If you’re looking to teach English in China or moving here to teach English as an expat, you probably have some concerns about living and working in this unique country. Many things can be challenging when teaching in China, but luckily, there are plenty of ways to overcome these challenges and make the most of your experience!
What teaching in China is really like
Teaching English to students is a rewarding experience, but it has its unique challenges. This will help you prepare for all that’s to come. Some teachers are surprised by how different teaching abroad can be from what they’re used to at home, and others find their experiences don’t differ so much from classroom teaching back home.
Before you start teaching abroad, here are eight things to know about, what you’ll face during your first year—and some tips on how to get through them with your sanity intact.
1) Familiarize yourself with the Chinese education system
Unless you’re planning only to teach expat students, you’ll have to be familiar with local laws and regulations. Educators must attend training courses that teach them about social values, Chinese culture, international education practices, teaching methodology for young learners, etc. In addition to these classes, new teachers can make friends by getting involved with their local teacher association.
These groups always look for new members and offer networking opportunities and support systems (many professional development workshops also take place during weekly meetings). Getting involved early on gives you a head start navigating your way through unfamiliar territory.
2) Expect school politics
One of the most common mistakes expat teachers make is to go into a new job thinking that they’ll be able to avoid politics. Yes, you may work directly with a supervisor who runs things as they see fit but don’t assume it will stay that way. Like many organizations, schools often have political undercurrents that can become obstacles if you let them. Make sure you understand what’s going on in school before jumping into your new position; otherwise, you could be part of office drama before you even realize it.
3) Get ready to survive intense summer training
It’s usually a shock to new teachers arriving in China for a job for the first time. They can’t believe how much material there is to learn, how little vacation they have, and how used up they are by September. The bigger shock comes when trying to teach English without understanding Chinese grammar or pronunciation. Don’t make these mistakes.
If you’re unfamiliar with Chinese grammar, begin studying as soon as possible. For instance, start learning key words for pronunciation and grammar rules. It’s also worth getting a teacher friend to give you some mock classes. Make notes on mistakes you make while teaching so you can work on those areas during your summer training. If your school doesn’t cover it during summer training or provide material to study beforehand, take a crash course at home instead. You can hire tutors or read English books that teach Chinese grammar.
4) Prepare for your own professional development
It’s an exciting, scary thing to be a new teacher – it’s like going on a roller coaster without a safety bar! Most people who choose to live abroad are looking for adventure. It sounds easy on paper – all you have to do is show up at your new job and teach your class, right? Yes, but no.
Teaching expat students can be very different from teaching children who grew up learning Chinese as their first language, so you will likely have to adjust your methods when you get there. This can mean starting from scratch because many schools will not expect or provide any training for you, so try as much as possible to identify what resources exist within or around your workplace before starting work.
5) Find ways to integrate into life at your new school
Integrating into life at your new school can be challenging if you’re an expat. You might find little or no support from other teachers, who may even go so far as to tell you that nothing like that happens here. They may even treat you differently than their local colleagues – some ignore you completely, while others stare for a long time before approaching, making a conversation awkward.
The key to overcoming these challenges is to put yourself out there, invite others to lunch, participate in group activities, and develop relationships with your students. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen eventually.
6) Spend time getting to know your students, parents, and colleagues.
It’s easy to focus all your attention on your students, but you’ll also need to take care of yourself. Make sure you have a local network of friends and colleagues. This will provide support if you run into any issues with your job or personal life. It’s also important to get out from time to time. For example, see a movie, hike, spend some time shopping or whatever it is that helps you relax.
Remember: Your sense of self-worth needs to come from within, so make sure you have hobbies and a social life outside work!
7) Don’t forget about yourself – manage stress!
Getting overwhelmed by everything that comes with being a new teacher is easy for newcomers. But one of your biggest challenges is learning how to handle stress effectively. If you don’t manage your stress well, you can quickly fall into a downward spiral of negativity and fear. The key is, to be honest about how much stress you are experiencing so that you can talk openly about what’s going on at school with other teachers.
If you want to navigate your first year of teaching abroad successfully, it’s important to understand that you are doing something huge. Going abroad is one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities—but it’s also a challenge. While obstacles will undoubtedly arise, there is no better teacher than you when facing challenges. With these tips, we hope that you can turn any challenge into an opportunity—and have a successful year as a teacher in China.