Welcome to the TEFL lifestyle!
Each ESL teacher is different, and each school will provide individual preferences and approaches to learning. However, there are a few consistencies that may help you better understand the structure of the adventure ahead. Below is a daily walkthrough by one of our teachers, Kate, as well as, pictures from several of SIE’s partner school. After reading this article, you should have a good feel for what teaching in China for an SIE school is like in both kindergarten and grade school environments.
The school day here in China often starts between 8:00-8:30, and you will often be there to help the students with their breakfast and morning routines, particularly if you work with the youngest of students (kindergarten!). If you are working in the grade schools, you will often start your day with a smaller segment of office hours while the students get adjusted and have breakfast. Your specific day will then vary based on your school, with your work day ending around 5:00 pm.
Arrive at school
SIE can help you figure out your general day to day timing and schedule. Be sure to clarify ahead of time your start and end work times, the details and kinks will fall into place after this groundwork is laid.
Lunch is often provided in these schools, as has been the case at every school I have experienced. The food is varied and hot, and makes a great opportunity for saving money! Some schools also provide breakfast, which you can ask about depending on where you are placed. Working in Chinese schools, you will have a 2-2.5 hour lunch break, which is very different from the western schedule, but great! During this time, the students will take a nap. At some schools I have been to, the nap option is also made available to teachers! However, this can also be a very useful time for office work, lesson planning, or even just going out for a nice walk to break up the day!
Coming to China,
many expect their routine and comfort zone to be severely altered or turned around. While this may be true in many ways, there are also many comforts and routines you will create for yourself in your life here, and lots of people or resources waiting to help you!
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Your classroom team will vary based on your school. If you work in a kindergarten, you are likely to be working all day in the same classroom alongside a Chinese co-teacher (or 2) and an Ayi (cleaning and lunch support staff). When you teach in elementary or high schools, you are often the only one in the class during your 40-60 minute lesson. You can request support staff from your school, and they may provide a Chinese support staff for the first segment of the year.
The classroom layout itself is very dependent on the school and your particular role. In a kindergarten, you will likely be asked to help format and decorate your specific classroom, creating theme or picture boards to match the content of the current unit or lesson. As a grade school ESL teacher, you are more likely to be rotating the classrooms in which you teach, and are therefore often not responsible for the decoration or layout of these classes.
Support from SIE
Your class structure itself will vary as well, be sure to ask your school, or SIE, how planning and class layout is preferred at your assigned school. It is always best to start with an English greeting and a song, such as “The Hello Song” by Super Simple Songs. This is a classic resource among ESL teachers in China and is a clear way to signify to your students that class is starting. The same approach can be taken to the ending of your class. Many students are best motivated through stickers or a point system, with a reward pending on how many points or “good behaviour marks” the students earn. You can give them points for sitting properly, raising their hands, answering correctly, etc. At the end of the class, you can then reward them with a few short minutes of a game, a short video related to the class content, or a sing along to one of their favourite (English) songs!
Your first week in China,
After you arrive, SIE will provide a free one week hotel stay. During this time, not only will SIE help set up your phone, bank account, and apartment, but will also provide intensive 1-on-1 academic training to help you prepare for your teaching position.
Chinese schools also come with many fun quirks and adventures! Be prepared for last minute ceremonies, sing alongs, or day long performances! In my first school, as an elementary ESL teacher, they had my boyfriend and I dress up as Romeo and Juliet and perform a few selected scenes for the school during “Drama Day”, and then later we were performing “Sweet Home Alabama” at the Teachers Day performances! At my most recent school, we got to dress up in a wide range of Halloween costumes and create dances with our little kiddos to show to their parents. There are also many cultural holidays throughout the year, where your school may hold culture fairs or food-based activities. These are just a few of the examples of the fun quirks and non-academic bonuses that come with being an ESL teacher here in China!