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TEFL Training and First Impressions of Beijing

Welcome to Beijing!

overcast 27 °C

After an emotional departure from Pinggu (for students and teachers alike) our next stop was South-West Beijing to complete our TEFL courses. We took the first afternoon to visit Tian'anmen Square, which was colossal, and the famous Wangfujing Street, off which there is a very narrow and busy street where they sell snacks, such as live scorpions on sticks...

Tian'anmen Square

The TEFL course ran from 9am to 8.30pm for three days and on the third day we had to give a demo lesson and take a theory exam and then, for a few short hours we had freedom!! For the first time since I arrived I had nothing to do. So Will popped over from where he was staying in Beijing and I repacked all my cases, ready for my big move to my school.

On Tuesday, I was delivered to a roadside in Beijing somewhere and promptly collected by my Waiban, the lady who looks after me and acts as my chief interpreter at school. I had some serious sleep to catch up on so had a wander round the area down to the big supermarket and then headed back for an early night. I was completely free on Wednesday too, so I headed to Behai Park on the subway. It was my first lone adventure and it was kind of a strange day. I realised for the first time just how far from home I am and how much I need to learn Mandarin. Turns out the only people in Beijing who speak English want to sell you something or give you a ride in their Tuk-Tuk.

Behai Park

The school I will be working at has two campuses, North and South. I live on the South Campus and my room is lovely. It's very big and airy with an ensuite and there is a communal lounge area with sofas, a coffee machine, microwave and mini-fridge, despite all the meals being included. The lounge is beautifully decorated with Chinese light shades and wooden panel walls. Which leads me to the North Campus. It is possibly the most beautiful school imaginable. The entrance hall is white marble with a grand piano that is frequently played by incredibly talented students. It backs onto a garden area with a water feature and fish swimming in little rivers. There is a traditional Chinese tea room that is open to teachers and students to relax during breaks and out the back there is a Pagoda next to the state of the art sport facilities.

My New Office

The whole thing has blown my mind. I cannot believe the facilities and the beauty of the school. I haven't taught yet, my first lesson is on Monday. Now I'm starting to get settled, I'm looking forward to having a routine and working in that beautiful building. There's still a lot of things to be sorted, such as bank accounts etc but I'm slowly getting there and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't thrilled with the school so far... watch this space...

Posted by amysblog 04:13 Archived in China Tagged city china beijing tefl efl Comments (0)

396 students, 12 classes, 2 Campuses, 1 Grade

Teaching Grade 8

sunny 30 °C

So I am halfway through my second week of teaching Grade 8 at school. Each week I take 12 classes, and so each week I teach 396 students... yep, the classes are pretty big. My smallest class has 27 students in it and my largest has 39. The students are aged 13 or 14 in Chinese years, which is 12 or 13 for us. The variation in the ability of the classes is quite interesting. In some classes the students can hardly understand simple sentences, and in others I am able to have a joke with them. Sometimes this difference is evident even within a single class, which initially caused me to completely overestimate the ability of my first ever class.

For my first lesson, I did an introductory lesson about me, the students, and my expectations for classes. I tried to get a seating plan for every class, although it transpired this week that most of the students move seats each week. So, I'm wondering how on earth I am going to learn 396 names. And the names themselves come with their own challenges. Most students have an 'English name' that they use in English class because... well actually I'm not sure why... but generally it has made my life easier than if I were incorrectly pronouncing their names. However, there are some interesting choices of English names, my personal favourite being Bling Bing and others such as Fairy, Dipper, Paper Box and Watermelon Three Years Old, which I absolutely could not condone and so Watermelon is now known as Chris.

I'm also very much aware that I am learning on the job. This has come to light this week especially, when I was just generally unhappy with how my first lessons went on Monday. They just didn't flow and there was no progression. So after a bit of tweaking, my two lessons today seemed to go a lot smoother. I'm hoping that this is the sort of thing I will just one day know how to change... but for the time being, my poor Monday morning class will be the guinea pigs for the week.

Last weekend I had a first real taste of Beijing's nightlife. I had previously ventured to a few bars on a couple of occasions, one where the triple G&Ts cost £2.50 and another that we realised too late was full of old western men and young Chinese ladies... And so, so far my experiences had been quite variable.

Anyway, I was exhausted on Friday and so decided to meet some other teachers for "one drink". Famous last words. After some pre-drinks at the university teachers' accommodation, we headed to an area called Wudaokou (Woo.dao.koh) which is quite lively and cosmopolitan. We managed to get free entry to Global Club and free drinks virtually all night. Next thing I knew, it was 5am and I was in a taxi back to my friend's apartment where I got some much needed sleep. Let's just say that Saturday was a challenge.

On Sunday I met my friend Lauren, in an area called Dongzhimen, where we had some incredible lunch. We then headed to Sanlitun, which is another area known for its nightlife. However, this was a daytime adventure so there was only 1 G&T involved (though it was rather strong) and it was a great opportunity to have a look round the district which is absolutely buzzing and full of young people.

I'm really looking forward to this weekend. I have booked train tickets to Shanghai to visit Will. Getting my hands on the tickets was a stressful experience that I could write an entire post on alone, so I will just say that I was directed here, there and all around the huge station in broken English and it was almost impossible to pay with anything other than a Chinese bank card. But I managed! And even just buying train tickets is something that I am really proud of myself for doing haha! So I will be travelling via High Speed Rail on Friday afternoon and arriving in the evening. I'm excited to see another city and how it compares to Beijing.

Posted by amysblog 06:31 Archived in China Tagged city china beijing nightlife teaching tefl efl Comments (0)

One Month Left Blog: my teaching experience

Ah honest account of Teaching in China

sunny 35 °C

Today is June 1st, which means that in less than a month, my Chinese visa will expire and I will be on my way home. I say “on my way home”, I mean “travelling for two months around Asia and then flying home”. Regardless of the actual date of my return to England (2nd September FYI), with the arrival of June, I have begun to reflect on just how quickly the last 10 MONTHS (?!?) have passed.

One of the biggest mental challenges that I had to overcome was returning to school after the long Spring Festival holiday. Arriving in September, we had a half term equivalent in October, a couple of other days off sprinkled here and there and the ‘piece de resistance’, 7 weeks vacation. However, when that was over and I returned to my teaching post, I was faced with a 17 week semester which had no official break. Psychologically, this was a huge endeavour which I was not looking forward to.

In the first few weeks I was doing everything I could to NOT count the weeks. Halfway through, I must have subconsciously started the countdown. I focussed on the weekends and having plans to look forward to to keep powering through. With 6 weeks to go, it felt like I still had mountains to move, especially as it was time to think about writing the summer test for the students. The semester was dragging and with it so was my motivation. And yet here we are, at the end of week 14, and suddenly I’m starting to feel very nostalgic, even more so having realised that due to public holidays, with 9 out of 12 of my classes, I only have 2 lessons left, 1 of which will be a test for them.


The relationships I have with my classes are ever-changing and unique to every set of students. Due to the fact I didn’t really have any experience teaching, I feel like I was late to establish myself in the classroom which has proved to be problematic with certain classes, but in other classes it has really given me the change to evolve and grow along with my students. Out of 12 classes, there is only 1 class with whom I have had prolonged and serious issues. I have found some solace in the fact that some of their Chinese teachers have recently refused to continue teaching them because of their behaviour, so it’s not just because of my teaching! I have had a lot of support with this class from my school and the English department, without which I think my overall teaching experience would have been greatly tarnished. I had several meetings with several students from this class, all promising to sit quietly, to stop messing around, to try their best but none of these promises were ever stuck to.

The turning point was when a sweet got thrown at me in a lesson. In hindsight it sounds rather trivial, but after weeks of issues, the situation finally came to a head. Whoever the idiot was that threw the sweet did so in a lesson that was being inconspicuously observed by a Chinese teacher and the situation was (thankfully) whisked out of my hands. The entire class was given an immense dressing down, and a new form teacher was brought in, Mr Wang. Mr Wang adopted an army-style regime with the class over the next few weeks. They had no free time between lessons, instead learning how to sit and stand properly. It seemed like the class, which was male dominated, needed an alpha male. Thanks to the continuous and terrifying efforts of Mr Wang, in recent weeks, the class’ behaviour has greatly improved, to the extent that I now have a good rapport with some of the students.


bribing students with cartoons is now one of my default classroom techniques

I was particularly pleased this week, when for the first time since the sweet throwing incident several weeks ago, I did not have a Chinese teacher in the classroom to help manage behaviour. While the lesson was still rowdier than most others this week, the class was self-regulating much more effectively. The best bit was right at the end though. I usually am ignored when I leave this particular classroom, however one of the boys who was brought into meetings with me time and time again, claiming he couldn’t understand a thing and would rather do his homework, smiled a huge smile at me and waved me good bye. A small feat, maybe, but a significant one never the less.

While some classes have been a challenge from the start, others have been a pleasure since day one. Firstly, let me go ahead and say that any teacher who claims they don’t have favourites is LYING. My undisputed favourite class of the week is the class I see first thing on a Monday. This is both a blessing and a curse, because I could throw anything at them and they would respond perfectly so it means I always have a great start to the week, however it also means that I have no idea how my carefully planned lesson will actually play out in other classes.

My relationship with this class is exceptional and I feel so lucky to have met all the kids in there. They’re so sweet and enthusiastic, greeting me with smiles and “Hey Amy!” in class, around school, and even around my neighbourhood. Even if I throw the most boring work at them, we always manage to have a laugh and they make me look forward to teaching every week. I won’t deny it, I have favourites in most classes but I think it’s rare to have such a lovely class as a whole. They have given me so much confidence as a teacher and the mutual respect that exists in the classroom has given me a bench mark in terms of what to expect from other classes, which has probably improved my delivery and teaching style too.


Learning to teach has been a very empowering experience. It has definitely shaped me as a person and I have grown in various aspects. I’m a lot less afraid of confrontation and - I think - I have learned to express myself more in some ways, and less in others. As a teacher, I think I project a version of myself that changes slightly every week, every lesson even. It’s so important to understand the difference in your students and so my teaching style changes from one class to the next. I know that I can walk into one room laughing and joking and have a fantastic lesson. I also know that if I walk into some of my classes showing any sign of being anything less than a class-A bitch, I will be taken for an exhausting and infuriating ride. In some respects, it’s quite fun learning to assert myself in different ways. With a couple of classes, earlier in the semester I had an ongoing battle for several weeks, trying to maintain the hierarchy and gain a little more respect. The result was several lessons of me being over the top strict, enforcing punishments of silent written work, or plain sitting in silence, all the time keeping up a stoney facade. In reality I found the whole process to be quite amusing and very worth while. The lessons I’ve had with these classes since loosening the reins have been rewarding for me, and hopefully for them too!

I guess this piece shows the two very different sides of teaching, and probably some of the middle bits too. It’s quite representative of my feelings and experiences. Highs and lows, peaks and valleys. I hope you’ve enjoyed this truthful account of the ups and downs of my experience.

Posted by amysblog 01:24 Archived in China Tagged travel city china school beijing asia students teaching classroom esl tefl efl Comments (0)

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