An Interview with Debra at Flying English in Shanghai, China
GS: So, can you tell us a bit about how you first got into English teaching?
DM: I knew it was something I wanted to do since before I finished college. I wanted to travel and work at the same time, and I took a Teach English Abroad course while I was still in school. I’ve always had a passion for education, so this was a natural course of action for me. I ended up in Shanghai because my cousins had already been teaching here.
GS: What advice do you have for people about the recruitment and interview process when looking for jobs teaching in China?
DM: If you have a background in education or teaching, you will have a boost. If you don’t, try to demonstrate your passion for education and be professional. Look into the culture and school that you’re interviewing at. For many jobs here, you’ll have to be flexible and open-minded. Understand that there’s a lot of different types of schools and definitely look into your options: international schools vs. training schools vs. public schools and your location.
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?
DM: Shanghai has all the benefits and negatives about a big city. You have an expansive list of things to do and the public transportation system needed to do all of them. You also get the crowds and masses of people, especially at rush hour. People are usually just trying to get from point A to point B, with little conversation in between. To me, having so many things to do outweighs the negatives, especially since doing almost anything here is less expensive than doing them in America, where I’m from. Additionally, since there’s a large foreigner population, you can get practically any kind of cuisine from around the world. There’s a lot to explore. If you’re willing to look for it, I think there’s something for anyone here.
GS: Talk us through a typical day teaching English in your city
DM: I work at a training school so my classes don’t start until after school. I either use an electric scooter to get to work or take the subway (20 min.) at 2:30. The classes themselves don’t start to about 4pm, so I lesson plan or do other preparations for work and then either have one or two classes. Each class has a maximum of six students. I get out of work whenever my last class ends, which is around 8pm. Every day the classes are different, and on weekends I work from 9am – 6pm. On the weekends, I usually have 3 classes, so those are days of straight teaching. I have two days off on weekdays.
GS: Tell us about the living cost or apartment in your city
DM: I share an apartment with two other people, and pay a total of 11,000 yuan for it, which we split evenly. The apartment has two bathrooms and three bedrooms and comes furnished, as almost all apartments come furnished. We were very fortunate with our apartment find, as we got a very good deal for the size of our apartment, as it is two floors and there is room for an extra bed. Groceries and such are cheap depending on where you want to get them. At the wet market, which is where we go, it costs less than 30 yuan to get a week’s worth of groceries, but we don’t buy meat. At a normal supermarket, it will cost more. Eating out can also be cheap (12 yuan) to very expensive (300 yuan) depending on what you want.
GS: What are the teaching resources like there?
DM: Our school buys whatever we need and we can also ask about buying new materials if we need them. We’ve never needed to buy anything out of pocket. Things like markers, magnets, markers, toys, etc. were all given to us as a set when we started teaching, and then anything else we’ve asked for, like cabinets or dolls have been provided to us when we’ve asked. It’s fairly easy and cheap to acquire anything, since there is an app called Taobao.
GS: Tell us about the restaurants and local food in your city
DM: Many of the small shops here are cheap, family owned stores. They are cheap and usually serve some sort of noodle, dumpling/wonton, or bread dish. They cost something around 10 – 40 yuan. Shanghai doesn’t have a strong street food culture, so these small shops would be what you walk by to try food. Sometimes, a place’s cleanliness is suspect, but that is something one can judge on their own. However, the choice in restaurant and foods here is huge. I’m Chinese and came from a Chinese community in America and I hadn’t known of more than half the Chinese I’ve tried here. If you don’t like Chinese food, there are choices for other tastes, since the foreigner population is large.
GS: Tell us about the salary for English teachers in your city
DM: If you don’t have an education degree, you will probably look at something like 12,000 – 18,000 yuan/month for your first year. It depends on what kind of school you’re teaching at and whether you’re getting a stipend for housing or not. Our school also gives overtime pay for more teaching hours. If you have an education degree and are teaching at an international school, you will probably make more. You’ll get bonuses for things like coming into work on time and not missing any classes at the end of your first year, along with a pay raise for signing a second year.
GS: Tell us about traveling in your city. China is full of surprises and unexpected adventures, tell us about one you have had recently.
DM: To get around, you either take subway, taxi, or bike. Any of these options are cheap and efficient. To get further out, you can take a train to most major cities. In April, we had a school staff trip to a small city outside Shanghai called Zhuji, which I was already excited for, but we went river rafting and had a blast having water battles. The surprise came at the last drop, which was so high that half our boat got submerged and I almost lost my glasses. It was incredibly fun.
GS: Tell us about the transportation in your city
DM: My main mode of transportation at the moment is by electric scooter (moped). They’re rechargeable just by plugging them in and they’re fairly affordable. Many of the roads here are one-way and navigation can be confusing, but a scooter can generally work around the rules. There are extensive bike-share programs all around, even electric bikes. Otherwise, most people just take the subway, which will take you wherever you want to go for 3-4 yuan per trip. Some lines come every four or so minutes, and when it’s very busy they’ll come practically every minute. If you want to go outside Shanghai, you would take a train.
GS: Can you tell us about your favourite class at the moment?
DM: The children I teach range from five years old to ten years old, and all of them have a pretty solid foundation of English. Almost all my classes are what we call SBS1, SBS2, or Reading 5 classes, based off the books they’re learning. My favorite currently is an SBS1 class of four seven year-olds who are extremely cheerful and creative. Every day, they come in giggling and smiling. They always bring up interesting conversations, like fighter planes, blue whales, or what they did while travelling. All four get along well and they like to work together as a team. They’ve just learned past and future tense, and it’s been amazing to see how far their command of the language has progressed. I always look forward to teaching them and leave the class in a great mood.
GS: What do you like most about teaching English?
DM: I’m someone who really enjoys learning about the conventions and grammar of language. Teaching English is great because I get to explain something that I like to students who genuinely want to learn. Teaching English has easily visible results, and it’s amazing to watch kids grow more and more confident in their ability to communicate. There are kids at our school who can barely say “hello” and then there are kids just a few years older who are right on their way to being fluent. Children grow at an astonishing speed, and at our school we stay with our kids as they move up in level, so we can really observe their growth.