I actually came to China with the goal of perfecting my then rudimentary Chinese language skills, and I got into teaching as a way to supplement my income. I ended up finding it challenging and exciting, and I enjoyed it enough that I am currently on my third year teaching English in China.
What advice do you have for people about the SDE recruitment and interview process?
Just take it easy, man. Make sure to have all your proper documentation, qualifications, and certifications and the interview should be quite relaxed. Do some research about teaching in China and prepare well thought out questions for your interviewer. Let the conversation flow naturally and you should do well.
How has SDE supported and assisted since you arrived in China?
I would say the four main characteristics that will ease the transition are being personable, understanding, reasonable, and flexible. They have helped me with applying for and renewing my working visa, opening a bank account, providing me with an apartment or suggesting an agent who will find an apartment for me, and helping me make documents to file taxes back home. Besides the big things, they will also help you with more menial day to day problems like purchasing a metro card, helping you take visa photos, receiving parcels on your behalf or translating for you at the bank.
You are with SDE Shenzhen, can you tell us about your impressions of the city? What do you like most about living there?
To be honest, compared to other cities in China, Shenzhen is strikingly devoid of unique character other than technology and money-making. This probably has something to do with the relative youth of the city: it has only seen rapid development within the past 30 years. Most Shenzheners are not originally from Shenzhen, so forming a sense of a shared community will likely take a little while longer.
If you don’t mind not having much culture and prefer convenience, then Shenzhen has got it in spades. Public transport here is cheap and ubiquitous, and good food is just a short walk away in any direction. Most neighbourhoods have everything you need without having to venture out too far, but if you do, you’ll find that Shenzhen also has beautiful hills you can hike and beaches you can tan on, along with hidden neighbourhoods flush with art or vibrant urban spaces. So there are things you can do here if you’re willing to seek them out, but culture-wise, it’s not exactly what you imagine “China” to be like.
What do you like most about teaching ESL?
I’m going to stray from the question a little and say what I like most about teaching English is not what happens in class (because sometimes you don’t get the results you hoped for) it’s about interacting with the students after class in a smaller capacity. With over forty students in one classroom, a lesson has potential to turn into a wild shouting match, with no particular student getting much time to speak or be listened to in an orderly manner. It is only when the class ends and a few students stay and chat for a bit
can I truly feel I can gauge their English level and make them feel like their thoughts are being heard. This is why I prefer teaching older students because I feel it’s easier to find things we can relate to.
What is your favorite experience or class that you are teaching?
I have a couple favourites and they share similar characteristics, aside from behaviour. One class is always well-behaved and attentive whereas the other one has a few unruly students who can bring the class down, but aside from those few naughties the rest of that class is good. I like them because I have several inside jokes with them that just sort of naturally developed throughout the year, and they are also able to joke around with me as well. For example, I can’t precisely remember why, but in one of those classes I call a student “Tsunami Man”, and the whole class now calls him that as well. It has also become a running joke in almost every class, as the mere mention of his name produces a chorus of laughter. These classes also have several students who are very active and will help me through a rough patch if no one wants to participate. The most awkward thing is to put something out there and have no one participate, but I’ve never had that happen in these classes as far as I can remember. Again, and maybe it’s just me, but I feel like the actual teaching part is not as important as interacting with and relating to your students.
Talk us through a typical day teaching English in China.
I wake up with a pounding headache from the previous night’s debauchery…
I’m totally kidding. Never teach hungover! I’ve never done it before but I know people who have and trust me, there are no shortage of regrets.
So getting back to the question: I arrive at the school usually an hour before I have my first class, just so I can do some preparation and show my face at the office. Some schools are anal about office hours, others like mine are pretty flexible. I will usually have 2-3 classes a day and I try to arrive at the classrooms at least three minutes before the bell to get set up. Lunch begins at 12 and my school cafeteria is a buffet style, grab as much as you want sort of deal. Most days the food is pretty tasty, although there are days where you wonder what on earth the cooks were thinking. After lunch, there is a designated nap time which goes from 1-2. Most teachers will use that time to get some shut-eye but I prefer to stay in the office and get work done or study Chinese. I’ll teach my afternoon classes and usually stay after my last class for about half an hour (again to show my face in the office) and after that I’ll head home.
China is full of new experiences and surprises, can you tell us about one you have had recently?
Recently, I went to a Xinjiang restaurant with several friends of mine. Xinjiang is a region in China’s far northwest known for Middle Eastern style food and a flair for putting on live dance shows in their restaurants. We sat down and were halfway through our meal when the dance show began. It started out innocently enough, just two people performing a traditional cultural dance, marvelously offbeat and strangely hypnotic. About halfway through, they wanted to get the audience involved, so naturally they looked for the table of foreigners for willing participants (because foreigners are just way more willing to dance, duh). I crossed my fingers under the table and prayed they wouldn’t choose me. Luckily, God answered my prayers and the dancers took two of my female friends by the hands instead and dragged them kicking and screaming onstage, where they then attempted to awkwardly mimic the dance routine as best they could. I was spared that day, but with all the crazy things that can happen in China, I’m always watching my back.