An Interview with Brendan O’Shea at SDE Shenzhen
GS: So, can you tell us a bit about how you first got into English teaching?
BO: I majored in English-Writing at Marist College in New York during my undergraduate studies. However, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with myself by the time I graduated. After much thought, I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in teaching English. I went on to acquire my Masters in Teaching Secondary English & Students with Disabilities from Montclair State University in New Jersey. During the same time, I further pursued my TEFL certificate through an online program.
I had fallen in love with traveling during a semester abroad in Dublin, Ireland and knew that I wanted to continue finding new horizons. Combining my skills in teaching English with my passion for travel was something that I knew I had to do. Upon finishing my Masters, I began teaching English at a local middle school. Having saved some money, I resigned from the middle school at the end of the school year and set out to teach in Shenzhen, China.
GS: Could you give some details about your dealings with Gold Star TEFL Recruitment?
BO: I learned about Gold Star TEFL Recruitment through an online search and quickly reached out to them inquiring about potential job offers in Shenzhen. Jessica Tsai, a Senior Recruitment Consultant, promptly got back to me with several opportunities. As my job hunt progressed further, Jessica did a great job of keeping me informed about everything I needed to know: salaries, locations, schedules, and even the day-to-day expectations at each individual school. Gold Star was an incredible benefit to me throughout what could easily have been a daunting, scary process! I eventually accepted the best job offer available – which Jessica facilitated – and have now been teaching in Shenzhen for three months. Jessica continues to check in on me and wonder about my progress, both personally and professionally.
GS: What advice do you have for people about the recruitment and interview process when looking for jobs teaching in China?
BO: The best advice I have is to be very organized with your documents and have as much paperwork in place ready before you dive in. The recruitment and interview process can be overwhelming if you allow it to get the best of you; a lot of time and effort has to go into something as significant as moving to a new part of the world for work. Teaching jobs in China, in particular, require a great deal of paperwork so be sure to check for the necessary documents and make copies. Throughout recruitment, advocate for yourself in as many ways as possible.
Do not wait for schools to contact you; reach out to them first – it makes a strong impression! Keep in mind that there are many candidates interested in these jobs. You have to do the little things that will set you apart from the rest; something as simple as replying quickly and professionally to emails can make a good impression. Regarding interviews: dress professionally, situate yourself in a neutral or academic setting (assuming you will be doing a video interview), and come prepared. You’ll want to emphasize your strengths as a teacher and address your weaknesses, all the while keeping in mind that the person interviewing you will hopefully one day be your coworker.
GS: You are teaching in Shenzhen at the moment, can you tell us about your impressions of the city? What do you like most about living there?
BO: Shenzhen is a very remarkable city for several reasons. Only forty years ago, Shenzhen was a modest fishing village of just thirty thousand residents. Since being designated as China’s first “Special Economic Zone” in 1980, the city has erupted to a population of more than thirteen million, boasting booming skyscrapers, several tourism attractions, and a rich Chinese culture that fuses with the comforts of Western lifestyles.
I had never even heard of the city until I began researching where I wanted to teach; now, I consider it my “hidden treasure!” My favorite part about living in Shenzhen is that I feel like I am at an intersection of time and history. Certain areas of the city could compete with the most technologically advanced and modern regions of the world, while others are still in the midst of their own advancement. I happen to live in a neighborhood somewhat on the outskirts of the major city centers, so there aren’t too many skyscrapers and flashy city features near me. However, I love walking around my neighborhood and imagining how much progress is in store for it over just the next few years.
GS: What do you like most about teaching English?
BO: Though cliche, the truth is that I love everything about teaching English, especially in China. However, if I had to pinpoint one specific thing, I would certainly say it’s the students. Teachers are very well-respected in China and the students do more than their fair share of contributing to the positivity. In my circumstance, I am the only foreign teacher in my school, which means that of the thousands of students and dozens of teachers, I stick out quite a bit! Students swarm me in the hallways between classes with smiles, high fives, and basic English: “Hello, Mr. O’Shea! You are very tall! Blue eyes!” I teach fourteen classes per week, each with roughly fifty students.
My friends and family back home in America were stunned to hear of the large classes, but the truth is that classroom management is very simple here. The students are very well-behaved but are also quick to join in on the fun while we play games and watch instructional videos. Fun aside, few feelings in life as a teacher can top the pride and happiness you feel when you see your students suddenly understand the day’s lesson.
GS: Can you tell us about your favourite class at the moment?
BO: It’s difficult to choose just one, but I will say a fourth-grade class that I teach on Wednesday mornings, “Class 3, Grade 4.” Each class has a main Chinese teacher; this class’ main teacher also happens to be my “contact teacher,” which essentially means she is very good at her job. As a result, her students are great. They are very well-behaved, respectful, and, most importantly, knowledgeable. To be clear, I am their only teacher during our classes – the main Chinese teacher quietly sits in the back of the room tending to her own work.
The students in all of my classes have a solid base understanding of the English language but these kids are a step above the rest. Their enthusiasm is always at a high each week during our time together, which is a constant reminder of how much I love what I do. At the beginning of every class, I call on several students and ask them how they are doing. Almost everyone in this class responds, “I am wonderful because it is English class time!”
GS: Talk us through a typical day teaching English in China.
BO: I live very close to my school, so I have the option of either walking there in about twelve minutes or taking a five-minute bus ride. I arrive by 8:00am every morning, though a bit earlier on Mondays for the weekly school-wide gathering to celebrate being together again. I teach three classes per day, except for Fridays when I only have two classes. Any free time while at the school is spent in office hours.
During office hours, I work on my lesson plans for the next week or two. Lesson planning does not take long at all in China, so once that is out of the way I spend the time reading, writing, and catching up on news (and yes, occasionally on Netflix). Each lesson runs for forty-two minutes, so most days I am teaching for a total of about two hours. Lunch begins at 11:50am and goes until 2:20pm (Yep! Two and a half hours!). During lunch, I am welcomed to free lunch in the teachers’ canteen, but I typically head home to cook and nap or get food around the neighborhood. I’m free to do anything I’d like during the lunch break, which is an amazing way to break up your day and take care of some errands, such as grocery shopping or even going to the gym. I get back to the school each day around 2:00pm, teach my one afternoon class, and leave by 4:10pm.
GS: What are the teaching resources like there?
BO: My school provides desktop computers for all of the teachers, though I personally choose to use my own laptop. Each teacher also has their own cubicle desk in a nice office that comes stocked with an array of teaching supplies. The school provided me with the English textbooks that are used by the 4th and 5th grade teachers and students so as to help me develop cohesive lessons with the Chinese English teachers.
I also received copies of ten English storybooks for each grade which I use to develop my students’ reading abilities and fluency. There is a computer in every classroom, along with a projector and good speakers. These are ideal for presenting TEFL lessons because visuals are a critical medium. Further, in a growing number of classrooms, smartboards are beginning to replace the projectors, which allows my lessons to be more dynamic and visually pleasing. My contact teacher is my primary resource for any questions I may have or advice I may need. Beyond her, all of the English-speaking teachers are quick to assist me if necessary.
GS: China is full of surprises and unexpected adventures, tell us about one you have had recently.
BO: Earlier this month, I flew to Bangkok, Thailand for a weekend to play in the All Asian Gaelic Games tournament. By sheer chance, I had heard of the Shenzhen Celts, the local Irish football team, and immediately decided to join. I had played Irish football for a few years when I was much younger and figured it would be a really memorable experience to get involved again. It proved to be more than worth it, as I walked away with new friends, a great memory, and having had a lot of fun competing against the dozens of teams from all over Asia and beyond!
About Brendan O’Shea
Brendan O’Shea is an EFL teacher, freelance writer, and wannabe world traveler living in Shenzhen, China. Between exploring new destinations, Brendan enjoys reading, playing chess, and following sports. Follow his teaching and traveling journey on Twitter and Instagram, or read up on his experiences on his personal blog: Teach and Travels!