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I’ll concentrate solely on the teaching aspect – and, it depends on what kind of institute you teach at, and probably where in China you are. I am in a third tier city in Guangdong, and this is what I have found.

Language schools

You’ll be teaching a lot at the weekend. My typical Saturday was 9:30am – 9pm, with a break for lunch and dinner. My Sunday was 9:45am – 6pm. Monday is the day off, and during off-peak times you will also get another weekday off. At the weekends, you’ll be teaching kids of well-to-do families. Often they do not want to be there but have been pushed there by their parents, and this can manifest in their behaviour and lack of interest. Not that they are anywhere near as tyrannous as any kids in their situation would be in my own country. But dealing with children is definitely not my forte, so lessons with kids under 14 was pure survival, leaning heavily on the local teaching assistants, who were often working part-time there and studying at uni during the week. My workmates seemed to get on with the little ones better than me, so if you’re good with kids, it’s possible to plan fun lessons and get them on your side. Weekdays are quieter and consist of one-to-one lessons with teenagers or adults, and evening classes with adults. I much preferred those evening classes and bonded so well with my first adult class. They went all-out for my birthday and one even took my measurements and handmade me a traditional qipao dress.

Public/ government university

The students here are just the best. They are engaged, and knuckle down when you ask them to. They have their own opinions and with each new wave of students, more and more are willing to voice them. Whereas when I first started at the uni, students were meek and barely had any personalities, just five years on, they are much more forthcoming and fun to teach. They love a good game but can also get stuck into deeper and more controversial topics. For English majors, they face big national examinations, which are a huge deal, so near exam time, this is definitely their main source of motivation, but the rest of the time they don’t slack off too much either. Some students will continue speaking English with their dorm mates outside of the classroom, which is something I highly doubt language school students or private college students ever do. Small issues come up when I try to correct or suggest anything as an alternative to what their Chinese teachers have drilled into them and it’s easy to feel at loggerheads with them, but I simply make it clear to my students they can do whatever their Chinese teachers expect in those classes, but for mine, I have xx expectations. They seem to totally respect and understand that. Without getting students on board with this, the Chinese teachers will inevitably get the last word amongst students on anything regarding their second/ third/ whatever language, and the native speaker will be dismissed as not knowing what we are talking about. Unfortunately this sentiment is sometimes quite direct and blatant with some Chinese teachers who unashamedly try to push it on the students during class. Luckily I think the majority of students are not as gullible as the Chinese teachers seem to think. Another thing is that, no matter how much you feel like a “proper” teacher in class, you are ultimately powerless on your department. Say you do get an anomalous slacker you would like to fail – it’s just not gonna happen. Even if you get to input a fail grade (which in itself is a battle with the department), said grade will mysteriously change to a pass. It’s fortunate that not too many students deserve to fail.

Private college

Teaching here is pretty much a joke. It’s just a case of showing up, making our salary, and going home. Don’t expect any more than one or two students in a class to engage you like a human being. I have had one student see me patrolling the class attempting to talk with students about the task, who then crouched down – crouched – behind her friend, thinking I wouldn’t see her. It’s hard not to feel insulted by that, or any of the other shit I have to deal with. Faces are permanently attached to phones, playing games or watching films, sometimes with headphones in. Confronting them doesn’t achieve anything. Like language school students, these are generally rich kids. They have no national exams to pass in order to get their major (which isn’t actually a major, but some certificate) they don’t really have to worry about passing any finals either because as long as their parents keep throwing money at the college, the students will miraculously pass. Despite being students of my oral English classes, they can’t – or won’t – utter a word of English, even when trying to make a case for their attendance. It’s either sign language (even when asked to stand up and answer a question), or Chinese. There is nothing to motivate them, least of all themselves. Large numbers of students will simply bounce out of the class at break time, even if they know that I know they do it. Working there full time (luckily I don’t) would be utterly soul-destroying and I wish they could only see how wonderful public university students are.

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