(a) Renato Ganoza
Many foreigners come to China to teach English, some because of passion for the job, some because it’s a nice opportunity to spend a year or two in China. But what is teaching English really like in China? This week we have Monica to share her experiences and to answer your questions.
The views and opinions expressed in the answers of this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Living a Dream in China.
I’m Monica. I’ll be 24 this December and am from Phoenix, Arizona, USA. I’ve been living in China two years as an English teacher and now a director for a business recently started by my boyfriend. [Monica works for New Life ESL and they help foreigners to find teaching jobs in China.]
Why and how did you end up in China? Why to teach English?
I was a member of AmeriCorps, an organization that places young people at non-profit organizations for a 10-month term to give back to their communities. I received a nice, big scholarship upon completion, but decided moving abroad suited my interest more, as I had never really had time to travel since I was constantly working and going to school in America. Teaching English is a jump-start to move abroad. It wasn’t my “dream job”, but after being a teacher for two years, I have truly fallen in love with all of my students and have been able to watch them grow as young learners.
What has been the best about teaching English in China?
There are loads of perks when teaching abroad. I really enjoy the relationship I’ve built with my students. I’ve been able to have lots of free time and go to places I couldn’t have dreamt of while living in America. I’ve been to Thailand, Hong Kong, beautiful cities throughout China and have been able to save money and even start an agency for people who want to have a higher quality of life by living and teaching abroad, something that is becoming more unachievable due to poor western economy. That’s honestly a very small fraction on how my life has changed in a positive way since moving to China.
And the worst?
The worst part about living in China is probably the fact that I just don’t have control over some situations. I can sometimes be a control-freak, so this has been an exercise of the brain that has actually benefitted me. Even the worst part of living here has managed to help me grow as a person.
What are your plans for the future?
My future right now just looks like a map. My boyfriend and I constantly talk about where we will go next. As our agency grows rapidly, we have the ability to work from anywhere in the world and always call China our home.
How is teaching in China similar to and different from teaching in the U.S./your home country?
I’ve never been a teacher in America, but it’s clear that the classroom environment is 100% different. These kids go to school seven days a week. They’re in school all day long. The students are not taught creativity or critical thinking. They are taught to remember the answers. We’re basically starting from scratch. Our job isn’t only to teach English, we need to teach them skills on how to use their English casually and confidently, not like robots. Teaching at a training center and teaching at a public school are completely different within themselves. A public school can have as many as 60 students per class with no TA. The students may have never learned English. That’s a challenge. At a training center you may have 10 students in a class who have been studying English for a few years in addition to a TA who you split classroom responsibilities with.
What certificates do you need?
A degree is preferred but not required. A TEFL, TESL, TESOL, or CELTA is also beneficial. I’ve recently written an article about the meanings of these acronyms and which might be best for you.
Can you be a teacher in China if you don’t know any Chinese?
Learning Mandarin is in no way a requirement to teach English in China.
Should English teachers learn Chinese? How?
This is a heated debate. My Mandarin is very, very poor. However, I use it in every lesson. By understanding the grammar of Mandarin, it helps me relay the differences between the two languages to my students. A lot of schools strive for an “English-only” classroom setting. A lot of teachers are all about the English-only rule, but since I’ve seen results with my kids, I’ll continue to use what works for me.
As far as language learning, I’ve never studied Mandarin which makes me a very bad expat, but I’ve picked up enough to hold a 10 to 15 minute conversation. The best way to learn is to spend time with the locals and avoid putting yourself in a “western atmosphere”.
What is it like to teach in a Chinese school?
As mentioned above, you’re not only teaching English. You need to be prepared to come with original and fun ideas. I recently told my friend that these kids just don’t have a good week. Their parents give them so much pressure to study, they don’t have time to play with their friends and by the time they hit middle school, they’re true products of their environment. Be the cool teacher. You may be their only outlet for fun and creative learning.
Is living in China safe for an English teacher?
There are hundreds of thousand of expats here. Obviously something is keeping them here. If you’re hearing horror stories about how some foreigner got robbed or beat up, then they probably deserved it by disrespecting the culture. Chinese people have been so warm to me. I have been able to join some local families for Chinese New Year and I have even been close to drunken tears at how loved I felt by them. If you only spend time with expats you will never learn how to respect this beautiful country.
What cultural things should one be prepared for?
I don’t think being prepared is nearly as important as accepting the culture. Things are done differently no matter where you’re moving to, you just need to come with an open mind.
How easy is it to find a teaching job in China?
It’s so easy! People think the move abroad is difficult and scary, but honestly, it can be done in just a few steps. Apply, get an interview, sign the contract, get your visa and book your ticket. That’s really it.
Do you have to be a native speaker in order to teach English?
This is a preference but by no means a requirement.
How much is the average pay?
I wouldn’t say there’s an average pay. It’s all based on the cost of living and experience. Some first year teachers can make 6-8,000RMB per month while some seasoned teachers make as much as 30,000RMB per month.
Something else you would like to add, for example advice and tips for people coming to China to teach?
Take everything with a grain of salt. This experience should be fun and new. I am a living testimonial on how exciting it is to live in China. I had a great life back home. Lots of friends and a supportive family. I just wanted a change of pace and a chance to explore the world I live in.