taught them, and it will lift your spirits again.
Public school students really do have a wide range of experience, even though they are in the same grade. You will get some students who will look at you like you are speaking an alien language, and there will be others that will tell you a joke in English and understand the subtleties of English. Being in a public school will give you many opportunities to see the students grow and how they behave. You may find some who seem to be “naughty” in your class are actually very well respected in other classrooms.
The Public school will not just be “your lessons” there will be many opportunities to get involved with school activities. Join in the morning exercises, watch the sports day, listen to English and singing performances and many other things. You really get back what you put in. If you show interest, the school will include you and make you feel wanted. It is good for the school and good for your enjoyment if you take an interest in the activities.
Going to the public school and seeing those hundred eyes look at you for the first time is certainly testing, I hope you can be prepared and enjoy this adventure.