First up, let’s talk about what you should expect when you walk into a classroom in China.
Students do not tend to be divided up by level so when you walk into a classroom you should expect that you will have some students who can’t even say their name when asked whereas others can quote you famous speeches and even answer some of your more difficult questions. Class sizes vary depending on the school but you should expect an average of 30-40 students per class. Doesn’t having so many students of such varying levels make teaching incredibly difficult?, you may ask. Yes, yes it does. You get used to it. If you are teaching university level you can expect your class size to dwindle after the first few lessons.
If you happen to find yourself teaching in Southern China, south of the Yangtze River, you may find (most likely, actually) that the classrooms are devoid of heaters and air conditioners. This is not to say that it doesn’t get blazingly hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter, so dress accordingly. Fingerless gloves are fantastic for when you need to write on the chalkboard. And speaking of chalkboards, that’s all that most classrooms have. If you were hoping to get lucky with presenting some Power Point Presentations (called ppt here) think again and be prepared to teach using few supplies.
It has been my experience working in both public and private schools that there is no curriculum. That’s your job, friend. If you’re lucky you’ll be provided with a textbook, though some teachers find it a hindrance, especially if it’s full of typos and blaring grammar mistakes. Students really like singing songs and playing games so I highly recommend figuring out one or two to play or have as back up once you’ve finished the lesson of the day. And they love candy.
Private schools tend to have better facilities than public schools. You may even get media capabilities which are a treat if you’re used to teaching with only a blackboard everyday. They too fall under the no provided curriculum depending on the school. More established schools like Web International and Wall Street English are more likely to have a curriculum which they provide. These schools will also expect you to do demo classes which they use to attract new customers/students. Demo classes are a pain the butt but you often get paid a bonus to do these classes.
What’s expected of you…
If you talk to a foreigner in China, or listen to the recent podcast on This American Life about Americans in China, you will often hear the phrase “dancing monkey”. It’s true, in China we foreigners sometimes feel like dancing monkeys. We’re expected to entertain, be humorous, and somehow keep it all together. We have to be careful not to step on toes, cause anyone to lose face, all the while not being surprised if some random person asks us to sing for them. Living in China can be wonderful and frustrating. In the classroom you need to keep your students engaged while trying to relate the same material to students of multiple levels, it’s a challenge but can be a fun one if you approach it correctly. Most of all, realize that sometimes you’ll be frustrated, tired, and feel beaten down and then some student will surprise you by getting it and you’ll realize it was all worth it in the end.
Coming next… What to bring and what not to bring with you to China