An Interview with Sean at English First in Chongqing, China
GS: So, can you tell us a bit about how you first got into English teaching?
SH: You could say it was by accident, or perhaps out of sheer desperation! I hadn’t considered teaching as a serious career, but having gone through a slew of boring jobs, doing things that didn’t really matter, I decided on a wholesale change of tack. I decided to take a huge risk and leave my old life behind and begin a new one. To be honest, I had no idea what I was getting myself in for or whether it would work out or not. I got qualified through i-to-i and then I started looking for jobs. I considered doing the internship, but I quickly realized I could learn just as much, if not more, by just jumping into the deep end. I got a bit turned off the idea when I began searching for good schools on the internet – it seems that very few people take the time to write about their good experiences, so most published experiences are negative – so the safest option was to go through a recruitment agency.
GS: Could you give some details about your dealings with Gold Star TEFL Recruitment?
SH: Well firstly, it’s hard to come across a company that responds timely to emails – this one does! Definitely a plus when you’re as impatient and disorganized as me. They definitely suit my “hurry up and wait” mentality and you know that they care, because even when you don’t stay in touch with them, they always check up on you regularly. It would be an exaggeration to say that Gold Star changed my life – my job and my wife has done that, but Gold Star has been a safety net and a companion throughout a very challenging and scary 18 months for me, so I owe them a great deal. I honestly consider them as friends.
GS: What advice do you have for people about the recruitment and interview process when looking for jobs teaching in China?
SH: Firstly, don’t believe all the negative stories you read on the internet about English schools in China. Think about it, if you are having the time of your life, are you going to have to time to blog about it on some obscure forum? No. So just like in Politics, you’ll only hear the bad news so just switch off from it and take the leap, after all, your home town will still be there if it doesn’t work out! Secondly, use a recruitment agency. I’m not saying Gold Star is definitely the best because I have very little to compare them to, but I can honestly say they care and that is a great comfort to people like me who aren’t the Indian Jones type and needs a friendly face at your side through the transition to a new life. Thirdly, don’t wait. So many of my friends have said they’ll come out here and join me, so many have said they want to take the leap, none of them have! I’m not special. I’m not particularly brave or smart, but I’ve made it out here – you don’t need to be special to make it out here too!
GS: You are teaching in Chongqing located in the west of China, at the moment. What is the city like? What do you like most about living there?
SH: If a higher power collected thousands of buildings, tens of thousands of people, monuments, food, animals, plants, trees, rocks, iPads, dishcloths, watermelons…etc into a big sack, shuck it violently for about a minute and then emptied it on top of a mountain in no particular order…when the dust clears, you’ll have Chongqing! Take from that what you will, but I can tell you that Chongqing is a city like no other that sprouts off in a million different directions in a million different ways. The place is vibrant, alive and chaotic with a unique personality. It has temples, it has mountains, it was streams and rivers and it has the Gucci shopping malls. Monks eat hot-pot next businessmen in sharp suits eating Pizzas. You’ll never be bored here…it’s simply impossible!
GS: You are now also a husband! Can you tell us the details?
SH: Simply put, we meet at work, fell in love, I proposed at the schools Christmas party and now we are married! I can tell you that winning the heart of a Chinese girl has been hard, but it should be hard because the rewards are fantastic. I’ve never been happier and we are planning to build a family here in China…which I’m sure will carry with it, its own challenges and rewards!
GS: Can you tell us about your favourite class at the moment?
SH: I have a class of four year olds which adore me for reasons unknown…I’m nothing special! But before I start class, they all rush towards me and hug my legs! So my heart likes this class. My head likes the class of adults I teach which are both friendly and funny. Also, they are enthusiastic and want to learn and know what they want to learn! Exploring the language and setting up conditions for them to use what they have learned is a great pleasure – so my heart is with kids and my head is with adults!
GS: Talk us through a typical day teaching English in China.
SH: A typical day? Well since I flew 6,000 miles away from ‘Typical’ days that’s a difficult question to ask! Every day is different which makes this lifestyle very appealing, but it’s also important to keep to some kind of routine otherwise you end up going a little crazy! My routine generally begins with waking relatively early and catching up with world events on the internet. Your mornings will generally be your own, since your schedule will be quite flexible and most (most) classes are in the afternoon or evenings. The weekends are generally an all new ball game with early starts and late finishes, but if teaching is something you think you’ll enjoy, it’s a breeze! I head to the school around 10 or 11 and do some lesson planning and mark some papers and have various meetings with local assistance and my bosses. Classes during the week start around 4 and finish around 8. You end up ordering food at work, but generally you can afford a nice meal after work in a Chinese or foreign restaurant…I like a good trip to Pizza Hut when I feel I’ve deserved it…haha.
What I’ve just typed will likely be of little use to you because every teachers schedule and experiences are different, but the basic ingredients are there….routine….planning…teaching…food!
GS: What are the teaching resources like there?
SH: Excellent. You have a vast array of teaching materials…text books, activity plans, teaching theory books, the internet…etc but your best resource is the other teachers and you must learn to take advice and to provide a critique to your peers otherwise you won’t become a better teacher! Again, all of what I just said depends on which school you end up at, but most, if not all the big names have a nice array of materials and other teachers to help you along….
GS: China is full of surprises and unexpected adventures, tell us about one you have had recently.
SH: I came out here with free preconceptions so it’s difficult to say that anything has surprised me! I can tell you that visiting my wife’s family was an “adventure” of sorts, for them and me! I arrived in a part of China that rarely, if at all, sees foreign visitors so you get stared at by everyone and no one can speak a word of English and my Chinese is, and always will be, extremely poor…so I was relying on my wife a lot of the time! Those of your with in laws may considering it a bonus that your mother or father in laws don’t understand what you are saying…but when you are trying to win them over with the idea that there precious little girl is in good hands, it’s a curse! The first true breakthrough I had with my wife’s family was…Angry Birds on the iPad.