Tag Archives: Teach English in Beijing

Becoming the Best Teacher

Teaching in Beijing, China was my first TEFL experience outside of my home country, South Africa. I had an idea of what it would entail but I had no idea that within my year; I would be viewed as one of the most popular Teachers. At our annual regional charity auction with a total of 18 centers; my class was auctioned for the highest amount of 10,000 RMB. Needless to say; my center made the highest amount for the auction with a total of almost 20,000 RMB raised. This was a welcomed surprise for me but also great that the money would be benefiting orphaned children. I can’t say that I was the best Teacher as I was amongst Teachers with far more experience and expertise but I was voted the most popular Teacher in my time there. I think its important to strive to be both. The key here is to work toward being the best Teacher who gives off themselves 100 percent in their classes and to make sure every student feels that they are getting a sufficient Return on their investment.

Students pay a great deal to learn English and whilst some are doing it as a hobby; others see it as a pre-requisite for a better life and to realize their dreams. I worked at a training centre with a clientele of adult students so my advice and tips to follow are mainly from my personal experience; however this certainly can be used/adapted for kids and school environments too.

Its great to be able to travel around the world and immerse yourself in new cultures; but the reason you are able to do that is because of your job and in this case…your job as a Teacher. If you want to be really good at your job; you have to love it and make whatever circumstances you are presented with work for you. Let’s first take a look at some common complaints about Teachers:

Classroom in Beijing
Classroom in Beijing

Complaints from Students (Adult)

  • The Teacher seemed bored in the class
  • I didn’t understand the Teacher
  • The class was not fun
  • That Teacher made me uncomfortable (usually female students complaining about Male teachers)

Management Complaints and concerns

  • Adhering to dress code
  • Punctuality (this is important as in some places; your work time is monitored)
  • High TTT (Teacher Talk time)
  • Your class finished too early/too late
  • Not well prepared for the level you were teaching

Here are some observations and tips to make your classes fun and boast the highest quality.

  • Its important to be prepared for your classes in terms of the lesson plan and the material you will be using. Sometimes there may be challenges like insufficient teaching material or last minute changes – learn to adapt and take the initiative to be creative and add extra activities or material if you need to. After a couple of months of teaching; you will be very familiar with the teaching material and will be able to gauge where you can spice things up; eliminate some material and tweak it for better teaching practice – you can discuss this with your Manager first.
  • Know your students – the ages; levels; interests (you can gauge this in class) and have activities that align with these.
  • Set the rules early so that they are aware that even though this class will be fun; it’s all about learning and you wont tolerate anything other than their full attention. Here are some examples of rules set in my classes:
    • No Cellphones to be used during my class – even if it’s to research something they are learning in class (Students tend to want to look up the word/meaning in their vernacular to better understand or the pronunciation via an app)
    • If they are to take pics – then allow it before you erase information from the board or at the end of the class
    • Always have students introduce themselves and spell their names and write it on the board so that you can call them by their names and be personable
    • No talking when I am talking – they will have enough time to talk to each other during their activities.
    • If they need to take a phone call for work/something urgent- they can excuse themselves and go outside; Otherwise all phones are to be on silent.
    • No Chinese to be spoken in Class – Only English
  • Be aware if students are getting bored – this is extremely important because success of your class is also determined by how fun students feel your class is. The key here is to start your class on a really high note with lots of energy and make them all feel comfortable.
  • Change things! You can change the set up; make them do an activity that involves walking around or moving; blindfold them; get them to play a game etc. These can all be planned in your lesson beforehand.
  • Be Visual – always try to incorporate visual elements to your teaching even if that means you are drawing on the board; get pictures etc. Students tend to remember things better if they can see what you’re talking about especially if its something new to them.
  • While students are doing their free practice exercise; when you hear any common errors – make a note of this and do a group error correction at the end of the class before or after you provide feedback – they find this very useful. This may be dependent on the age group you are teaching.
  • Timing is everything – this applies to your overall class and covering all the teaching objectives set out for the lesson but also in terms of the attention you pay to each student. In smaller groups, if you have a few weaker students; you may need to give them some extra attention but do so without the brighter students feeling like they are robbed of your time or are bored while they wait for you. Always ensure that students have an activity or are practicing their speaking when you are assisting a weaker student.
  • Bring your authentic personality to your class and let them get to know you a little. When teaching; don’t be a rigid “stick to the lesson plan word for word” type of person. Tweak examples to make them relatable to you or your students. Students enjoy getting to know their Foreign Teacher and also like educating their Foreign Teacher about their lives and country. Try to use this in your class material and you will be surprised at the mutually beneficial learning experience you will enjoy.
  • Always have some additional activities – you never know when you will be presented with students who get through activities quite fast and expect to learn more so try to be prepared with some fun activities they can use to practice the target language they’ve learnt – this applies to kids and adults!
  • Work with and not against your fellow peers. I worked very well with my colleagues who were also my friends. It is important to maintain good working relationships and also help each other. You can learn so much from your colleagues and exchange ideas on how you dealt with similar challenges, students, lesson plans, activities and so on. Most of the fun ideas that worked in my classes were from other Teachers who shared them with me and vice versa. Your peers are your best resource! Then comes the internet.
  • Behave appropriately – if you are teaching adults; then you have to be aware of your behavior and body language. Teaching in China is known to be appealing for some men because of the beautiful students they will get to know; but not all these students are charmed by foreign men. Beware of getting too close to students and have clear boundaries. You are guaranteed lots of social fun and interaction outside of your classes; don’t risk your job because you can’t control yourself in class 🙂
Classroom in Beijing
Classroom in Beijing

Side note:

Depending on your teaching environment; if you have a hobby or special passion that you enjoy then you may also be able to introduce it to your students as part of their lessons. This makes teaching fun and enjoyable for you and your students. Here is an example of what I did:

At our training center; we had a class that was called an “English Corner” – this was where teachers could prepare presentations on topics of their choice (for example: Do aliens exists? Let’s talk about Donald Trump! Etc.) This was the best class for all Teachers because we got to choose the topic and went through the presentation with students who got the chance to answer questions and have discussions with each other. I introduced a 6 week TV Presenting Media Workshop for students sharing my experience in broadcasting and they got to learn and practice their English in a fun way (Interviewer and guest; Talk show etc.) and learning  the relevant English vocab pertaining to this field. Our center turned this into a campaign to improve students attendance and the overall winning students would get a CCTV studio tour and lunch.

I also hosted a wine tasting workshop as South Africa is famous for their wines and a dance workshop because that is one of my biggest passions. You can also introduce things your home country is famous for or personal things you enjoy to relieve the homesickness you may feel and make your lessons fun. Teaching English as a Foreign Language in a new country can be fun and exciting for not just your students but yourself too! Once you understand the dynamics, rules/red-tape, limitations and creative freedom within your organization; you need to find creative ways to ensure that you are enjoying your classes and by default your students will too. If you are presented with very challenging circumstances or are in an unhappy work environment; then while you work on your exit strategy, try to remember that your students should not be disadvantaged as a result of your circumstances and  be present in your classes. Your students can, sometimes surprisingly, turn a bad day into a pleasant one! Good luck!

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Hear from Our Teacher in Beijing, China- Avashnee

Before Coming to China

Why did you want to teach in China?
I was interested in having a really new, challenging and exciting life experience and China appealed to me because I believed it would give me just that. There was no doubt that it wouldn’t be an easy transition from a Western country to an Eastern one where there would be a language barrier and a different culture altogether so I was interested to experience it. China itself has always been of interest to me and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to teach in China.

How was your experience finding a job through On the Mark Education Consulting?
On the Mark Education was very efficient and of the highest quality in terms of the recruitment process. This was my first experience in teaching abroad in a foreign country and based on how effortless everything was in terms of being presented with the opportunity and the interview process that followed; I am optimistic about doing it again.

How long did it take to get your visa? How was the communication with the school during the visa process?
It took me about 2.5 months but this was due to the fact that getting a criminal check in South Africa takes about 2 months. The visa itself came within 3 weeks. The communication with the school during the visa process was very efficient with prompt responses and feedback from everyone involved. The company I was placed with was very professional and the team I worked with was very helpful and friendly so that made the whole process very favorable.

What website did you use to book your ticket to Hong Kong?
I used the google flight and ultimately had a travel agent book everything for me.

Teaching Life in Beijing, China

What was your first impression of Beijing upon arrival?
It was very overwhelming. I was in Beijing, which was so busy with so many people! However, it was a great experience when I first arrived. Everyone was very friendly and although I am South African; I am of Indian descent and Chinese people hardly if ever see Indians so they found me very intriguing. I cannot count the number of times selfies were taken with random people even on the subway. Finding food I recognized was a bit difficult and getting a taxi was one of the biggest challenges I had to overcome.

At first, taxi drivers may just drive past you or stop and then shake their heads and drive off when you speak to them in English. I quickly learnt to download the right apps; learn my home and work address in Chinese (and how to say it correctly) and be able to learn how to direct them by saying (left – “Zodwa; Right – Yorjwa; straight – Izhadao; I know the way – Wozhidao etc.) You quickly learn that if you’re friendly and people like you then they are extremely helpful and you will always find your way or whatever you are looking for.

What was the biggest culture shock about Beijing?
The spitting! People spit everywhere and they make a loud warning sound before they do sometimes and for people who are not used to that.  Its obviously considered to be gross.

The language barrier – I was once lost in a Hutong in Beijing and no one around could understand me or direct me to the right place – my battery was dying and eventually did die and it took me almost 2 hours to find my way.

Teaching in BeijingWhat’s your favorite memory to date of life in Beijing?

There were so many – but my favorite will always just be the people. The people I worked with, the students I taught, a boyfriend I had for almost a year there – together we traveled to Thailand, Hong Kong, Macau, he came to South Africa to meet my family and I went to England to meet his and then together again to France and Netherlands. Despite the many goodbyes I had when I left China, the people that I met and the experiences that it led to will always be a favorite!

What do you like most about teaching at your school?
I like the fact that it was so organized and that they invested in their staff with consistent programs and training for development. There were also many opportunities to grow and be promoted if you were interested in staying longer.  I really enjoyed teaching in Beijing at my school.

What do you do when you have days off in Beijing?
Initially, I spent them touring the city and ticking off all the must see tourist spots. Eventually, there were some favorite places to go to to get my nails and hair done or shopping and meeting friends. Once you get familiar with the place and learn how to navigate your way through the city – there was always something to do!

What three things do you wish you would have known or brought with you before you arrived?eiffel tower 1. I wish I had realized how difficult accessing social media would be and had downloaded a VPN before-hand. I struggled to get it when I arrived but eventually did and was able to connect with the world again.
2. I wish I had taken less clothes, shoes, bags and accessories. There were so many places to shop from and cheap online stores to easily order and have stuff delivered to you. I had to leave a lot of stuff back in China when I left.
3. Painkillers! It can be difficult to get tablets you recognize in China as almost everything was in Chinese at the pharmacy and they don’t understand English. I communicated with my pharmacist via an app and the medication she prescribed didn’t really help with pain. 

Tip: The cure for most things according to the many Chinese ladies I met was Hot water! 

Do you have the opportunity to save some money? What percent of your salary were you able to save each month?
Yes, I was able to save a lot of money and I travelled to: Shanghai, Suzhou, South Africa, Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand and Vietnam within 1 year contract. I also travelled to the UK, France and Netherlands shortly after my contract ended with money that I saved.

Language Barriers in the Classroom

Language Barriers are Expected

One of the challenges of Teaching English as a Foreign Language in any country is the language barrier. And I’m not just talking about the language barrier I experience with the children, as that is to be expected. That is the reason that we have Chinese Teachers in the classroom, especially when dealing with the youngest children who are being exposed to English for the first time. It is very helpful when teaching a group of three-year-old’s what the rules of the classroom are. For some of the children it is their first time in a classroom, and it is primarily conducted in a language that they don’t yet speak. While we try to avoid direct translation when possible, it is sometimes necessary with the youngest/lowest level students. However, sometimes the language barrier also comes up with my Chinese teaching assistants, and finding ways around that is sometimes the most challenging part of working at my school in Beijing.

I really admire the Chinese teachers I work with, because I have never been challenged in quite the way that they have chosen to challenge themselves. They all live in their native country where the majority of people speak their native language and they choose to work in an environment where they are required to spend a good part of their day communicating in their second language, as the majority of Foreign Teachers don’t speak that much Mandarin. Some of them do it as a way to improve their own English levels so that they may eventually go to university or get jobs in the USA, UK, or Canada, while others have different motivations.

Chinese Teacher in Beijing

Relationships with Chinese Teachers

So far, I have had very positive experiences working with my Chinese Teachers in the classroom. They are delightful people who really care about their work and want to help you however they can. One of the biggest parts of their job is talking to the students’ parents, so it is very important for the Foreign Teachers to communicate well with the Chinese teachers about what material will be covered in a class and when. Depending on your relationship with them and how you both feel the class functions best, you can co-teach with them or they can function more as an assistant in the classroom.

English Levels Will Help Determine that Relationship

Sometimes this will depend on the Chinese teacher’s English level vs the English level of your students. CTs with a relatively high English level have an easier time helping teach higher level students, but when you get to the really high level classes, they tend to struggle to be active in the class and will take a more passive role. This isn’t really a bad thing considering that in these classes the students’ level of English is high enough that they can communicate easily with a Foreign Teacher. 

Chinese Teacher in Beijing

In one of my classes, the students’ English level is actually higher than our Chinese teacher’s so she and I have worked out other ways that she can help me in the classroom. She provides a lot of the materials I need and assists with making sure all students stay on task.

Good Communication

Good communication is key to doing this job well, and I have found a few ways that help communication between people who have a very high language barrier. One is to keep the language simple. Sometimes you may feel disrespectful by dumbing down your language, as you may feel like you’re treating them like children. But if the situation were reversed, they would have to do the same for you. Also, try to avoid using idioms, which can be hard because as native speakers we often don’t realize just how many we use in our everyday speech.

Taxi Trouble Solutions in Beijing

The Subway is Great

There’s a lot of great things I can say about the subway system in Beijing. It is extremely cheap, it runs frequently, and since (like most things in Beijing) the signs are written with the Roman alphabet as well as Chinese characters, it’s very easy to navigate. I use it every day to get to work and whenever I go somewhere in the city during the day.

Beijing Subway

The operative phrase in that last sentence is “during the day.” There is one major flaw I find with the Beijing subway system, and that is its opening hours. If you want to go out at night and then take the subway home, you will have to stop having fun and leave around 10pm, as all trains seem to shut down between 10:30-11:00pm.

Taxis are the Nighttime Option

So, if you’re like me and you want to go for a beer or several with your co-workers after you get off work at 8:30pm, you will have to rely on taxis unless you are within walking distance from your home.

Now, you may be asking, why is that a big deal? Well, aside from the fact that taxis are more expensive than the subway (which is no different from any other city I’ve travelled to), there’s a few things about taking a taxi in Beijing that are different than what I was used to in the US.

Things to Be Aware Of

Typically, in my experience, as long as you have some way to tell the taxi driver where you need to go, they are happy to take you as long as you are polite. However, in China, taxi drivers often don’t want to take foreigners because

  1. They assume you don’t know where you’re going
  2. They assume even if you do know, you can’t tell them

It’s the second one that I had a hard time grasping when I first got to China, especially in the days of smartphones with GPS. Everyone in Beijing has a smartphone, and the entire country basically runs on the WeChat and AliPay smartphone apps. In spite of this, the taxi drivers in Beijing will often ask you to tell them how to get there, even though they have GPS. If you don’t speak the language, this is obviously quite difficult to do. Sometimes if you are close and have been there before, you can just point them in the right direction, but if it’s a new place, that can be very hard.

I have been passed by and downright refused rides during my first few months. When my roommate and I were trying to move our suitcases from our hotel rooms to our new apartment, it took nearly an hour to get a taxi to take us there.

Subway in Beijing

Tips for a Pleasant Taxi Experience

Thankfully, I have now figured out ways to ease the drivers’ minds about picking me up and have a few tips for newcomers to Beijing.

Chances are good you won’t be able to tell them the exact address of where you are going, unless you have it written out or translated beforehand. So, know which subway station is closest to where you are going. The majority of taxi drivers in Beijing will be able to find subway stops. Make sure you know the word “subway,” (pronounced dee-tee-ay). For instance, if you need to go to Wudaokou, don’t just tell them that as Wudaokou is a large area. If you tell them to take you to the Wudaokou subway station, it will be much easier for them to know where to take you.

Try to verbally ask them first if you are able, but have a translation ready just in case they need to clarify. Many of them don’t mind reading it on a phone app if you try to speak to them first. It shows them that you know where you are going, and if there are issues when you get close you might be able to use hand gestures to tell them where to turn and stop.

Language Skills

As a side note, know the word “stop” (ting). Once, a taxi driver drove me a good distance past my house, and then I had to walk further home because I couldn’t tell him to let me out. He was probably trying to get extra fare, but ever since I learned how to tell a driver to stop I haven’t had the problem since.

Obviously, the more of the language you learn, the easier time you will have with taxis and all other aspects of life in Beijing. But no one can learn a new language overnight, so if you start off with a few essential phrases and go from there you will be fine.

Hear from Our Teacher in Beijing – Shannon

Before Coming to China

Why did you want to teach in China?

I had recently received my TEFL Certificate, and was eager to begin my journey teaching abroad. I was open to going almost anywhere, and the programs in China looked promising as they hire year-round, as opposed to Europe and Latin America where hiring happens during certain times of the year.
I had friends who were teaching in China or had in the past who said they had a great experience so I thought, well, why not give it a try?

As it turned out, an old high school friend was already working at this school, so when I got the offer it seemed almost perfect!

How was your experience finding a job through On the Mark Education?

On the Mark made finding a job very easy! I had applied to quite a few programs with little to no response while looking, and On the Mark communicated with me promptly and walked me through everything, going as far to set up interviews with companies for me. I found a job to teach English in Beijing within a week of working with On the Mark, and they stayed in touch with me after as well!

ESL Jobs in Beijing

How long did your visa process take? How was the communication with the school during the visa process?

Getting a visa turned out to be a bit of work, but my school worked with me throughout the process, making sure I was able to get anything I needed. I ended up going over on a tourist visa due to my documents not being available in time to get the visa before my start, but thanks to the Chinese government changing the visa policy, it will be possible for me to transfer to a work visa. I had to go to Washington DC to apply for it, but it gave me an opportunity to visit a good friend who lives there as well as my sister. You can apply at any Chinese Embassy or Consulate throughout the USA. Allow at least three days for them to process it.

What website did you use to book your ticket to China

I did a Google search first, as I find Google Flights helps me find which airlines give the cheapest deals, and who may offer direct flights or reasonable layovers. I found out through the search that Hainan Airlines does a direct flight from Boston to Beijing, and that during the week the price was actually less than some of the airlines that you’d have to have a layover. Then I booked directly through the Hainan Airlines website.

Teaching Life in China

ESL Jobs in BeijingWhat was your first impression of China when you arrived?
My first weekend I noticed that although Beijing is a very large and widespread city.  It is actually quite easy to navigate once you figure out the subway. I was struck by how ordinary of a city it seemed to be, which made me feel a lot less nervous as I went out exploring. It was no worse than trying to figure out New York City for the first time (easier, I felt), because many signs used English as well as Chinese. I was also struck by how friendly most of the people I encountered were at the different shops and places I stopped in. I was also struck by how cold it was, but that was only a shock because I do come from a cold climate and didn’t realize that cold in Beijing didn’t feel the same as cold in Boston. 
What has been the biggest culture shock about China or your current city?
When I first started teaching pre-school age children, I was told by the Chinese teacher I worked with that she thought the parents would like me more if I was more physical with the children. I wasn’t sure what she meant at first partly because of the language barrier, but it turned out that in China it’s perfectly acceptable for teachers to be very physically affectionate with the younger students.  
I have never taught pre-school in the US so it may not actually be frowned upon at home or anything, but it wasn’t what I was expecting to be told. I have no problem hugging children so I quickly embraced the idea but that was the biggest surprise I’ve found so far. 
What’s your favorite memory to date of life in China?
Oddly enough, finding an apartment has been my favorite memory because of the leasing agents my now roommate and I found through a search on The Beijinger (great website to find lots of different stuff in the city). They took us around some neighborhoods on their motorbikes to look at the different apartments they wanted to show us, and it was so much fun seeing parts of the city that way! We did find a place we like, and thankfully those agents were willing to work with us on a rent schedule.
What do you like most about working for your school in Beijing?
I like the cooperation between the foreign and Chinese teachers in the classroom, because I find it helpful with young learners particularly. It also gives me a chance to try out new teaching styles as I am still new to teaching, particularly children. I also really like how the hours are set up so I actually still have a lot of time to enjoy exploring a new city and culture while having a full time job.
What three things would you want to have known before you arrived?
1. China than in the US. In the US, you pay rent month to month, and give a month’s deposit in addition to first month’s rent. In China, it’s often expected that you will pay rent three months at a time, and when you first rent you will also owe and additional month’s rent as a deposit. If you go through an agency (which is recommended for foreigners as many landlords don’t speak English), they charge a fee that is usually equal to one month’s rent. If I had realized that, I would have brought more money with me to start so I wouldn’t have had to use my US debit card.
 
2. I wish I had known just how cheap things like toiletries and basic necessities were, because I would not have spent so much money at Target and Walmart beforehand. I would have saved a lot of money by waiting to buy them in China (although if you prefer particular brands, then this advice will not apply to you, as you may not find them here).  Not to mention, I could have brought some other things with me, like my favorite tall boots that I had to leave behind, and nice shoes cost a lot more here than some shampoo and soap. However, there is one exception to this rule for women: I recommend bringing as many feminine hygiene products as you can, as the ones here are not as good as the ones in the US. I use reusable, so I don’t have that issue, but if you use disposable, bring a lot with you.
 
3. I wish I had realized that being able to expect a taxi driver to know where they are going, or at least be able to figure out how to get there, was something I had always taken for granted in the US and times when I had taken taxis in Europe.  
I have never experienced a taxi driver trying to ask me how to get to the place where I wanted to go, and that was because I had a Chinese speaking friend in the cab with me. Often times taxi drivers in Beijing will not pick up foreigners because they assume (often rightfully) that we won’t be able to tell them how to get where we want to go.
I have been kicked out of cabs for not being able to tell them properly. Since my Chinese is still pretty weak, I am relying on the subway for the time being (which is very convenient and easy to navigate, the only drawback is that it doesn’t run very late).
As my Chinese improves, I believe I will have better luck with taxis, but that is definitely something I wish I had been aware of before coming.