I know it sounds cliché, but travelling halfway across the world to teach English in China was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Sometimes it was challenging, other times rewarding, but above all, it was an experience that created memories that will last a lifetime.
If you come to China to teach English through a recruiting company, chances are high that you will be placed in a public school. This is good news, as teaching in a public school compared to other learning institutions has far more perks than drawbacks, and I’m here today to explain what you need to know before you embark on your public school teaching adventure. Let’s get started!
Big class sizes
I know this sounds frightening, but trust me, it’s easy to get used to and might actually be easier to teach than small classes! Public school classes in China are big: they average around 45-60 students per class. Don’t let this intimidate you however, as bigger class sizes have their perks. If you’re not a morning person (like me) and you need a jolt of energy to really get you going, a big, energetic class will help you do that. It is much easier to be an active teacher when you can feed off the energy of grade school students hungry for knowledge.
When doing class activities in a big class, you can extend the duration of some activities to make sure most students in your class get a try. An activity that would maybe take less than 5 minutes in a class of 20 can likely go up to 10 minutes in a class of 50! In addition, a big class will likely contain a few students who speak English at a decent level, so when you throw out a question and are met with blank stares from 98% of your students, you can always count on those few whiz kids to help you keep things moving.
Short class times
You’ll be happy to know that an average public school lesson only lasts about 40-45 minutes. This is much, much shorter than my average high school lessons, which went up to 75 minutes! The great thing about having 40-minute lessons is that you can keep your lessons tight, focused, punchy, and energetic, while still giving everyone in class a fair shot at participating. With shorter lessons, you won’t need to do too much prep work as all you will need are four to five well-thought out activities that will keep your students active. And if a lesson isn’t going as well as you hoped it would… relax! You’ll be out of there in less than 40 minutes so you can go work out the kinks!
A (relatively) easy schedule
Compared to some training centres and private schools, public schools won’t require you to spend too much time teaching classes every week. Though it varies from school to school, you can expect to teach up to 17 classes per week, for a grand total (17 x 40 minutes) of just over 11 hours per week in the classroom. Often, this total is less, and you can usually expect to teach around 12 to 15 classes per week.
In addition, some schools won’t require you to stay in the office when you don’t have class, so you can head home and run errands after you finish your last class for the day. However, I do suggest spending time in the office to get to know your fellow teachers. After all, you will be working with them for the whole year and they can be great sources of teaching and discipline advice. And if your relationship with them is great, they may even do you a favour sometime (class swap, anyone?)
If you don’t like following a strict curriculum where you teach lots of grammar points you aren’t comfortable with, you will be well-suited to teach in public schools. Though some schools do require you to teach certain grammar points from their textbook, many of them give you free reign to teach whatever you like! This might be a disadvantage for those of us who would like some order or some idea on which to base our lessons. But for those of us who don’t like being bound by rigid rules, we can design our lessons however we like! The method I recommend is just to pick a topic your classes might find interesting and base your lesson off that. Then, you could throw in a grammar point, speaking practice, funny video, game… the possibilities are virtually endless!
You don’t need to speak Chinese at all… but it helps
Every public school will assign you a “contact teacher”, who will likely be a local English teacher at your school. He or she will be your translator/messenger for the whole year and will be responsible for letting you know about everything that may involve you, such as school events, holidays, or schedule changes.
Having a contact teacher around essentially means you don’t have to learn a word of Chinese to get by at your school. However, your contact teacher may not be the best communicator. You know that afternoon you thought you had free? Well your schedule changed and now you have a class at 3pm that your contact teacher told you about at 2:45pm. Also, your contact teacher won’t always be around to help you tell the printing lady you want 200 crosswords printed out ASAP. A good thing to do is to start learning Chinese and practice by talking to your colleagues. Bit by bit, you’ll be able to do things independently and you’ll have a much smoother teaching experience.
You’ll have to become a “Yes” man/woman
Likely the best piece of advice I can give you to make the most out of your public school teaching experience is: be involved! Yes, I know I said that some schools technically don’t require you to be there don’t have any classes to teach, but you should make an effort to get involved in the goings-on of your school.
Here’s the best way to do that: your school, like any other school, will have a bunch of events scattered throughout the year that you will be asked to participate in. That may be a sports day, a Christmas show, judging a language competition, or playing on the staff basketball team, to name a few. The best thing you can do is ask your contact teacher or your coworkers about upcoming events, and if they invite you to participate, enthusiastically say yes! Unless you have made other plans without any knowledge of said event, you really have no excuse not to join. Now, if you’re feeling event-fatigue and just really don’t want to do them all, just go to the most important ones (Sports Day, Christmas, and English competitions). I’m pretty sure your school will still like you if you’re “sick” on the day of the singing competition.
For prospective public school teachers, I hope you will have as good of a time as I did. What’s the point of coming to China if not to create lasting memories and an experience you will never forget? Remember to check out my blog, Country and a Half , for China advice and more. Happy teaching!
Guest post by Ivan Berezowski
Ivan is a writer/translator who spent three years teaching English in the bustling metropolis of Shenzhen, China. When he isn’t writing blog posts to help newcomers in China, he can be found behind a plate of exotic cuisine or hard at work saving money for his next holiday. Check out his blog Country and a Half (www.countryandahalf.com), or follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram for more exciting information out of China.