Amongst many other things, teaching in China is worlds apart from teaching in another country. Most people who come here will either be teaching or being taught themselves in university. Those of you that fit into the former group, you’re in for a wild ride.
As always, the previous and following statements are all based on the experiences of myself and others that I know. Primarily in Shenyang and primarily in the training school where I worked. It is entirely possible that you will find a different experience wherever you go (Hey, I hope you do for your sake). But here are my 5 best things about teaching in China.
Firstly, it’s important to talk about how the school system itself works in China. The way they learn seems to be based on memorisation. In the context of English, they memorise phrases and words in a way that they become second nature. Yet… they understand little of what the words mean. I will go into more detail of this in my upcoming “5 worst things” list. But for now, keep in mind that Chinese people have quite often told me of the many failures of their own school system. For Chinese people to say this about their own country, it leads me to believe that there truly is a problem.
How does this affect your future teaching in China? Why did I begin a ‘best’ list with a negative? It’s because the job is hard. If you care about teaching, if you really want the children to learn something… it’s an uphill battle against an army of killer robots with super powers that don’t really like you very much. Oh, and the robots are invincible.
But through all the bad things there are some incredible experiences to be found, beautiful moments that you will remember for ever. So with no further complaints about how hard my job was, in descending order, I present the 5 best things about teaching in China.
5. Gratitude from parents
Lets kick off this list with a ‘best thing’ that whilst seeming quite usual, is actually a big deal here.
The parents usually don’t know English, they don’t watch our classes and they often can’t understand what their 4-year-old just learned. Honestly, what they know about the class kind of hinges on what the child tells them afterwards. Which typically comes down to whether or not they had fun.
So for them, progress a teacher makes within the class can be hard to judge. The teacher might have worked tirelessly so that the child stops saying the sound ‘i’ as ‘ee’. “Seet down”, “the feesh ees beeg”… ect. But the parents can’t really see that, sure I can tell them. But in my experience they don’t even realise it’s even a problem. If the kid is tired from hard work, well, they see a sad kid. On the other hand, the teacher might have played a game and drawn pictures for one hour, the children run out with huge smiles and bam. Best English teacher of the year.
All of this is so common that when a parent genuinely thanked me, when I saw the sincere smile on their face as I gave my brief after class report… Well it goes a long way towards job satisfaction.
But that’s just the first good thing about teaching in China, it gets better.
Who doesn’t love getting a gift? Especially when it’s based on your hard work.
In the year and a half that I was teaching in China, I was given several gifts by children. But the ones that I remember, the ones that really moved me, were the ones they made themselves. Whether it’s a card with a few spelling mistakes but a heartfelt message or it’s a cute little plant pot they made in art class. To know that you, in some way, made them so happy that they made something for you…
I’m not crying. You are.
3. Kind words
This one might seem as vain as the last, but that doesn’t make it any less special.
Often I taught children “I like…” or “I love…”. For them to use it correctly was enough to make me smile but to hear one of them say “I love teacher.” made my whole day. These kind words are not why I taught and I certainly didn’t expect them. In fact I worked some of them so hard I would be surprised if they didn’t hate me. But to know that after months of pushing them to speak more, read clearer and gain confidence, they actually appreciate it enough to say something nice to me is heart warming.
Depending on what kind of school you go to you may be on the receiving end of this far more. I know several schools, usually the ones with tiny children, have more of a “play” focus, learning through songs and games. So if you happen to teach little children you could very well be adored by masses. However if you’re stuck working with a dull reading and writing course like I was burdened with, well then it’s going to be rough. But if you give everything that you’ve got to them, it will all pay off.
I don’t miss teaching in China, but I do miss those kind of moments.
2. Hard workers
In my time teaching in China I taught many different kinds of children. I taught lazy children, average children, naughty children and one or two that seemed like genius’.
However none of these compare to the pure delight of teaching a hard worker.
This kind of child wont progress quite as fast as a genius but their absolute dedication is roughly one thousand times easier to deal with. You see, the smart kids think they know everything, they are bored with the routine structure of the course I teach and require what is often awkward extra attention. The naughty and lazy kids, well they speak for themselves.
One child in particular, lets call him ‘Kevin’. Because that’s his English name, he actually started off as a naughty/silly kid on top of joining a class that was much further ahead of him. After 6 solid months of work on my part to reduce his silly nature I was left with THE most interesting kid I ever taught. He remembered phrases from months ago and used them correctly, he was one of the only children that I heard speaking English outside of the classroom. Kevin genuinely enjoys learning English and he works damned hard to do it.
Honestly, if teaching in China taught me anything, it’s that hard work pays off in the end. It really was an honour to teach some of the children I had.
1. The Results
And here we are at the end of the list.
Teaching in China is hard and sometimes there isn’t much joy to pull from it. Sometimes knowing you will be teaching the same things to the same children for months to come. Well it can be rough.
Until you’re at the end of that tunnel.
On my last week as a teacher I had mixed emotions. I felt such a huge relief having finished and being able to move forward with my life. But I also felt sad to say goodbye to some of the children I had taught. Especially the ones that were there when I first arrived.
But one thing above all left me feeling positive as I finally stopped being a teacher.
I taught some children how to speak English.
I know that sounds… obvious. As if it is just another part of the job. But I taught children that had been learning for 2 years and when I started teaching them, could only repeat a few basic phrases and stumble over basic words. Now they can have a full conversation with me and I bet they could hold their own in an English environment. Persistence, perseverance, patience and a lot of hard work on their part is now the reason about 20 Chinese children can now speak basic English.
There aren’t a lot of things I am proud of accomplishing in my life so far. But that is one of them.
– Adam Pemberton