A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about teaching

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)

Beijing Blog : Back to School

The trials and tribulations of TEFL-ing

So this is an incredibly overdue update about what has been happening since I arrived back in China’s capital after an incredible six weeks travelling. Coming ‘home’ has been tricky, to say the least. Writing this, I am halfway through week 6 (!!!) of the semester and honestly, I think it has taken until now to really find my groove again.

Going back to school was harder than I ever remember it being when I was younger! I think this was partially because for the entire first semester, I had been focussed on saving for and planning Spring Festival travels, and suddenly, that was done and dusted; the only thing I had in front of me was the prospect of 17 weeks of uninterrupted teaching… Having recently had the epiphany that I do not want to be a teacher, this therefore seemed (and still seems sometimes) completely overwhelming and like a colossal task. I had also completely forgotten how to lesson plan, and to top it all off, my timetable for this semester is busier and less condensed than last, meaning that my work days are longer and I spend a lot more time hanging around at school between lessons doing, well, nothing.

Restarting my Chinese lessons was initially a bit of a burden too. After a month of not using my ‘conversational’ mandarin, it felt like I was back to basics and my homework was taking me a lot longer than usual. And I was back to living in my school's accommodation, complete with its daily 6.30am communal alarm. So all in all, I was not in a particularly good mood at the beginning of the semester and was well in need of the mini getaway that was Nanjing.

The last couple of weeks have started to feel smoother, Chinese is becoming easier, it’s warming up, the morning alarm has been disabled and I’ve taken to being and incredibly strict, no-nonsense-taking teacher in most lessons, which makes my life much easier! I’ve also explored a few new parts of Beijing, namely Yuanming Yuan or The Old Summer Palace, which these days is more or less a park with some rather inauthentic ruins of the old palace structures. However, it is Cherry Blossom Season and so the brilliantly pink blossoms that lined the paths and reflected in the lakes around the park were definitely worth the trip.

Last week, I also took part in a Chinese Calligraphy lesson with my friends Lou and Rosanna. I had assumed that this would be a fun and creative activity but the first half of the lesson left me feeling horrendously inadequate in the world of calligraphy. We were tasked with writing the calligraphic version of the character 福 or fu meaning ‘fortune’ or 'good luck'. Simple. Not. Our teacher was a professor from a university in Hubei province and has been studying calligraphy for a few decades and so we were given a brief tutorial (which we videoed in slow motion so we could try to make out what on earth we were supposed to be drawing) in Chinglish and set to work. After several failed attempts - too much ink, not enough ink, absolutely illegible, “what do I do next?!”, “that’s um… wrong” - we finally achieved somewhat OK versions of the 福, put our brushes down and made a swift retreat. In the end it was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed the lesson but I’m not sure I will ever be able to describe myself as a calligrapher.

So my first six weeks back have been a bit hit and miss, but I’m starting to feel settled in Beijing again and it’s almost time to start planning the next lot of travelling! The weeks have started to pick up speed and I’ve begun to realise that before I know it I’m going to be halfway through and then nearly at the end of this semester, which I’m both looking forward to and also dreading. So in the meantime, I’ll be here, trying to make the most of this fantastic - albeit taxing - experience!

Posted by amysblog 05:45 Archived in China Tagged parks culture travel city china beijing spring chinese teaching tefl sakura caligraphy 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)

More Shanghai Shenanigans

My Penultimate Shanghai Trip!

sunny 25 °C

I’m currently on a (very loud) train back from Shanghai, where I have spent the weekend with Will and some friends who are visiting from the UK on their way to Bali. I arrived earlier than expected on Friday night - early enough to catch the last subway up to Jiading for the night, which was a pleasant surprise. We headed straight from the subway to a bar to have a couple of very strong drinks with some of the other teachers in Jiading.

Matt and Abby were due to arrive some time early evening on Saturday, so Will and I headed into Shanghai centre. We made a quick detour to People’s park, where the marriage market was once again in full swing. We grabbed some delicious cold noodles and then jumped back on the subway and went to check into the hotel we were staying in. The hotel was in a rather central location, so we decided to check out 1933 Millfun while we were waiting for the others to arrive. 1933 Millfun is… weird. It was, in 1933, Asia’s largest abattoir. It has now been restored into a strange commercial hub / photo shoot destination. It was really tricky to navigate and we must have gone round in several circles on our way up to the sixth floor and back down.


I’m glad we had the opportunity to see something different in SH but it really is a strange place. Possibly one of my favourite parts was seeing a young girl wearing a minion balloon suit, image to follow:


We decided to go back to the hotel and wait for Matt and Abby to arrive. In the end, they were much later than expected but were in pretty good spirits when they finally arrived. We gave them some time to freshen up and then headed straight for the subway. First stop was West Nanjing road for some quick and tasty noodles. We then walked absolute miles! We walked all the way down to People’s Square, East Nanjing Road and arrived at The Bund. We were pleasantly surprised to see that the lights were still on, despite how late it was. After the night’s adventuring, we were all slacking and so headed back to the hotel so we could all rest before today.


Up relatively bright and early on Sunday, our main priority was to get a good, cheap breakfast. Cue JIAN BING (煎饼). This Beijing snack is a type of savoury Chinese crepe, made with pancake mix, an extra egg, coriander, onions, red bean sauce, optional chilli and a cracker. We found a hole in the wall selling them at 5rmb each, an absolute steal, also absolutely delicious.

Determined to show Matt and Abby as much as we could before lunch, we strolled through the french concession and checked Xintiandi and Tianzifang off the list. These two areas are a little over a mile apart from each other but they really couldn’t be more different. Xintiandi is restored ancient style streets. Pedestrianised and very glam, the area attracts loads of western tourist for its chic bars and sophisticated vibes. Tianzifang is more gritty. Also pedestrianised, these alleys are packed full of trinket stores and stalls selling the latest food and drink crazes. This week it was super fries (extremely long chips) and drinks sold in a blood bag, because, why not?

I think these two areas give a really good visual insight into the different characteristics you can find in China. On the one hand, you have very developed and modern areas which are very aesthetic, and on the other hand, you have raw, urban china which is charming in its own way.

For lunch we went towards Jing’an, as the temple was also on the day’s itinerary. After a quick look around a huge mall, we decided to sample one of my favourite shanghainese delicacies, Yang’s Dumplings. It’s quite a fun meal to eat, especially the first time you do so, because these dumplings are filled with soup, which usually means it gets MESSY. Different to Xiao Long Bao, they’re pan fried, so slightly dough-ier and slightly oilier. Still, they’re absolutely one of my favourite foods in China and are also a bargain, so I was very happy to pass on this Chinese treasure to our friends.

Unfortunately, having left my luggage at the hotel, and with my looming departure, after lunch I left the others to continue exploring Shanghai. This weekend has gone ridiculously fast, I hardly feel like I’ve had chance to catch my breath and I do not feel ready for school tomorrow, AT ALL. This week is going to be an easy one however, exams are starting which means quiet classes. There is also the Gaokao at the end of the week (A-Levels Equivalent) , which means the school goes into lockdown, so I have Friday off. So on Thursday I’ll be back in Shanghai for a long weekend! I guess I’d better start working on the itinerary for my LAST TRIP TO SHANGHAI BEFORE I LEAVE CHINA… Unbelievable!

Posted by amysblog 13:31 Archived in China Tagged cities travel city china sightseeing cityscape shanghai nightlife skyscrapers teaching the_bund tefl Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 4 of 4) Page [1]