An Interview with Alicia Haripershad at Kid Castle
GS: So, can you tell us a bit about how you first got into English teaching?
AH: I had been working in a corporate law firm for two years following five years of studying and was itching for change. One of my friends had taught in South Korea and I had witnessed first-hand the positive impact the experience had on her. Teaching felt like the right next step for me following my stint at the law firm. I was eager for the change of pace and being in a job that was more people focused.
GS: Could you give some details about your dealings with Gold Star TEFL Recruitment?
AH: Throughout my communication with Gold Star, I dealt with the same person from start to finish. This may not seem like a major detail but when you are embarking on an adventure like this, having that degree of consistency and being able to build a relationship of trust matters. I found Gold Star to have excellent communication and timely responses to any questions or concerns I had. I would highly recommend them to any future teachers!
GS: What advice do you have for people about the recruitment and interview process when looking forjobs teaching in China?
AH: My first suggestion would be to make sure you meet the requirements before applying for job posts. Complete your TEFL prior to applying – you are free to apply before completing it but remember that any post you then secure will be delayed by the fact that you have to complete the course before you can start. My second suggestion would be to take your time with applying, read the job specifications properly and be sure that it is a post you would actually want to do. So often we get very excited and fire off applying for everything. I think it is better to take a bit longer and apply for fewer posts you actually feel excited about. It is easier to keep track of and also, when you hear back from one of them you don’t have to then consider whether it is worth taking (because you have already vetted it).
Lastly, when it comes to interviews, ask if there is anything you can prepare. It is equally important to be yourself and jump off the paper that the interviewer has known you from before this time. Try to have some mock interviews with your friends before the time just to get comfortable and used to the format (especially if you don’t have a lot of interview experience). And ask questions! I know this is something that is always said but there is a reason for this. This is potentially a job that you are going to be doing every single day. There is no way that you know everything about it or that your prospective employer has managed to cover all the bases – so have a think about this and show them that you care about this job and have thought about how this is going to impact you.
GS: You are teaching in Shanghai at the moment, can you tell us about your impressions of the city? What do you like most about living there?
AH: Having only lived in Durban and Cape Town (both in South Africa) prior to Shanghai, this has been quite a radical change. I have been in love with this crazy city from the moment I arrived. There is so much to appreciate and so much going on, you will never be bored!
I think my favourite thing about the city is the fact that it is filled with beautiful contradictions – magnificent skyscrapers when you look up and tumbling electricity wires when you look down; run-down buildings with their charm intact and an abundance of parks that are so well thought out.
GS: What do you like most about teaching English?
AH: I must admit that I didn’t think I would enjoy teaching as much as I do. The highlight of my day has to be being around the kids that I teach – they are all filled with such energy and positivity. I leave the school day feeling so light and happy having been around that. It really is something special and it ensures that every day is different; fun and there is something to be grateful for.
GS: Can you tell us about your favourite class at the moment?
AH: My favourite class at the moment is probably my most “senior” class; they are between the ages of 9 and 10. I am enjoying teaching them because their English is at a level where I know they understand what I’m saying and more importantly why. I feel like every class I am getting to know them a lot better and engage with their interests because they are able to communicate them to me. The class consists of only 5 students so that also makes it a lot easier to experiment with new games and new ways of doing things to keep them interested (versus a class where they are 3 years old and there are 20 kids – then it is better to be safe versus experimenting!).
GS: Talk us through a typical day teaching English in China.
AH: My schedule is worth mentioning to start off with given that it is quite unconventional. I work Wednesday to Friday from 3pm to 9pm and Saturday and Sunday from 8.30am to 5.30pm. My days off are Monday and Tuesday which is actually great – in a grossly populated city like Shanghai, it is a lot easier to do and see things then as opposed to the weekend when everyone else is off.
When I go into school I will generally have some time before my first class. I use this to plan my lessons for the day – I will have between 2 and 4 lessons depending on the day. One lesson consists of 40 minutes, a 10 minute break and then another 40 minutes.
After my lessons, I will have some more office time before heading off. I use this to write in the students’ communication books. These are basically where you give feedback on how the student performed in the lesson as well as any feedback if there was a test. I am lucky in that I do minimal marking of tests. I conduct the oral tests but that involves little admin (Luckily!).
GS: What are the teaching resources like there?
AH: I can honestly say I have everything I need (and probably more than I need, not entirely sure of everything that is in our storeroom!). The resources available to me consist of workbooks; CDs for activities; posters and flashcards; USBs with all the curriculum on them that can be used on e-boards that are in every classroom as well as balls; dice etc. to use for games. The Chinese teachers that I work with are extremely helpful so if I need something specific for a lesson that we don’t have then they always manage to make a plan. They have also been particularly helpful when it comes to teaching parts of the curriculum that I am not familiar with, making time to answer my questions and run through certain aspects with me before I have to teach same.
GS: How many teachers are there in your school?
AH: I am the only full time foreign teacher in my school. There is one other foreign teacher but she is part time and only comes in 3 times a week. There are 4 full time Chinese teachers. I teach at a different school on Saturdays and at that school, there are 2 other full time foreign teachers and 5 full time Chinese teachers.
I get along well with the teachers that I work with and have come to consider them as friends. Initially the language barrier was a difficulty as they did not want to speak English with me for fear of saying something wrong. But as they got to know me and got more comfortable with me, we have all managed to have many great conversations!
GS: China is full of surprises and unexpected adventures, tell us about one you have had recently.
AH: The funniest thing that has probably happened to me was actually shortly after I had moved into my apartment. It was early, I think the sun had just risen and I was definitely fast asleep. I awoke after hearing someone pounding on the front door. I tried to ignore it but it was persistent and I realized I was going to have to leave the comfort of my bed. I opened the door to a middle aged Chinese woman who proceeded to shout at me fast and furious in Chinese.
I had no clue what she was saying. I tried to indicate as much but she continued to repeat herself (I think, I can’t be sure of what she was saying.). Eventually my slowly awakening brain realized I could use Google Translate. I put the function on where she spoke in to the phone and it would translate what she was saying. The translation came out along the lines of asking me to collect 6 bin bags. I didn’t want to do this and I indicated as much to the woman by making an “x” with my arms. She laughed and continued to go on about these bin bags that need collecting.
Thank goodness her phone rang and she had to leave. She smiled and waved while on the phone and leaving and I always think that if it wasn’t for that phone call, I may well have had to accompany her on this bin collection spree she was so intent on me joining.