So first a bit of background. I have worked in two cities in China, in very different schools. My first six months here was spent in a public high school in Jinjiang, Fujian Province in south east of the country. It was a wonderful experience, and one that I look back on and smile and cringe simultaneously. I was such a terrible teacher then!! But I learnt a lot from it and carried those things through to my current school.
Now I work at an English language centre, privately owned with rather steep fees. It’s quite an elitist thing, the kind of place I never wanted to work at previously. It was kind of by chance that we came to be here, as our visas were ending and we needed to secure jobs to get a new visa.
I work in a small city in China. Actually it’s pretty big, but for China it’s on the small side! My school is in the centre of town, and easily accessible by bus, taxi, on foot and (my new favourite) bicycle. There are multiple schools like ours in this city, each with anywhere between 1 and 10 foreign teachers working there. However, I am happy to be working at mine. It’s kind of a special school, though I’m sure everybody else would say the same thing!
However I do think our school is pretty unique. As well as classrooms, we also have a model plane, subway and train, that you can sit inside and role play actually being on a plane etc. It’s exciting for the children and there’s no better way of learning how to use these things than real practice. We also have a restaurant, a big kitchen, a bedroom, a bus, a store (they can collect ‘dollars’ for being good in class and actually use them to buy things in the shop), a garden and a playground. It’s an exciting place to work and to see these things in action.
Aside from this, I have a regular schedule. My contract states that I can work up to 21 teaching hours a week. On average I work between 18 and 21 teaching hours depending on the week. During the public school summer and winter holidays this goes up to 25 hours – it’s our busiest time and we work 6 days a week. A normal week is 5 days, with 2 consecutive days off, Mondays and Tuesdays.
So Wednesday to Friday we begin work at 2pm, though I am always in a few hours before this. The late start is because the kids are in public school until around 4pm on weekdays. Wednesday is my busiest day, with four classes back to back with a five minute break in between, meaning I have everything prepared and ready to go on my desk before the first one. Thursday is a little easier, with three classes, all back to back. Friday I have one class at 3pm, and the next one at 6pm. Saturday and Sunday are early starts, with 8am classes, all the way until about 7pm. However we do get a two hour lunch break in the middle! Each class is an hour long and they then get 30 minutes with the Chinese TA.
I’ve worked here for some time now and generally I enjoy it. The schedule that you see above doesn’t really suit me very well. Naturally these days I wake up early and then have a long time to wait to go to work during the week. Coming home late means eating dinner late and thus going to bed late which means I don’t usually get enough sleep, particularly true on Saturday and Sunday. I find I’m tired a lot by our weekend on Monday and Tuesday, and I seem particularly adept here at picking up illnesses. If you love to sleep late and work later in the day, then this would be the perfect job for you. Personally I prefer working the normal 9-5 day as it suits my sleeping and eating habits better. That being said, aside from the sometimes irritating schedule, I greatly enjoy teaching.
My classes vary in age, that’s the biggest catch with working in a private school. I have baby classes, with twelve 2 and 3 year olds. I have kindergarten age classes, all 5 and 6 year olds. I also have primary school kids, between 6 and 10 year olds. I used to have a teenage class here, and many teachers have adult classes (that’s one class I cannot teach!!). It can be a downside: if you like consistency or want to focus on one age group, I wouldn’t recommend a language centre. However it can break up the monotony of having one age group. I am best with the youngest kids – my classes with them are so much fun and I feel such a sense of pride when they learn new things with me. However, with four classes that age, I love to go to my older classes, where I play different games, can have conversations with them, and generally have a slightly more relaxed time with them than constantly being on the go with my younger ones.
At the moment it is the summer holidays here in China. This means that we are experiencing our busiest time of the year! We work six days a week, and I have a couple of morning classes here and there on Wednesday – Friday. This is also when we get our biggest influx of one-to-one classes, who vary in age from 3 years old (oh yes. I teach a 3 year old as a one-to-one. It’s certainly interesting!) to adulthood. The most common are teenagers, coming to study with us before jetting away on a year abroad or before going to university. During this time we also run a summer camp, which this year we are only taking part in for a few hours a week each, and also multiple fun activities are held in school for the kids to enjoy where we play summer games on the playground, make crafts, eat picnics… they’re pretty fun.
Every school is different. If you work in a public school obviously they are all pretty similar, though the salary is lower (so are the hours though). Language schools vary so much, in hours, salary, teaching styles and available materials, and it all depends on the company itself. Having worked in a public school and a language school I think that the schedule day to day in a public school suits my habits more. However I love teaching at my school, and there are definite advantages to working here.
Sometimes surprise things happen that can be irritating but if you learn to just go with the flow then it’s not so bad. I adore my classes and though on occasion I might have a class not go so well, I still look forward to teaching each of my classes. I like to see them grow up and develop their interest in things, not just in English, and I am privileged to be a part of their young lives. If you do decide to take the leap to work in China, it can be exhausting and stressful at times, but fun and intensely rewarding most of the other times. I’m glad I decided to come here, and teaching here has changed my outlook on what I want to do with my life. I know now that I love to teach and whenever I decide to leave the world of ESL I want to be a kindergarten teacher. Or at least do something where I’m helping children. These kids are a blessing, and I am forever proud and happy to be in their lives. ❤️