I’m sure living and teaching in Shanghai is a lot different than the experiences that others have teaching in smaller cities in China, because here we have so many of the Western conveniences here. It really is quite a diverse city. One minute you’ll be walking through the French Concession, surrounded by all Americans and Europeans and then as you travel into the next part of town and all you will see are Chinese people eating dumplings and chicken feet as a man peddles his load of 100 chairs behind his bike. It’s never boring here in China.
When I first thought about teaching in Asia, I never thought I would be working with such young kids. 2 out of my 8 classes are 3 year olds and the rest of them range from 5-11 years old. I have experience working with kids in the States, but I have never worked with 3 year old babies! It’s definitely different and took me some time to get used to them and figure out how to teach them. Seriously, a lot of these young classes start with at least one or two of the kids crying, but once the Hello song has been on for a few minutes they are usually all fine.
It is really helpful that I have a Chinese assistant trainer to help me with the classes, explaining things in Chinese when the kids are having trouble understanding and helping me with Chinese a little on the side. It’s also good to have an extra person around when one of the little 3 year old terrors needs to be restrained! I lucked out with my assistant trainer, Fiona, because we have a lot in common and get along really well.
The other big difference between teaching here and in the States is that there is a language barrier between the students and me. I’ll have kids come up to me and just chat away in Chinese, because they haven’t quite grasped the concept that I only understand English. The 3 year olds especially don’t understand and talk to me constantly. I’ve gotten to the point where I just nod my head and pretend to understand, because I think that’s all they are really looking for, anyway. Plus, the more Chinese I learn, the more I can understand. It’s cool to hear them say “pingguo” and to know that it means apple.
I really have a good time with the kids. They are so cute and very lovable. Even with the language barrier, I have developed really good relationships with my students. They are constantly drawing pictures for Fiona and me. Just the other day, one of my favorite students brought me a handful of some grass weeds that she picked just before class. They are so sweet! No matter what kind of day I’m having, it always makes me happy to see how happy they all are to see me and to be having another English class.
I’ve found that as time goes by, there are less and less behavior problems. I think it just takes some time for the students to understand what is expected by the new teacher. Not all of the problems have been solved, but it’s a work in progress. Pretty much all the students named Hao Hao are bad, ironically too, because that name means good in Chinese!
The schedule at my school is interesting, because our workload is super-light during the week, but the weekends are crazy. I can say for sure that I no longer look forward to Saturday and Sundays like I used to and Tuesdays and Wednesdays are my new weekend. I have 2 teaching hours per day on Monday, Thursday and Friday. On Saturday, I have 5 ½ teaching hours and 3 ½ on Sunday. My Sunday schedule also includes about 2 hours for the marketing demonstrations that I put on for prospective students.
Teaching and demonstrations are not the only responsibilities. We are also required to do a lot of parent feedback in the form of an online portal and through report cards issued every 6 weeks. We have about 2-3 hours of meeting to attend every week. My school actually makes lesson planning easier than it is for most schools. They already have really great pre-planned lessons for us to use, so this is definitely one thing we save a lot of time on! Obviously, the more creative you become in altering the lesson plans, then the more time it takes to prepare.
My school had the right idea when they set up the classrooms. They put the amazing white boards in every classroom. If you’re not familiar with this, it is a huge projector screen that the teachers and students can interact with. You can use it for all kinds of things. My school actually put together white board content lessons for each lesson that we teach. They include songs, games, storybooks and worksheets. Every one of them fun and engaging for the students.
Considering most of the teachers in the States work from 5-6 teaching hours per day, I feel like I have it pretty good here. Honestly though, I don’t know how they do it. I feel like teaching is one of the most exhausting jobs, especially when you are working with 3 year olds! After I finish on Saturdays and Sundays, I’m so tired. One thing teachers in the States do have better is holiday and vacation time. I only get 5 days paid vacation and we only get off 11 days for National holidays. The good thing is, you don’t have to wait for your vacations to take trips. Brett and I have taken two trips already to Huangshan and Hangzhou on my 2-day weekends.
Just like any other job, teaching English in China has its ups and downs, but it is for sure that I really love the teaching the kids and I’m enjoying being half way around the world and exploring all that it has to offer!