Category Archives: shanghai

Don’t be the car.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to watch a series of Chinese-English classes. This is a rare thing – usually Chinese-English teachers don’t like native speakers watching their class. They sometimes think that we’ll judge their English prowess (when really, I’m taking notes on how awesomely she corralled that snarky boy with just a look – I must learn their secrets!) or look down on them for having an accent. Or something.

They're laughing at me because I ordered them to do something. I am not a Chinese teacher, therefore I am not intimidating enough. ^__^

There was one male teacher I watched who was utterly brilliant in his efforts to make class interesting! He brought props. He had a flash powerpoint presentationwith cute, singing cartoons. He spoke 95% English in his class (a lot of C-E teachers do a lot of translating, which is a bad thing – but that’s the subject of another post) which is another rarity.

In fact, he did such a great job, that it was really disappointing when he got to the Q&A wrap-up. I mean, he had them singing, chanting full sentences, doing matching games, checking comprehension – and now comes the big part: asking questions and getting answers from the students.

Teacher: “Did the fox want to eat the blueberries?”

Student: “Yes, he did.”

Teacher: “Excellent! The fox wanted to eat the blueberries, great job!”

I’ve already posted about the importance of full sentences and the 80×20 rule so I won’t repeat myself (much). But this teacher did something that surprised me. After accepting this lackluster answer, he turned to the rest of the class, repeated the question and got everyone to repeat it. It was the 1 point answer, not a great one, but he got the group repeat.

That is called a macro response.

I see this look a lot with middle school kids.

Have you ever heard of the expression, ‘like a deer in headlights?’ If you’re a Canadian, you may change it to ‘moose’ or ‘caribou’ and then that covers the whole country and so yes, you have heard of the saying. It means that when the spotlight hits you, you freeze and can’t move or say anything, much like the poor deer which has now just totalled your new Neon.

Don’t be the car, people.

How to not be the car: Students are the same way. Yes, they are like deer. Some of them are outgoing and eager to volunteer and participate in bounding through the classroom field and talking without reservation. Others are almost pathologically shy, or terrified of making a mistake in front of their peers, or god forbid, their homeroom teacher who might now call their parents and explain that “little Timmy just shamed his ancestors because he couldn’t answer the question ‘what color is the brown dog’ with ‘it’s brown’.”

When – not if, when – you get that student in class who looks at you in utter terror as you ask him/her a question, keep one very important rule in mind: do not let the silence drag out. If they do not answer you in 3 seconds or less, they will not answer you in 5. Or even 10. What will happen instead is the child’s eyes will get bigger and bigger like that poor dead deer in your freezer and they will start inching backwards in their seat, trying to get away from the evil teacher closing in on them. They will then start lowering their gaze, refusing to make eye contact with you in the future and that child will grow up hating English all because you stared them down back in grade one, traumatizing them for life. Life!

So what do you do instead?

If a student doesn’t answer you right away, immediately look to their neighbour, or someone with their hand up. Get the correct response from them.This is called a micro response – getting one student to give the answer. Get that answer, and then get the whole class to repeat it for the macro.

Understand?  Let me show you:

Teacher -> one student -> Teacher repeats ?? -> whole class answers

They all get to take advantage of that correct answer instead of just one kid in the class. But then, the most important thing you need to remember, which so many people don’t, is to go back to the original kid, the deer in the headlights, and give them a second chance to answer in the micro response.

Maybe they didn’t understand the question and needed to hear the answer first. Maybe they knew the answer but were shy about pronouncing some of the words. Maybe they thought they knew the answer, but being Chinese and being conditioned to being ridiculed or insulted for not giving perfect answers, they chose to remain silent until they knew for sure. Whatever the reason, you now have an excellent opportunity to get that full answer from them. You can now get them to OPEN THEIR MOUTHS and USE ENGLISH.

So like I said – don’t be the car.

Back to this awesome Chinese teacher – had they been accepting proper, 5-point-or-more sentences, this would have been darn near perfect. Get those full-sentence answers, get the micro-macro-micro responses and let them all take advantage of the proper English being spoken and used in the classroom. Full sentences. FULL. Please, for the love of Hades, don’t do this:

Teacher: “Did he want strawberries?”

Student: “No, he didn’t want strawberries.”

Teacher: “No. Did he want strawberries?”

Student: “……No, he wanted blueberries…?”

Teacher: “No. DID HE want strawberries?”

Student: “…..Oh. No, he didn’t.”

Teacher: “Great job!”


You’re doing it wrong.

Anything can be taught to anyone. Any subject to any grade level. If you tell me that you can’t teach a certain subject matter to a student, my first thought is not that the content is too difficult – it’s that you haven’t done your job right. A teacher needs to know how to break down difficult material – break it down, break it up, find snippets inside it to expand on and then knit all the little snippets back together for the big finish.

One thing I always try to tell teachers is to experiment with what works. Try new things. Everything from sign language to decorative letters to inter-class postcards to play dough, to cooking with non-cook recipes. Your mileage may vary depending on the activity, the way you manage it, and your students, but there’s no reason not to try something at least once. Once you have the students interest, the comprehension will eventually follow. Trust me. They want to learn, they just don’t always know it. 😀

Every textbook has a unit on food, and once you hit grade 3, they start to talk to you about recipes and how to prepare things, like sandwiches, or fruit salad. I had an entire month dedicated to making as many non-cook classroom recipes as I could, including no-cook applesauce and fruit smoothies. The kids – if you’ll pardon the pun – ate it up.

For example, the sandwiches. Oh, the sandwiches! We made peanut butter and jam sandwiches in my G3 class after everyone’s parents signed a bilingual waiver regarding eating and food allergies. I divided them up into groups of four (I had 20 kids at the time) and then divided them again into pairs. Everyone got one piece of bread.

I did it this way because after four years of floundering, I had finally discovered the key to mastering these type of group activities. Planning. Strict, even severe planning, from step 1A all the to Z4. Everyone follows along and everyone does exactly as told. And it worked!

So yes, everyone has a slice of bread in hand. In the pairs, I had additionally labeled them 1 and 2. 1’s got the butter knife and the peanut butter. 2’s got the spoon and the jam jar. I instructed the 1’s to spread the peanut butter on the bread, and that’s where the hilarity began.

Ilia began pounding the peanut butter with her knife, trying to move across the surface by brute force. Two others neatly ripped their slices in half with the knife as they tried to spread. The only one to do it successfully was Elly, who waved me over, gave me a cheeky grin and a double V-sign and told me, “I no break the bread!”

That would be why I brought that extra loaf of bread. It did come in handy, yes indeed.

Next up was the jelly. This was fairly easy – dip, scoop, dump and spread with the back of spoon. Pretty much every 2 was able to do this fairly easily. But group 1 was having a lot of chatter, so I went to investigate – and found poor, henpecked Potato being bossed around by his seat mate Margaret.

Margaret: “Spread it more. More. This side. That side. Potato, more spread. More spread! Do you want more jam? Jam in the corner, Potato. Can I help? Can I do it?”

Potato: “I can do it! You no say you! Mandy, she is a 1, she sit down, yes?”

Recalling the rules, I told Margaret Potato had a point. She had her turn, now it was Potato’s. Margaret wasn’t satisfied.

Margaret: “Mandy, he do it wrong.”

The drama ended soon after Potato slammed a third spoonful of jam onto the bread and slopped it all over every single white space left. He held up the dripping mess for Margaret’s approval and she nodded. He had appeased her.  Thank the goddesses.

The easy part was putting the two slices together. The interesting part was cutting it in half so each pair could get one half of the sandwich. Kelly demonstrated her expertise in handling flatware as she carefully sawed through the sandwich. Jack wailed for me to help him when he accidentally pulled the top slice along with his knife where it landed jelly – and a bit of peanut butter – side down on the desk. Jack took the Ilia method of sandwich-ology – that is, he began beating his knife against the sandwich until there were several cuts through it instead of the smooth diagonal line we were going for.

In the end though, all the kids enjoyed their English snack, and carefully copied down the ‘recipe’ and the instructions. I knew this was a complete success when a few days later, several of the kids returned to class to tell me they’d convinced their parents to buy peanut butter and jam so they could make sandwiches at home. Potato told me that for several months, it was his preferred afternoon snack after school, and rather than have his grandpa bring it to him already made to nibble on during the walk home, Potato insisted on going straight home so he could make it himself. Not only did he learn English, but he picked up a few life skills as well!

I did the same thing when we studied Goldilocks and the 3 bears (we made sweet porridge with Quaker oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, hot water, a bit of milk and sweet raisins), healthy eating (fruit smoothies, with yogurt, apple juice, bananas, strawberries and kiwi’s) and when we came to the fruit salad recipe in the textbook (apples, oranges, bananas, sugar, apple juice, and lemon juice).

The key to all this is to make it English related. We start by reviewing the ingredients – mostly English food vocabulary. Then we add materials – cups, spoons, bowls, knives – basically, things found in a kitchen (and this can also be tied into an overall ‘In My Home’ kind of theme). Then we put them together and wrote a recipe complete with the materials, ingredients and then step by step instructions. This also includes new vocabulary, like ‘spread’, ‘peel’, ‘open’, ‘chop’, ‘cut’, ‘mix’ and ‘stir’. Then you wrap it up after eating by challenging them to come up with their own recipes, making substitutions, or inventing strange new ones (Insect Stew anyone?).

And of course, you stress hygiene at all times. Ingredients like fruits and veggies need to be washed, utensils need to be clean, and everyone – no exceptions – needs to wash their hands. My kids had two steps to this actually – first, they all trooped to the bathroom to wash their hands. Then when they came back, as they passed through the door, I squirted some hand sanitizer into their cupped palms. They got so good at washing their hands, they began to berate their classmates (remember I had 20 – half of them. An actual Chinese class has 40+kids in it) when they neglected to wash their hands before lunchtime.

Now, I realize not everyone has the freedom or ability – or even classroom capability to activities like these. I don’t expect everyone to. But you do have to find new ways to make your classes interesting and memorable, if you truly want your students to retain anything.

If you’re not a cooking fan, well, there’s still plenty of other things you can get them to do and try that still fits under the umbrella of English. I have a few more things to share along those lines but that will wait until the next post. ^^


It’s all about control.

Some schools provide you with training before you get started. It could be an hour of watching teaching videos, or a month of shadowing an existing teacher. It might be a week in a classroom practicing demo classes with other teachers, or going to schools to watch Chinese classes. Training for what – how to teach? Can you seriously learn that in a week? How to handle the kids? Ah, now you’re getting it. See these kids? They look adorably innocent but they will EAT YOU ALIVE if you’re not careful. ^^

The big ticket item of discussion would most definitely be classroom management and how to handle these curious, insanely intelligent children. If you can get some semblance of control over your classroom, almost every other problem that appears on our ticky list o’probs will practically disappear.

Case in point – I walked into a classroom the other day to do an evaluation. I walked in, had a brief conversation with the coordinator there, sat down, rifled through my bag to pull out evaluation papers, and took notes. The kids were so enthralled with what this teacher was doing that they never took their eyes off the board once. In fact, the only reason they noticed me at all was because the teacher pointed me out for something (an opinion on their topic of discussion) and I answered. Twenty heads spun around with wide eyes and slack-jaws, all gaping and asking, “When did she come in?”

THAT is classroom management. Or more specifically, THAT is classroom PRESENCE.

I swear, the one thing you truly need in this job and it’s something I can’t teach, or bottle up and sell. Classroom presence. That feeling of walking into the classroom knowing you’re in charge, and imparting that feeling to the students before you even open your mouth. And when you DO speak to them, it’s with such confidence, such authority that the kids can’t help but sit up and listen.

I’ve seen some very shy and quiet teachers over the years. The ones who whisper, “Guys? Be quiet please? Please? Teacher needs to talk now, can you please listen? Please?”

Begging is for dogs and three-year-olds in the candy aisle at the supermarket. You do not ask for your students’ attention – you demand it, take it, and do not let it go. But for some people, that requires a major overhaul on their personality, and it’s not easy to do. And that’s fine – I respect that. That just means we have to find another way to gain their interest.

Then on the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got the boomers. You know, the ones that are so loud and enthusiastic they scare the heck out of those teeny tiny little first graders who are blown away by the volume. You may think waving your arms around is showing enthusiasm – they see flailing fists and think ‘threat’. But you know, I actually really enjoy working with these kinds if teachers simply because they have that personality that I can mold and channel into more positive gestures. They’ve got presence – we just need to work on delivery. 😀

The one thing I can’t do is demand someone just change their personality. I was giving a mini-workshop to Chinese staff members about effective communication – the best ways to convey their opinions and suggestions to stubborn, mule-headed foreigners, and as a solution for one of the problem-solving scenarios, one of the coordinators told me that he wanted to tell a teacher to change their personality.

….I had an instant vision of an angry teacher storming into the office and yelling about how unfair it is to expect a person to change a fundamental aspect of their personality and how psychologically impossible it is for them to do so. I nearly had a spontaneous migraine just imagining this encounter and told the coordinator that if that happened, I would be coming for him next to share the pain. 😀 Okay, okay, in reality we talked about what to do in this situation and I told him I was just joking about the threatening. But still, it was a valid problem.

There are so many ways to get around classroom management problems even if you have no voice at all. I know schools here in China like seeing active and enthusiastic teachers so for our shy guys, we have tricks to get around that. Things like games that are specifically designed to get students loud and involved – but require very little input from the teacher once it’s under way. And if you properly utilize the 80 x 20 rule – that is, the students speak 80 percent of the time while speak twenty percent – the kids basically spend the whole class being loud and active while you can be your shy violet self as much as you need to.

man⋅age⋅ment:/ˈmæn ɪdʒmənt/ [man-ij-muhnt]


1. the act or manner of managing; handling, direction, or control.

I have to repeat this – seriously, ninety-five percent of all classroom problems would disappear if people utilized proper classroom control. I can give ideas out the whazoo but it does absolutely no good whatsoever if the teacher doesn’t use any of them.

We hold the points system up as the total and complete sum of all decent teaching. You can accomplish anything if you properly utilize thy blessed point system, so sayeth the experienced teachers. And to an extent, this is true. Local Chinese teachers use points systems in their classes, and we’ve all seen how well the kids behave for them!

The way it works: regardless of how many students you have, divvy them up into teams or squads, and put those teams on the board – or on paper, if you’re really keeping track. Points are given for a wide variety of reasons – anything from completing homework to raising one’s hand during class – to giving a particularly witty answer during class and making the teacher laugh. In my case, I gave them points if they got the better of me, and since they were smarter than me, they racked up a fair number of stickers, curse them ALL. 😀  Anyway, you give points freely, and kids respond to this because they like seeing physical proof – marks on the paper or on the board – of them accomplishing things.

However, this is only half the battle. The real way to utilize points is to take them away just as aggressively. Someone didn’t raise their hand – take a point. Talking out of turn – there’s another one gone. And still, this is not the whole of what you do. The last part? You need to personalize it.

Seriously, I cannot stress just how imperative it is for a foreign teacher to utilize the concept of peer policing. You want the kids to govern themselves, and their teams instead of you. So you personalize the point system: “I’m giving Team 2  three points because Jackie gave such a great answer. But I’m taking 2 points from team one because Tommy spoke Chinese instead of English.”

If you do this properly, you are pretty much guaranteed much better classroom behaviour then you had previously. But the real kicker is the rewards. Kids need proof that they did something well. Parents don’t always believe them because kids are prone to exaggerations and lying just to see a proud look on mom and dad’s faces. So you reward the teams at the end of the day or at the end of the week with stickers in their book, showing that they worked together to score the highest points in the whole classroom. Kids are highly competitive, and taking something home to their parents as proof of their success is sure to help gain their attention in your classroom.

….but no matter how many times I stress this, I can’t tell you how many classrooms I’ve walked into just to see complete chaos erupt with no management in sight. Sure, the points system is on the board, but maybe the teacher forgets it’s there. Or they give points all the time, but never take them away. That’s nearly as bad as the teachers who threaten to take points away all the time but seldom do. What you end up with then is a class full of kids who will call your bluff in a heartbeat.  You can’t just take one portion of this system and expect it to work perfectly unless you’ve got a classroom of complete angels – and do you know often that happens? There are no atheists in foxholes and there are no angels in classrooms.

So yeah, the point system is our keystone, our load bearer for classroom management. That’s not to say that’s all we rely on, but it is the main one.

I also like the ‘keep them moving’ option. This is where you come to class so well prepared, that everything flows smoothly – one activity moves directly into the next, you’re never left floundering for things to do, you don’t have to go rummaging through your bag to get stuff you need because you set it all up in advance; you’re not constantly turning your back on the class to write stuff because you got to class early to write it before class began. These kinds of teachers rarely report problems with the class, and why? Because they keep their students motivated and involved and not giving them a chance to get bored. Before they get a chance to throw that pencil box, these teachers have already called upon them to stand up and recite something, or take part in the game already underway. Adding to this is a decent use of the points system, and you’ve got the perfect class – and yet 1 or 2 teachers still stand there, scratching their heads and asking me why they didn’t get such a great class to work with.

I rarely blame students. Dude, when I was in school, the teachers who bored me got the brunt of my boredom. My French teacher from grade 6 to grade 8 – I think back on the hassles we gave her back in primary school and I find myself wanting to look up Mademoiselle Ineo to apologize for the gray hairs I’m sure we gave her. But in our defense, writing down all those verbs, conjugating them and listing whether this noun was male or female – it was dull. DULL. If we could have done more speaking games, more interesting dialog scenarios, maybe we wouldn’t have been such brats.

Same thing here – kids who are bored are not going to be even remotely interested in paying attention, much less acting like they respect you. And if you come to class with little to no preparation, you’ll get eaten alive. Little kids are like sharks and coming to class while displaying bouts of forgetfulness or unpreparedness on your part is like chumming the water.

So no, the kids, I rarely blame. If the foreign teacher was truly taking their job seriously and doing more than the bare minimum in prep work, they wouldn’t be having so many of these issues.

And yes, I can tell. I know darn well who is treating this like a real job and who is not, over the years. I can see it in the faces of the kids who happily greet their teacher or the ones who barely notice he or she’s there. I see it in the lesson plans – from the ones typed up neatly, to the ones scribbled down on ripped out sheets of note paper in point form and in handwriting so messy I can barely figure out what they’re doing. The teachers I meet at bars telling me how they have time to get a buzz going between classes – really guys, you’re not impressing anyone.

That’s the big problem with ESL teaching. There are definitely good teachers out there. I do see a lot of them, and I’m fortunate to work with so many professionals who take their job as seriously as I do. However, for every great teacher out there, there’s at least 2 or 3 who treat teaching as something fun to do to earn cash so they can move on to their next destination. Or even better – they teach to make money to support themselves until they manage to land their dream job – their entire focus is on the future and looking forward to that magical day they can quit. What do they care about the day to day running of their classrooms? They have no investment here.

But yeah, back to classroom management for teachers who actually care. You know, the hardest thing to do? It has nothing to do with points and systems and bribes. The biggest boon to teaching, the best way to captivate students attention is… something that can’t be taught. I repeat: it can’t be bottled, sold or passed along. What I’m referring to is sheer classroom presence.

I didn’t actually understand the importance of this for the longest time. I could never figure out why I had no trouble gaining the attention of my students while other teachers reported no one listening to them, or having to fight to get their attention. I just didn’t get it.

When I go into a classroom, I go in there with the attitude that it’s MY classroom and we’re gonna have fun today. We ARE going to accomplish everything on my list and we ARE going to this, that and the other thing. Everything I do is exciting because I make it that way – I wave my arms, I join in, I play with those kids. I have a naturally loud voice which can boom across a room and get that attention back in a heartbeat but that’s not the only thing – if that were the case, teachers would simply solve all their problems by investing in a microphone and speakers.

I have this saying that I pass along to teachers, primarily Primary teachers (though it does kind of filter along to most kinds of ESL training, save for adults):

Check your dignity at the door.

Seriously. You are working with KIDS – if you aren’t enjoying yourself, then chances are, neither are they. You need to act as though everything you do is the most exciting stuff in the world. Wave those arms of yours, act out songs as campy as you can. Change your voice, sing along with the songs, boogie along with the kids or conduct them with the pointer. Laugh at them, laugh WITH them and let them laugh at you.

When I go into my room, I am the most interesting thing in there. They don’t want to take their eyes off me because they don’t know what the crazy foreigner is going to do next. Maybe I’ll have them dip balls of toilet paper into water to make snowballs to throw at my snowman target on the blackboard. Maybe I’ll let them throw paper airplanes to measure distances in English. Maybe we’ll sit on the desks and wave our hands in the hair singing ‘YMCA!’ They never know what I’m going to throw at them – they only know it’s going to be interesting and fun and man, they don’t want to be left behind.

If you are having fun, then so are they. Keep that in mind, and your class will go so much easier. ^^

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Posted by on March 22, 2011 in china, shanghai, teaching


Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

In an ideal situation, as a new teacher you’d be given a fresh new classroom with the wrapper still clinging to the untouched blackboard. A shiny plasma screen glints at you from the corner of the room, and the computer is already hooked up and ready to go.

Reality is slightly different. ^^  If you’re lucky enough to get your own classroom, you may have to equip it yourself. The bottom line when starting your new teaching job in Shanghai? Come prepared with absolutely everything you need to teach – and be pleasantly surprised if you have more than you expect.

What do I mean? Well, if this is your first day of teaching and you haven’t seen your classroom yet, don’t prepare a flash program or a PowerPoint presentation. Murphy’s Law states that the day you need the computer is the day you’ll find out you don’t have a computer, or the teacher tells you theirs is broken. Maybe your format isn’t compatible with an outdated system – or vice versa. Until you know in detail what will and will not be available to you, come prepared with the basics.

  • Colored chalk – believe it or not, young kids are easily enthralled by your stick figures done in colored chalk. It brightens up the board and makes class a little cheerier. While white chalk is universal, not all schools carry colored chalk, so pick up a supply until you know for sure.
  • Colored magnets – these are great for designating teams (both for games and for class control) and again, they add a splash of color to a dull board
  • Stickers/stamps – these make for great rewards systems (which I will detail further on). Shanghai kids are by nature, highly competitive. They love counting up their stamps and stickers to see who has the most int he classroom.
  • Large color flashcards – again, if that PPT with your wonderful slide show isn’t working, bring your backup. You can find printing places and color copier shops on every corner in Shanghai and it doesn’t cost much at all (less than 1rmb per sheet) to get large 8×10 color pics. Color attracts students attention, and small FC’s are hard for kids at the back of the room to see.
  • A game plan – you may laugh, but a lesson plan is something that can save your class from devolving into chaos, and yet it is one of the things most people swear they don’t need. A proper school/university in your home country would demand lesson plans from you in advance – why should you treat this job any differently? Plan your class and when you’re done – plan some more. The golden rule of thumb – if you teach for 35 minutes, plan for 45.

The First Day

The first time I was in a classroom, I had nothing. I was told we were going to look at a school. About ten minutes after we got there, I was ushered towards a classroom and told ‘You’ll teach in 5 minutes’.

‘Teach what?’ I asked, completely flabbergasted and clueless.

‘Anything you like’, was the answer and then I was pushed through the door.

Forty pairs of eyes stared at me curiously and I had to fight back the urge to jump out the window (the door was blocked by curious local teachers who wanted to see what I was going to do). ‘Hello,’ I said shakily, and as one, they chorused back, ‘Hello!’

‘How are you?’ I ventured.

They parroted back: ‘I’m fine thank you and you?’

Aaaaaaand that was it – I was tapped out. I wracked my brain frantically, trying to figure out where to go from there. I grabbed a piece of chalk and began nervously sketching animals on the blackboard. The children watched me with bright, interested eyes, and to my shock – and relief – they began calling out the names.



Oh, thank the gods, we had a starting point! I drew a big house, about a dozen more animals and set about teaching them about the English word ‘pet’ and whether or not they had one. By the time we had established that the triangle sitting on top of the square on the blackboard was indeed supposed to be their apartment and not my house back in Canada, the bell rang and they charged out of the room. I collapsed, limp as a wet dishrag and completely exhausted from 40 minutes of tension-filled terror and scrabbling to fill time.

One of the local teachers eventually detached herself from the group and came over to me. She had a sympathetic look on her face and she held out her hand to me, saying, ‘Would you like me to help you?’

I swear, I burst into tears and begged for her guidance.Thus began the next three months of her teaching me how to teach.

Now, I was lucky. Not everyone gets a local teacher kind enough – and brave enough – to walk up to the foreigner and offer their help. Most of the time, the local teachers take time to warm up to us because we come across as intimidating. In many cases, we’re physically bigger than they are, and we speak English fluently – which makes them nervous about heir own ability. Chances are, unless they’ve dealt with a foreign teacher in their school previously, they’re going to be wary around you until you prove you’re there as an actual teacher, and not just a paycheck-surfer, traveling from place to place and teaching just to earn some spending money.

Come prepared to handle everything on your own, and be happy and grateful if someone guides you along the way. A simple chant, a get-to-know-you game, something that gets students opening their mouths and moving along (TBR / TPR = total body response / total physical response). Get them to practice simple commands you’re going to need them to know in a modified Simon Says – raise your hand, stand up, sit down etc. It will make your life so much easier in the long run, and you won’t need any translating done.

Most importantly, smile! Have fun with these kids! They will love you automatically, and they want to do whatever you want to do! If you’re not having fun, chances are neither are they. So check your dignity at the door and get in there!


To choose or not to choose…

One thing about working in China – there certainly isn’t a shortage of opportunities! Going to google and typing in ‘jobs in China’ will bring up hundreds of ads, and even Daves Esl Cafe has it’s own China forum – it’s that huge!

But just as there are many opportunities, there are a couple of things you need to be wary of.  Here are just a few tidbits to keep in mind when you are contacting a potential employer:

  1. How does the base salary work? 11,000rmb might sound good to start (it’s on the higher end of the spectrum for new teachers with little to no experience) but how many periods a week are you teaching (26 max, usually, if the periods are 35 mins – less if more)? What constitutes a period – 35 minutes? An hour? How does the salary break down look – what gets deducted each month? What about taxes? If the company can’t answer some or all of these questions, consider looking somewhere else.
  2. Ask about the school – are you a third-party contracted teacher? Do you work directly for a school? Where is it? Will you live on campus? Are dorms provided? Or do you have to find your own accomadations? Is it one school or two? Sometimes schools have campuses miles apart – ask about locations if you may be going to more than one. Also, google an online map of the city you’re considering going to – some districts are far away from downtown yet are still classed as being in the downtown area. Look at the broader picture.
  3. Legalities – a reputable company will only hire you if they can provide you with a work visa (though you can come over on a tourist visa) and obtain a foreign experts certificate for you. The FEC basically states you’re legally entitiled to work there, and if you have to do any overseas banking, you’re gonna need it eventually. Some companies keep the FEC in their offices, making it available to teachers only when they need it. Usually it’s because they pay the fees to get it done and if you lose it, it has to be paid for again – after jumping through MILES of red tape to ensure it wasn’t ‘accidentally’ stolen.
  4. Media – what, exactly, is available to you in the school? I’ve taught in tin-can classrooms with only a chalkboard, and in fully equipped rooms with plasma screens, subwoofers and laser pointers. I know a teacher who even has lights attached to a disco ball for when she plays MP3’s! Know what you’re getting – or at the very least, plan for the chalkboard. Everything else is a bonus.
  5. Training – do you have any? Or will they do what I had my first year and dump you in a classroom with no prep, no books and tell you to ‘Go ahead, teach!’  Always come prepared for something – and that’s going to be the subject of my next post – getting through that first day/week, so check it out.

Obviously there’s so much more to think of and consider, but really, those are the first major concerns everyone who emails me has. ^^ But honestly? The most important thing to remember is that you are coming to China. It is beautiful, historic, entertaining and mind-blowing – but it is not your hometown.

Don’t come here expecting everything to be like it was back home. Shanghai may have bilingual signs everywhere and mandatory English study from grade 1 to university but that doesn’t mean everyone will speak it to YOU. Bring your phrasebook and your best ‘guest’ manners and try not to give other foreigners a bad rep with a bad attitude. Simply doing that much will endear you to the locals that much faster, and once you have their friendship, your life here will be amazing. 😀

Have some green tea, relax and unwind. The journey is just beginning!

Green tea

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Posted by on March 21, 2011 in china, list, shanghai, teaching


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