Call me a bit Gung Ho and a bad advert for how not to approach the whole teach TEFL thing but I can be excused for I am an older man, and therefore by default have wisdom or so I thought. Well at least I have my degree and I did enrol for a weekend practical tefl course so it should be enough. While my earnest elder colleagues all decided to wait until they grasped every aspect of grammar I hunted down the first Teach English job, had the Skype interview, and before I knew it I was heading of to the bad lands of China to teach. Screw the QTS and the PGCE I will throw myself in at the deep end and have a clearer picture of the good-side and the bad-side. And of course there’s Beijing too. As not expected the job I was offered never actually materialised and the supposed agency attempted to find me another job that came ‘with accommodation.’ I was shown a few living spaces which cried out, ‘shit-hole!’ So i dropped them and then searched back online while in a hostel in Beijing. Now there is Teaching English, and there is China. There are also culture shocks and there are culture shocks. I have done a bit of travelling before and I remember after completing a charity walk through the foot-hills of the Helambu region I had decided to make my way to Varanasi, India. I remember to this day arriving at Varanasi and walking through the mud-filled streets, past the sacred cows that hung out non-chalantly and walking under the thousands of poorly wired electricity cables that were stretched from wooden pole to wooden pole. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Now this is a culture shock.’
I continued to search through local websites looking for a job and it wasn’t too hard to pick one up and after a quick interview I was ready to start a full time job with an apartment for free, and a reasonable wage that was worth around 25K, so not that bad. And of course THETRAINING. What teacher wouldn’t start without some training and here we start to see the difference between the teaching in China and also back home. I arrived on campus to what was a pleasant apartment with a large double-bedroom, living room with television, furniture, great shower, air conditioning and heating. All in all very perfect and no punch line. When I went into work on the Monday I was greeted by the teachers and then given my time-sheet and this is when I inquired about the training and was informed, ‘to just go and talk to the students and get to know them.’ As I had no experience I nearly panicked but I had a laptop provided by the school and internet access. I could have just gone in and talked but I thought it would be nice to have some material to prepare as a kind of back up in case things go wrong. As I went from classroom to classroom I had been given about 10 separate classes with a range of class sizes from 4 students to 30 students with an age range of about 15 to 18. Some enthusiastic some apathetic. And that was it. There was no training and at this point you can cry out how awful or say well how interesting as you get to do what you want to do and see if you have it within you to be a teacher.
Over the next few weeks I developed a chart for the different levels of English. I worked out which classes were eager and not so eager and whose English was the strongest. This allowed me to prepare different sets of lessons depending on the level of the classes. My best classes were working slowly with four students and also the excitement of a well run class of 15 students. I had managed to pull a myriad of different lesson plans and played games and tried teaching grammar and when I could, showed TED talk videos in Chinese, and as I said it was kind of 50/50. There are some very good schools and there are some that are still chancing it a bit, and at the very least they mainly let down the Chinese students and parents who have paid good money to be taught in the correct manner. What I took from it is that even when it’s bad it’s not that bad and teaching English is equally about the adventure than it is about the job. We can all teach back home in our own culture to a class of all-smiling obedient kids with subjects we live and breathe, but that is hardly a challenge at all.