“I’m fine, thank you. And you?”

AKA, Teaching English in China. (The title is the standard response to “How are you?” that we hear multiple times a day, every day, shouted in chorus by roomfuls of Chinese students.  We are trying to teach them good, okay, and so-so, but they seem really stuck on this ingrained answer!)

Between random class cancellations and our visa trip to Hong Kong, we’ve had a pretty light workload these first couple weeks. I didn’t really want to give an opinion until we’d settled into it a little more, but with another holiday coming up now seems as good a time as any.  So, how is teaching? In general, we like it!  The kids are adorable, the teachers are friendly, and we’re working less than half the hours we would at home.

Emily’s Take

  • Junior 1 & 2 (11-14 year olds)
  • 15 classes/week on a biweekly schedule, totaling 30 classes (45 min/class)
  • About 50 students/class, sometimes tabled in groups, sometimes single rows
  • Frequently observed by Chinese English teachers
  • Shared office with 2 sweet & funny recent teaching graduates

Tommy and I have definitely had different experiences, in part due to the schools we teach at but mostly due to the difference in our students’ ages and levels.  Teaching Junior 1 has been a huge learning curve for me.  I went in my first day nervous but confident with a simple lesson centered on the five question words.  It is barely an understatement to say that I crashed and burned.  Shortly into the lesson, one of the three observing teachers pulled me to the side and explained that in primary school their English teachers only speak in Chinese, so the students didn’t understand what I was saying.  Um… okay.  I jumped back in, trying to level down as much as possible and speaking even more slowly.  The observing teachers began to circulate and talk to my students in Chinese.  I managed to get answers that roughly followed the learning objective of the lesson, but I had no idea how much the students were actually contributing and how much was guidance by the Chinese English teachers.  After class, one of the teachers advised me that maybe I should work on the ABCs with them next time… Yikes!

Luckily, I only had one lesson that day and the next day I had Junior 2. The difference was huge.  They were easily able to complete my lesson as planned, giving me a big confidence boost!   I went back into Junior 1 with an ABC/pronunciation lesson, which went well but was clearly a little too easy for them. *Sigh.*  That first week a bit of a struggle trying to find the sweet spot between boringly easy and frustratingly difficult, an issue which was exacerbated by the Chinese English teachers who were there to “observe” but frequently helped the students in Chinese.  Since then, the number of observers has gradually dropped off and I’ve talked to the ones that stay about their level of interaction with the students.  Now that I know their levels I’ve been able to prepare the appropriate lessons and it has been a lot less stressful and a lot more fun – for them as well as me!

Tommy’s Take

  • Senior 1 (15-16 year olds)
  • 19 classes/week (45 min/class)
  • About 50 students/class in paired rows
  • Never observed by Chinese English teachers
  • Private office and bathroom!

Life is good. Classes are good. Blogs are work. Thankfully, I have not had to contribute on the essays up till this very moment (Thanks Em). That being said, I have really enjoyed my classes at Sinan #6 so far. My students, 3 weeks into classes, STILL scream and clap when I walk into a room. Two days ago I was asked if I had a QQ yet (Chinese Facebook), and all I wrote on the board was “QQ” to let everyone know what the question was. What a mistake! The students got so excited that other teachers could hear them through 2 closed doors.

Generally speaking though, I would say students here are a lot more disciplined and respectful than back home. Not sure if that is from the bamboo whips or the daily 30 minute “Dictator style” principal speeches. Whatever it is though, these kids are motivated and ready to learn which is something I don’t believe I’ve ever seen.

Teach English in China Our Quarter Life Adventure

2 Replies to ““I’m fine, thank you. And you?””

  1. Wonderful post. It is so good to hear from both of you. I’ve been feeling like I should blog to give a bit more news about what is happening here – but, “blogs are work”. It’s been unseasonably hot here, which is good for the crops. Work has been busy for me – still working hard on documentation for our recent comprehensive stress test. Love you both.

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