Emily Ferris from the UK went to teach in Kunming in Yunnan province and she has shares her experience below...
The Truth about Teaching English in China
I taught in a middle school in South China that was still relatively rural and my students were seventeen to eighteen years old.
Initially, these two factors were the most challenging. It took a little while for the students to understand that I was their teacher even though I was only two years older than them. I also had to adjust to living in a small town after the bustling city where we had our training.
Chinese schools are big (the year I taught exceeded 600 students) so it is common to teach the same lesson a number of times, just to different classes.
At first this was frustrating, as I wanted all the classes to respond to the lesson plan in the same way. However when I learnt what worked for each class it was fun to make changes to suit them.
I would ask them what they would like to learn but really they were just keen to see pictures of my “hometown.” Chinese students are absolutely fascinated with pictures from your home, Western food, your house, anything!
It was humbling to see how much they appreciated just being able to look at photos they couldn’t access anywhere else.
I would often wonder how many times a small action of mine was insulting to their culture – but I knew they were too polite to ever say anything.
It Gets Easier With Time
My lessons became better with time, but the students were also very forgiving.
We had to be patient with one another, at first they were painfully shy but I also had to accept that I was alien to them. I wanted to include group work and speaking exercises (which older students may not be used to) in class but it took time for them to feel comfortable with this.
I included a lot of writing and listening activities to please the Chinese English teachers but I soon found ways to make the classes personal to me. It’s handy to base lesson plans around what you would want to know if you were learning a language: for example ordering food, going to the shops, asking about hobbies and understanding directions.
The students found all of these topics very easy to write down but it is a foreign teachers job to get them to come out their shell and talk about it! There are lots of fun ways to help students with pronunciation too.
Towards the end of the four months the students realised their foreign teacher was a normal human being and in them I found some best friends who could show me the ‘real’ China. It is hard at times, both living and teaching abroad in a different culture but the experience is special.
By Emily Ferris