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 Maybe your format isn’t compatible with an outdated system – or vice versa.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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Old Blogger, New Tricks

*looks around curiously* Wow. ^^  I feel a little like Alice in Wonderland, journeying to a brand new and strange place. I hope you’ll bear with me while I adjust!

I’m no stranger to blogging, actually. I’ve maintained a blog on livejournal for almost ten years now, detailing everything from life in China, to fandom participation, to my volunteer work, to sheer mindless ranting. I’ve resisted getting a wordpress account for a while now because I didn’t want to keep track of more than one online blog. However, I’ve changed my mind about that.

You see, most of my LJ is now blocked to everyone except myself. The reason for that is mainly because I didn’t adjust well to Shanghai life when I first arrived. I was naive, inexperienced in everything from teaching to living away from home, and I vented quite a bit in my journal. In hindsight, looking back on those earlier entries, I was actually quite narrow-minded, and yes, even racist in some of them, though I honestly didn’t see it until I’d grown up a fair bit.

I adore Shanghai. I have for a few years now. But my LJ will always be tainted by those first 3 to 4 years of running commentary, and I never feel comfortable pointing people to it because of my earlier idiocy. I’ve decided it’s time for a fresh start. While I will keep my old LJ for fandom purposes and fun, here is where I will post most of my ideas and advice for new teachers in China, in the hopes that it will prevent others from making the same mistakes and assumptions about this beautiful country and its welcoming people that I did.

So welcome to my new blog! I hope you take away some interesting facts and tidbits that will help you decide whether or not China is the right fit for you as an ESL/EFL teacher, and what to do in certain situations. I think that’s enough of an intro for now though – see you soon!

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Posted by on March 21, 2011 in Uncategorized


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Hello world!

Welcome to This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!

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Posted by on March 21, 2011 in Uncategorized