SDE International - Shenzhen

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Ah, it’s September and the hallways of schools across the country are filling with millions of eager students getting ready for another fruitful year.

If you’re a new teacher in China, or a returning teacher at a new school, you’re probably just like those students who are making the jump from primary to middle school or from middle to high school: coping with the challenges of a brand new environment.

It can be scary, especially if it is your first time in a public school in a vastly different country. Luckily, there have been thousands of teachers who have experienced the same situation before, and we won’t leave you out to dry. Here are some tips to ensure that your first time at your new school will be smooth sailing.

Give gifts to your headmaster and contact teacher, and start to build relationships with your colleagues

Always remember that you are a guest in the school, and to show your gratitude to the headmaster for their kind invitation, prepare a small gift for him or her. Something unique from your hometown always makes a great present.

Additionally, you will want to provide a gift for your contact teacher as well. This way, you ensure that you and your contact teacher will start off on the right foot, and that they will (hopefully) feel obliged to help you as much as possible throughout the school year.

Equally as important, make sure you are saying hi and being friendly to all your coworkers, and sitting with them during lunch. Often, you will be the only foreigner at the school and they will want to get to know you better.

Plus, it will make it a whole lot less awkward when you need to ask them for favours or advice. Imagine how embarrassing it could be if you needed to ask your coworker something important but you’re drawing a blank on their name!

Walk around your school and take note of where the classrooms are

Picture this: it’s your first day of classes. You strut around confidently with your schedule in hand. You hear the warning bell and you start striding to your next class.

Only, you start to realize you’ve been down this hallway already. Twice. And those classrooms? You don’t even teach that grade. Before you know it the bell has rung and you walk back into the office, defeated, begging your coworker to show you the way. I didn’t need to imagine this: it really happened to me on my very first day.

A little tip to avoid this situation: before the first day of school, walk around the hallways and take note of where all the classrooms you will be teaching in are located. Then, practice walking to those classrooms in the order of your class schedule. Do it several times. Muscle memory is a powerful phenomenon, and it could mean the difference between extreme punctuality and dragging your feet back into the office after the bell has gone.

Familiarize yourself with the students’ English curriculum

Make sure to ask your contact teacher for a copy of the English textbook the students will be using. A responsible teacher will constantly be updating himself or herself on what materials the students are learning about, and will adjust their lessons or teaching methods accordingly.
The great thing about the textbook is that it is full of material all ready to use! You can use it as a guideline to prepare your first few weeks of lessons with or you can take the words, grammar points and phrases and make a fun game out of it! The choice is yours, be creative.

Have a well-organized desk

Cluttered desk, cluttered mind. It can be difficult to focus if your desk is covered in things that you barely use.

Simply organizing your desk can make you more focused on your work and decrease your stress. Being the proud owner of a clean desk can help you feel more comfortable during what is likely to be a stressful first week. Before you even begin teaching, make sure to buy a file organizer and a pencil cup. You’ll be surprised how drastically you can cut down on clutter with just these two items.

Say “yes!” to school requests

Often, teachers will ask if you want to join them to play some sports or to start an after-school English club for some eager students. My suggestion: always say “yes” to these requests.

By saying “yes”, you are showing the school that you are not just some foreign teacher who teaches classes and then goes home, but that you are an active member of the teaching community.

In addition, by getting involved outside the classroom, students will begin to see you as more than just a teacher, and a few troublesome students might try harder in class because they see you making an effort outside class to find common ground with them.


SDE International - Shenzhen

New teaching jobs in China interviewing now, apply today!

About the Author:

Ivan Berezowski
Ivan is part teacher, part writer, part cultural scavenger, and full-time amateur financial expert. When he isn’t busy finding new ways to save money, he can often be found behind a spectacular plate of exotic cuisine or a laptop screen with either a Word document open or that day’s NBA scores. He has lived in China for 3 years and has travelled to 12 countries, including most of East Asia and randomly Guatemala. Check out his blog, for travel tips, China life and more.
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