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7 annoying things that ESL teachers do in China

For the most part, ESL teachers in China are a good bunch. There are, however, some things that many of them do that are just plain annoying.
There are some annoying things that ESL teachers do in China

Teachers in China sometimes do annoying things.

Here’s the top seven that we find the most irksome.

1. They eat Western junk food

Eating the occasional McDonald’s or KFC meal in China is fine. But when it’s all the time, you’ve got to wonder whether the ESL teacher should have left their own country at all.

Unless they’re earning big money in China (most teachers aren’t), they should avoid the foreign fast-food chains. Why? In local terms, the food’s expensive and generally regarded as a luxury.

An ESL teacher in China should try to live like a Chinese person as much as they can. This means eating Chinese food and only going to Western restaurants now and again.

The benefit? A more authentic experience and extra money in the back pocket.

If you really have to go to McDonald’s, try the one in Yangshuo, a small city in southern China’s Guangxi province. Nestled between a stunning mountain range and mirror-like lake, it’s regarded as one of the world’s most picturesque fast-food outlets.

Eating Western junk food is one of the annoying things that ESL teachers do in China.

Avoid eating lots of Western junk food in China. Eat Chinese food instead!

2. They expect the same conditions they’re used to

The conditions that a foreign teacher will experience in China may be quite different to what they’re used to.

For example, in a public school there could be up to 45 students in each class. Multimedia will be limited, the internet connection may be unreliable, and the trusty chalkboard could be your new best friend.

A smart, motivated teacher will see this as an opportunity to fine-tune their classroom management skills rather than a blight on the Chinese education system.

And, while foreign teacher accommodation is comfortable, it’s certainly not on par with Hilton Hotel standards. A foreign teacher should never expect to sleep on a mattress that’s as soft as a cloud, particularly in China.

3. They play movies in their classes

Teaching oral English means exactly that – teaching oral English.

Lazy ESL teachers are known to play movie after movie in each of their classes. This means they can slack off, tune out, and even mark papers while students are forced to have a one-way interaction with a television screen.

While it’s ok to play movies now and again, don’t rely on them to make up the bulk of your lessons.

If you do play one, make sure you regularly pause it to check for student understanding. You could also break it up with fun games, facilitate interesting discussions around the themes of the movie, and give students relevant homework which you could go through in the next class.

4. They complain a lot

Some foreign teachers complain about everything. Really, everything.

If you find yourself constantly complaining about the city you’re in, your school, your classes, your colleagues, Chinese culture – the list goes on – perhaps China isn’t for you.

Nothing’s ever as good as back home? Go back and read point number 2.

If you’re totally unhappy and you don’t think there’s anything that will change that, leave China once you’ve completed your contract. Just don’t bore us with your constant whining in the meantime!

Complaining is one of the annoying things that ESL teachers do in China.

With postcard views like this in China, how could you possibly complain?

5. They refuse to speak any Mandarin

Foreign teachers in China don’t need to know any Mandarin to do their job. In fact, schools prefer they don’t know any Mandarin because it effectively forces students to converse with you in English.

However, you should try learning a few basic words and expressions once you’ve settled in. It’ll really help in everyday situations, like catching a taxi, buying food at the market and finding your way around.

Fortunately, many schools offer free weekly Mandarin lessons as part of the contract.

Some ESL teachers think they’re above everyone else and refuse to learn even the basics. They expect Chinese people to understand what they’re saying in English (most don’t) and they only socialise with other foreign teachers. Now that’s annoying!

When you’re in China, or any other foreign country for that matter, try to learn at least a few words in the native language. It’ll help you tremendously.

6. They break the golden rule of Chinese classrooms

Some ESL teachers disregard the golden rule of Chinese classrooms.

That is, they talk about sex, religion or politics (or worse – all three!) with their students. If there’s one thing you shouldn’t do while teaching in China, this is it.

China is a socialist country and in many ways is quite conservative. So respect the country you’re in and avoid talking about these topics in class.

Sex is a taboo subject and people don’t talk about it openly. Don’t try and change that.

As for religion and politics, these are sensitive subjects in China and highly controlled by state-run media. It’s not your place to enter this murky space. Save these conversations for when you return to your home country.

It’s quite likely that astute, older students may ask you what you think of their president, or what politics is like in your own country. Don’t get involved in these kinds of conversations; it’s just not worth it.

Talking about inappropriate things is one of the annoying thing that ESL teachers do in China.

Don’t talk about inappropriate things while teaching in China.

7. They choose a job based on salary alone

Confucius once said, “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

Unfortunately, there are some ESL teachers who annoyingly choose a job purely for the money.

We all know that money alone isn’t going to keep us happy and motivated in our jobs. So why would it be any different teaching English in China?

Choosing a teaching job based on salary alone could be one of the biggest mistakes you’ll make.

Some jobs may seem enticing with a salary of double what’s on offer at another school. However, the schools that offer the highest salaries generally expect you to work up to 40 hours per week. This may include working on the weekend.

In addition to the salary, benefits like location, accommodation, working conditions and class size should definitely be considered as part of your decision to teach in China.

So there you have it – seven annoying things that ESL teachers do in China. Which one are you guilty of?

How to write a killer lesson plan

Guest blogger and teacher Nicholas McKay shares his secrets on how to write a killer lesson plan that works every time.
Here's how to write a killer lesson plan - perfect if you're headed for China

Writing an effective lesson plan for your students is crucial.

Those of us, who are new teachers, don’t have the luxury of reams of previous lesson plans, worksheets and activities, which proved to be effective.

True, we can call on colleagues and friends to help us. Most of the time, however, we must start from scratch. With so much to do, it can sometimes be difficult to hit the mark.

Introducing GANAG

During my first placement, my mentor teacher introduced me to GANAG. This lesson schema is one I swear by, and I haven’t looked back since.

Developed by Dr Jane Pollock, many schools are beginning to adopt the lesson practices she outlines. Other schools simply adapt certain concepts to fit their curriculum. Either way, it’s becoming quite a big thing, and to jump on board the bandwagon now would be a stellar idea.

GANAG separates the lesson into easily negotiable segments. I’ve seen lesson plans that were ideas, projectile vomited onto a page. A friend of mine even drew an image of the class, and called it a lesson plan!

In short, there are so many ways to develop your lesson. However, there are only a few ways to construct a killer lesson plan. GANAG is one of them.

A GANAG lesson plan is divided into two sections: what the teacher is doing, and what the students are doing. This way, the teacher has a clear idea of how the lesson is meant to look when put into practice.

Here's how to write a killer lesson plan - try it if you're teaching in China.

Try a GANAG lesson plan while teaching in China.

G is for goal

The first objective is the goal(s). This is to be written on the board. This makes teachers accountable.

Additionally, students immediately know what they will be doing. They begin to see how everything they will do in the lesson is connected. As the goals are crossed off the board, students understand what they have learned.

A is for access to prior knowledge

The next step is access to prior knowledge. This may include analyzing what was undertaken in the previous lesson, or analyzing information students may have learned a year prior.

This could sometimes be a brief discussion between teacher and students. The teacher may ask questions, which students respond to. Students may also be required to look through their previous work to find the answer.

Students generally learn best when they have an opportunity to use prior learning, and this part of the lesson allows teachers to analyse how much students know.

N is for new information

Following on from this, is the new information. This stage is often very teacher-centered. This could be done through ‘chalk and talk’, a PowerPoint or through Prezi.

Alternatively, students could read aloud from a textbook or worksheet, with guided questions and contextualization from the teacher.

A is for application of new and prior information

The penultimate stage is application of new and prior information. More often than not, this is a student-oriented activity. This is where students use their prior knowledge to understand the new content.

Perhaps students work on their own, then consult later with a partner. Maybe students work in groups to answer a set of questions, before reporting back to the class.

G is for goal review

Lastly, is the goal review. This is where the teacher discovers if the lesson has been successful. During this stage, students reflect on their learning, writing down two or more things they learned.

Occasionally, students are quite dumbfounded when asked, ‘What did you learn in class today?’ By writing a reflection, however, students will have access to two snappy sentences that highlight what happened.

At the end of the GANAG lesson plan is a separate section for indicating the focus of the following class. In outlining this, a clear link from one lesson to the next becomes evident.

The teacher will often instruct students on what will be happening when they next meet during the goal review stage. Moreover, any homework is often assigned at this stage.

In summary, this step-by-step procedure helps teachers develop an accurate plan of their lessons. The ability to also document student actions assists teachers in understanding how students learn, which is paramount in teaching.

GANAG lesson template

Lesson title: (Class, date)

Unit: (Subject title)

Standards: (What is the curriculum you are using)

Formative/Summative assessments in lesson: (Will there be assessment tasks completed in the lesson? Will assessment tasks be given as homework?)

Resources and materials: (Worksheets, presentations, etc)

Teacher actions (include time)Student actions (include time)

(Write goals on the board)
How will students know what they have to learn?

(Students will read through goals with the teacher)
What access to prior knowledge will students have:

(Is there a lesson the teacher previously hosted that is relevant here?)
How will students know prior knowledge?

(Class recap, discussion in groups, etc)
New information:

(Teacher centered)
How will students learn the new information?

(Reading, copying, listening, etc)
Application of new and prior information:

(Teacher assigns the activity, monitors student progress)
How will students know they have learnt, or are developing, their learning and new information?

(Students undertaking activities)
Goal review:

(Ask students to reflect. Provide homework to students. Notify the class what will happen in the next lesson)
How will students reveal what they have learned?

(Students reflect on their learning. Students write down any homework tasks they need to complete)

What’s planned for the next lesson? (Hopefully something interesting!)

7 things you should not bring to China

Travelers are often told what they should bring with them when they go to China. But what about the things that are best left behind?
Here are some things you should not bring to China.

There are some things you should not bring to China (pictured: Great Wall of China).

Here are seven things you should think twice about when packing your bags for China.

1. Your big, expensive camera

These days even travelers on a shoestring budget seem to carry around the latest Canon digital SLR camera. Unless you’re trying to get your photos published in National Geographic, or you really really can’t part with your beloved optical instrument, leave it at home.

Digital SLR cameras are often big and bulky, meaning you’ll have to factor this in to your travels. Plus, you don’t want to take the risk of leaving it behind at some far-flung tourist attraction.

And, although China is a really safe country, there’s still a risk of it being pinched while you’re not looking.

The easy option? Pack a small, lightweight digital camera, or if the quality of the lens is good enough, use the camera in your smartphone.

A digital SLR camera is one of the things you should not bring to China.

Don’t bring your digital SLR camera to China unless you absolutely have to.

2. An inflexible attitude

If you’re really set in your ways, and not open to change or a challenge, then teaching English in China may not be for you.

Last-minute plans and changes are part of everyday Chinese life. For example, you may be given your ‘final’ timetable for the semester to plan around, only then to be given a totally new timetable.

Similarly, you may be invited out to dinner at the last minute to help entertain some important faculty heads. The dinner starts in less than an hour, but you’re about to play badminton with some of your students.

Structure and planning in China are carried out very differently to what you’re used to. The quicker you can accept this little quirk of Chinese society, the sooner you’ll adapt to this fascinating country.

3. A money belt

Seriously, do these things still exist? Well, if you look in any store that sells travel accessories, apparently they do.

It’s a hassle getting money out of one without looking like you’re undressing in public. It can also irritate your skin as it rubs against you while you walk.

Keeping money in the same bag, wallet or purse you use in your own country is the way to go. While it’s never a good idea to flash your money around, China is a safe country. Simply exercise normal safety precautions when you carry money.

4. A phone locked to a network

If you’re relying on using only your locked phone from home, you’ll be in trouble.

A locked phone is one of the things you should not bring to China, unless you plan on buying a new phone there.

Don’t use your locked phone in China. Instead, buy a new phone when you arrive so you can contact people locally.

The calls and messages you make in China will be billed per your phone plan’s international roaming charges. And you can’t expect your new, local friends and colleagues to contact you on an international number!

The easy way around this is to buy a cheap phone in China, or bring an unlocked one from home that you can use. This could accompany your locked phone.

So you might have two phones – one for local use and the other for international use.

5. Heavy textbooks

By all means, bring useful teaching materials from home, but don’t lug heavy textbooks all the way to China.

Firstly, your school will most likely have a prescribed textbook, which you may be expected to use. Why bring something you’ll never use?

Secondly, while it might be a good starting point for a discussion, a textbook is not going to improve your students’ speaking or listening skills.

Use fun ice-breakers, games and team activities to get your class talking.

6. Common toiletries

Ever heard someone say “China is a backwards country and you can’t buy any Western toiletries there”?

Don’t believe them – it’s a total myth. China is, in fact, a rapidly developing country and a wide range of Western toiletries are available.

While the corner store may not stock your favorite brand of hair conditioner, if you head to a large store like Walmart you’ll find many of the big American brands.

Walmart also stocks Western-style deodorant, like anti-perspirant spray and roll-on, which can be hard to find in smaller stores in China.

If you’re super fussy, best bring your own toiletries.

Toiletries are some of the things you should not bring to China.

A wide range of toiletries are available in China, but deodorant can be hard to find.

7. More than 10 days’ worth of clothes

You’re an English teacher, not a catwalk model! Clothes that last you 10 days should be sufficient.

If you feel that you need to freshen up your wardrobe, go on a shopping spree. Clothes in China are cheap and there are clothing stores everywhere.

When you finally bid farewell to China, consider those who are less fortunate and leave behind any unwanted clothes. It’s a nice thing to do, plus it’ll free up your suitcase for any travelling and shopping you do on the way home!

Want to know what to bring to China? Here’s our top six items.

Connecting with students: one teacher tells how

Want to know how to connect with your students? Australian teacher Nicholas McKay reveals his techniques.
Connecting with students will help you in the classroom.

Connecting with students is an important part of being a teacher.

In my previous blog, I wrote about balancing student connections with behavioral management. However, I did not discuss how to form these connections.

Sometimes, students will spend more time with you, their teacher, than they will with their parents. Teachers, after all, have a massively important role in shaping the lives and values of students.

Naturally, because of this, students are curious to know more about you. Some teachers I’ve met have misconstrued student interest as misbehavior.

Children can be very tenacious when they want something. Most students I’ve met say they don’t want their teachers to be their BFF.

They do however want to know, who is the stranger at the front of the class? What are they like? What punishments do they dish out for unruly behaviour? And how far can they be pushed before they run screaming towards the nearest psych ward?

One such strategy is one many teachers overlook – learn students’ names. Students love it when a teacher remembers their name. This shows you have a vested interest in them.

Some students experience difficult lives outside of school. To know an adult is paying attention to them means a lot.

Whenever I have a new class, I begin by asking students to write me a letter for homework. They are required to discuss who they are and what hobbies they enjoy. I also ask them what profession they want to enter, and what they wish to achieve in the subject.

I sometimes ask what teacher practices they appreciate. This way, I understand what students like, and can accommodate them. I will try to incorporate activities they enjoy into the classroom experience.

Connecting with students is important, according to teacher Nicholas McKay

Ask your students what they want to achieve in the class.

I am also able to analyse how proficient a student’s language, spelling and grammar skills are. This will come in handy when constructing essays.

Additionally, at the beginning of a new class, I play the game ‘two truths, one lie’. I provide students with a sheet of paper containing multiple statements of three. Two of these are true, one is not.

In pairs, students are required to guess which of the three isn’t real. I give students a few minutes to work on these. I allow them to ask me questions, to better their odds of guessing correctly. We then go through their guesses as a class, with often hilarious results.

When introducing myself to a Year 10 English class, I provided many statements. The following three are just one example I asked them to identify the lie in:

  1. I have a fascination with Asian films, Korean drama, Japanese anime and A-Pop.
  2. My favourite A-Pop groups/singers include Big Bang, G-Dragon and Xia.
  3. My favourite American singers/bands include Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Don Henley, Joshua Kadison, Richard Marx, Lifehouse, Daughtry and Nickelback.

Almost everyone assumed 3. was the lie. I don’t know why, but I’m the only person I know who listens to Nickelback (sob).

One student responded by saying “everyone likes a little G-Dragon”. Unfortunately, I don’t, and when I told the class this, he was devastated.

When he wrote his letter to me, he said he couldn’t believe I didn’t like G-Dragon’s music. However, because I liked Ace of Angels, he said we were cool.

Furthermore, every teacher has their own special abilities. As for me, I write poetry in my spare time. Students in the aforementioned year 10 class were fascinated with this pastime of mine. So, as a reward for doing the work, I would sometimes read them poetry at the end of a class.

Moving on, I argue, teachers need to accept responsibility for their mistakes. I’ve observed a number of classes where a teacher made a spelling error on the board or on a worksheet.

When students picked up on these, the teacher’s automatic reaction was to save face. “I deliberately inserted those to see if you were paying attention”, is a common response.

Students see right through this. In short, the teacher is being condescending and dismissive.

I always own up to it. There was a time I developed a word search for a Year 10 Media class. I spelt the term ‘lighting’ wrong. After printing off 25 sheets, and only finding the error at the last minute, I simply notified the class.

On another occasion, I had a conversation with a student in a Year 8 English classroom. She raised a very good point, and I chose to write it on the board for others to copy down. Instead, I wrote her name on the board by accident, only to have her think she was in trouble!

For me, I always make a joke about this. I laugh, or I say “my bad!” A person who can laugh at themselves is obviously very comfortable. Do however avoid sarcastic responses – this detracts from teacher-student connections.

Students enjoy picking up on teacher errors. As I inform my students, I’m not God, so I don’t know everything.

I make mistakes, just as they do. This conveys a sense of humility. Besides, self-correction is a technique students are required to learn – so, why not show them an example of it?

The classroom is a vulnerable place for students – responding incorrectly can lead to moments of embarrassment. Seeing a teacher in an equally vulnerable position will garner their respect.

Admitting your mistakes helps connecting with students, according to teacher Nicholas McKay

Admitting your mistakes can convey a sense of humility.

Lastly, I will argue for teachers not to be afraid to have random conversations. Previously, I taught a year 12 class. There were two girls who rarely did the work. They experienced difficulty, yet never asked for help, because of a lacking connection with their teachers.

After two weeks teaching them, both girls were happy asking for my assistance. Why? Sometimes I would stop and listen to what they were talking about while walking around the room. I would then involve myself in their conversation.

There was a moment one student was talking about her boyfriend. By asking the simple question, “is he hot?”, I became part of a conversation about their relationship. She admitted the struggles they were having, and asked for my opinion.

When you build a connection with students, don’t be surprised if they see you as a confidant. Sometimes these will be very hilarious. Others may even be heartbreaking, and might cause you to involve coordinators, or even police.

However, even those moments prove one undeniable truth. The students trust you, and because of this, they are likely to be more willing to learn.

Having recently completed a Master of Teaching in Secondary Education, Nicholas McKay is currently studying a Graduate Certificate of TESOL and considering his long-term teaching career options.

What strategies do you use for connecting with students? Please share your thoughts below.

8 good reasons why you should teach English overseas

Weighing up your gap year options? Here’s eight reasons why you should pack your bags and teach English overseas.
Teach English overseas and broaden your horizons.

Teaching English overseas is a great gap year option.

1. Earn money while you travel

Teaching abroad is one of the best ways to travel the world and earn money at the same time.

Some people squeeze as much traveling as they can into weekends and vacation time during their teaching contract, while others complete their contract and travel afterwards. Some do both!

Seasoned English teachers, armed with experience and a hunger for travel, often ‘job hop’ from one country to the next. It’s a great way of seeing the world without breaking the bank.

2. Enhance your CV

Overseas teaching experience can significantly improve your resume.

It demonstrates that you’re flexible and resilient, and have loads of initiative! Most importantly, it shows that you’ve got experience in leading and managing people – one of the toughest gigs out there. This is highly valued by recruiters and a great way to differentiate yourself.

As soon as you’re back home, make sure you update your resume and LinkedIn profile so you can stand out from the crowd.

3. It’s easy to get qualified

To teach in China, you need a teaching certificate to accompany your degree qualification.

It's best to get a teaching certificate before you teach English overseas.

You need a teaching certificate to teach in China but it’s easy to get (Pictured: Summer Pagoda, Hebei province, northern China).

The most common certificates are Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL), Teaching English as a Second or Other Language (TESOL) and Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA).

The good news is that it’s relatively quick and easy to get certified. We’ve teamed up with TEFL Source to give you access to special rates on a range of courses from different providers.

The length, inclusions and price of each course varies between providers, so it pays to do a little bit of homework first.

4. It will open your eyes

Working overseas opens your eyes to new cultures, new experiences and new ways of doing things.

When you return home, you (or those around you) may notice that you’re more open-minded, tolerant and patient. That’s a good thing!

Afraid of culture shock? Don’t be – there’s a way you can easily overcome it.

Teach English overseas and experience new cultures.

Open up your eyes to a new culture.

5. The job market in your country probably sucks

Don’t worry if you can’t find work in your own country – there are plenty of teaching jobs overseas. In fact, demand in some countries is so strong that schools simply can’t fill all the advertised positions.

China is regarded as one of the world’s teaching hotspots, where demand outstrips supply year after year. It’s good to feel wanted!

6. It will provide a new challenge (in other words, you’re sick of your job)

Are you bored of doing the same old thing every day? Want to learn something new? Teach English overseas and it will give you a new lease on life.

For many, the journey starts with the teaching certificate. The content is interesting and will really make you think. Studying can also be a nice change from work, and is an exciting lead-up to your trip abroad.

Once you’re there, the new culture will challenge you, so too will your classes. It’s a challenge that you will want to take on as it will stimulate and motivate you.

7. You’ll make new friends

Teaching overseas is a sure-fire way of meeting new people. Whether it’s your fellow English teachers, local teachers, your students or simply the friendly face at the corner store, you’re bound to make lifelong friends.

Teach English overseas and meet new people.

You’ll meet new friends while teaching abroad.

China, in particular, is known for its friendly and inquisitive people. You’ll be asked about your home country a lot, and you’ll even have strangers wanting to practice their English with you!

Being out of your comfort zone effectively forces you to speak up, gain more confidence and connect with new and interesting people.

8. Feel good by helping others

Why would you want to work in a monotonous, depressing job when you could touch the lives of hundreds of aspiring students?

Teaching English gives students real opportunities. It improves their communication skills and gives them the confidence they need to handle everyday situations. For older students, it helps them advance their careers, improve their job prospects and compete in a global marketplace.

Knowing that you’re making a difference in people’s lives is rewarding. And helping others gives you that warm and fuzzy feeling inside (awww!), so it’s a win-win situation.

So there you have it – eight good reasons to start planning your overseas teaching adventure.
Any questions? Drop us a line and we’ll help you find the perfect teaching position.