It was my first time visiting the orient. I was excited with the prospects of living in a new culture, but, at the same time, I was afraid of the unknown: what would teaching in China really be like; would I make the grade?
I had accepted a four-week stint at a Shanghai university, teaching English conversation to High School English teachers. I had no idea what their level of English would be, and I was so afraid of being a teacher’s teacher. I imagined the scrutiny would be intense.
Not knowing what materials I would need, I prepared for every contingency. One one my two suitcases was crammed with a wide range of reference materials and teaching resources. I had cut numerous articles from Canadian newspapers, thinking I would combine some Canadiana with the English lessons.
The company that had recruited me did everything to make my transition as smooth and painless as possible. I was met at Shanghai Airport by a lovely female company representative, who drove me to my hotel (which was part of my compensation package). I was given $50 RMB a day for meals and every Saturday we (the other 2 teachers and myself) were taken via private university bus to a scenic spot (meals again included). Evenings and weekends were free time to do as I wished. My salary was $1500CDN…approximately twice that of a university professor in China. It was…to say the least…choice.
I had two classes every day Monday to Friday. The first class was from 9:00am-11:30am. We had one hour for lunch (catered buffet with absolutely fabulous food!). The second class was from 12:30-2:30pm. By 3:00pm I was back in my hotel room, changed and ready to explore the amazing city of Shanghai.
I know this all sounds too good to be true and you are probably thinking, “Ok! What was the catch?’ Well, for me, there were few ‘catches’.
The university building was new and well-equipped. It was also air-conditioned (thank God!) because the average daily temperature was over 35 degrees Centigrade and the humidity was usually over 90%.
‘Alright! Alright!’ you are most likely saying. “So what were the students like???”
Well…they were a dream. Each class had twenty-nine high school English teachers. Of the 58 total teachers, only 10 were males. Their level of English grammar was amazing; some had a better knowledge than I. But…this was an English conversation class…and I was soon to discover that their speaking skills were very limited.
The first few minutes of the first class were quiet and tense…I very quickly discovered that all the materials I had so carefully selected and packed were of no use. My students did not know how to speak English very well at all and I was forced to draw on my sense of humour and my vast knowledge of party games to break the ice.
Thankfully, I had them all laughing and at ease withing a few minutes and for the next four weeks we embarked on a voyage of discovery. I learned so much from them about their struggles with teaching in China. I was taught about the Chinese ‘system’ of education…and most rewarding of all, I was treated to an amazing insight into the world of educated Chinese adults. While I did my best to cram as many of the subtleties of the English language into the 50 hours of classes as I could.
I developed a close bond with many of my students and still, to this day, I keep in touch with several of them.
I was fortunate. We have all heard the many horror stories recounted by frustrated and disillusioned Canadian teachers who have taught overseas. I tried to avoid such problems by working with a recruiter who had many years of experience…and the strategy worked. My experience was rewarding and very successful. So successful in fact, that I had three more trips to China.
If I were a young, unattached, aspiring teacher, I would seriously consider earning my wings by teaching overseas. You are in demand. You are respected. And…as an added bonus… you get to see as much of the world as you can handle.
Just Google ‘ESL JOBS’ and begin your journey.