Some of you might already know : a few months back we decided to take a break in China before getting back to our adventures in the rest of Asia, before heading North. There were a few reasons for that; money started to run thin, we figured that discovering China in just one month was clearly impossible and we needed a plan to make our travel last longer. We heard many tales of people who stopped in China for a while to teach and that the money was good, so we thought we might give it a go. So while travelling around Yunnan I started looking for jobs and found us both a teaching position in China for a middle school in Sichuan. It took me maybe less than a week and we had contracts ready. We refused a few offers in Shenzen and focused our search in the regions we were interested by and got a contact with a company there employing foreign teachers. We flew to Chengdu and started to work on all the administration (my favourite part). What I didn’t expect was to be thrown in a job as an English teacher for a Kindergarten in Chengdu to fill in before starting our job at the end of August just a few days after we got there. I mean I barely had a new phone, we were living in a small hotel room and here I was starting my job 2 days later. I argued (because that’s something I’m pretty good at) to get an apartment right away or I wasn’t starting said job and it worked (being pushy isn’t always a bad thing around here). So there I was, thrown in a kindergarten with no bloody idea of what I was doing and no material to work on, nothing… Needless to say the first days were a bit tough and stressful. The experience though became fun and interesting. I learned quite a few things about myself and felt a bit sad leaving those little demons behind. What I would have loved though would have been some advice, some guidance, something to go with before being thrown in the lions den. If you are looking to teach at a Kindergarten in China, be prepared !
Kindergartens are expensive and therefore tend to pay foreign teachers more. If you are going to teach in a kindergarten chances are the pay will be much higher than in a public school in China. There is a good reason for this : those kindergartens are expensive. Last year the prices of tuition doubled and the demand is still growing. With such a good and rich market, kindergartens will want to hire foreigners to be able to publicize themselves as « bilingual » and attract more parents to their doors. And to get a foreigner they are ready to pay a bit more. While they tend to prefer women, they will hire anyone with the right qualifications. But those schools will also add some office hours that are not needed in middle schools.
Ages and Numbers vary.
You might be expecting to only get older kids in your classes, at least 4 to 6 years old, well you are wrong! The Kindergartens in China love to press every child into an English class. This ended up putting me in a situation where I had to teach 2 years old that still struggle with their own language how to say colours and vegetables in English. Beside the age, the numbers of kids in your class will also vary. And they will vary wildly. During my time teaching kindergarten I have been through classes of 8 kids, to classes of 42 children ! So many of them does make you very tired… We are far from the Western definition of a large class (it’s not rare in middle school to get up to 65 students in a class) Needless to say it can be very hard to control at that age since their understanding of authority is near to none and that will only come later.
Be prepared for a lot of emotions.
Some of those kids have never seen a foreigner and while it might be awesome for some, others can be terrified. With very young children that strange person standing in front of them might bring tears to their eyes. Don’t stress it, it’s natural and after a few classes it should pass. And when it’s not the tears it’s the laugh, the hugs, the kisses but that’s easier to deal with. I had this twice, a little girl who would cry harder and harder every time I would come near her finally stopped and started to enjoy the class after a few lesson. A little boy though could not stand in the same room than me without having a crisis. Also if you are a woman with a full bust those kids might grab you a few times… Yep… That’s probably my least favourite part of the whole experience. Get a boost of energy before getting to class. Playing, singing, crafting, that is the daily job of a kindergarten teacher so don’t wear high heels And try to have as much energy as possible. Trousers are a must and trainers a great relief. Sitting down is not an option and the kids do require your constant attention. Oh and get used to having some songs stuck in your head forever… I still sing « Head , Shoulders, Knees and Toes » once in a while, and gosh I hate that song…
Prepare your own lesson.
Teaching English in a Kindergarten often means they do not have a program and therefore nothing to give you to prepare your lesson (I’m saying Kindergarten but you can also experience this in Middle School and universities around here). You will have to create them and use your own material. It might seem difficult but in the age of the internet you will find help online. There are a lot of websites that offer lessons for any age. I find Busyteacher to be one extremely helpful resource. If that seems too much for you, ask your employer if a program exists or not in advance, it will give you some time to get prepared or to refuse the job if you don’t feel comfortable with the idea.
Learn a bit of Chinese.
While the kids in your school learn English they are a bit young to form sentences and talk to you in English. You shouldn’t speak to them in Chinese (since this is not what you’ve been hired for) but understanding the language might help you in some cases. Kids will come to you asking for a few things, the toilet, a pen, going to the bin, try to learn those sentences early on. It might impress some of them too and grant you some respect. A good one is also to learn how to say « stand up », it might help you when they are refusing to pay attention and keep on yelling in your classroom.
Most of all : Enjoy the experience !
The kids will behave as they will. They might be annoying sometimes, funny other times but they are children and they are your little students. They will make you proud and for those moments, every tiring day, every painful moment is worth it. The point of teaching to children in a kindergarten should not be about the money but about being able to be surrounded by those little balls of energy and about how happy they make you. I’ve heard too often people choosing positions in kindergarten for the money and not being able to deal with the constant energy it requires a month later. Do yourself a favour: if you don’t like children don’t become a foreign English teacher in a kindergarten, please.
Their behaviour can be strange (like that kid that use to bite my pens/books/etc… every time I would come in class), cute (I’ve been group hugged by one of my class so I could never leave), annoying (being a foreigner might mean to some of them that you don’t deserve to be respected or listened to…) but they are adorable children and will surely melt your heart.
If you are considering teaching in China, you need to consider all of this and try to think if you feel fit to teach Kindergarten. I am now teaching 11 to 14 years old in a middle school and it is much more relaxing but I have to admit that I truly enjoy both experiences and would renew both of those anytime.
If moving to a new area , choose your school well but before all of this, choose the region where you wish to live. China is a big country and each region has a particular culture. Sichuan is known for being very laid back (which I love), Yunnan is known for its diversity but those regions do not pay high salary since they are not the richest part of the country. The surrounding of Shanghai, Beijing and towns like Shenzhen do, but expect a correspondingly higher cost of living.
What about you ? Did you teach abroad before ? Did you ever consider trying the experience in China ? Tell us everything in the comments !