An Interview with James B. at Great English Beijing, China
GS: So, can you tell us a bit about how you first got into English teaching?
JB: I’ve always had a passion for helping and teaching people. Back in England, I was a personal trainer. The path that led me to teaching English in China was a bit indirect. I was traveling around Australia looking for work when I came across an advertisement for a teaching position in China. I thought why not give it a go and use my interpersonal skills to teach students. Also, I figured China would be another interesting adventure in my world travels.
GS: What advice do you have for people about the recruitment and interview process when looking for jobs teaching in China?
JB: In my opinion, when looking for a teaching job in China the first box that needs to be ticked is if they can offer you a work visa. If they can get that sorted for you then you know they are a legit school. After that I think it just goes by the feel you get when speaking with the school. Make sure you have all your questions written down and do research beforehand to gauge what kind of compensation and perks schools are offering in China.
GS: You are teaching in ShunYi, Beijing at the moment, can you tell us your impression of the city? What do you like most about living there?
JB: To be fair, by the time you read this I will probably be living and working in YinChuan, my wife’s hometown. However, I can speak about the year I spent in Shunyi, Beijing. I had an amazing time living and working in Shunyi. For starters the rent was a lot cheaper than living downtown, a matter of fact the cost of living, in general, was cheaper. This allowed me to save money and pay off a decent amount of my University bills.
What I liked most about living in Shunyi was being away from the foreign bubble, I felt more immersed in China because I had to use Chinese every day. This helped broaden my Chinese language ability and also my perspective of living in China. I think most teachers who come and live and work in Beijing city center, like ChaoYang, fall into that trap of only dealing with foreigners because it’s easier. There is nothing wrong with that, but living in ShunYi definitely added a positive and interesting aspect to my time so far living in China.
GS: What do you like most about teaching English?
JB: I would have to say it’s the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life. I look at what I do as not only teaching English but also creating an experience for students that I hope lasts in their minds forever. There is a special bond you create with the students when teaching them. Watching them learn, seeing them laugh, and to know that I created that experience is an indescribable special feeling. In more ways than one, my students have also taught me a few things about life. So I think it’s a two-way street.
GS: Can you tell us your favourite class at the moment?
JB: My favourite class is also my most challenging, SuperTots 1a. SuperTots 1a is the introductory level at Great English. The students are 3-5 years old. It takes patience and persistence to teach students at this age, but once you get the class rolling you can see the most improvement from these students, it is extremely rewarding. Also, because I have taught all age levels I have the experience to know some of the pitfalls a new English student may encounter and how to overcome them. For me, this validates all the hard work that I’ve put into lesson planning and teaching.
GS: Talk us through a typical day teaching English in China.
JB: Working at a training school you will have classes during weeknights and all day weekends. Weekdays classes start at 17:00. I arrive an hour before class, make sure my lesson plans are in order and have teaching materials prepared. Classes are 35-40 minutes long, depending on the level of class. So I’ll teach for 35-40, have 5-10 minute break, then get back into my next class. The most classes you will have on weekdays are 6.
Weekends can be a bit busy, but you get used to it rather quickly. On weekends my first class is at 9:00. I usually arrive at about 8:00 get a cup of coffee from Starbucks across the street and mentally prepare for the day ahead. By 8:30 I’m in the school organizing teaching materials I will need for the morning. I’m in the classroom by 8:50 and ready to go. Teach 4 classes then have a break for lunch at 12:00. I usually go back to my apartment for lunch, which is in the same community as the school, and then have class again at 14:00. If I have everything I need set up for the afternoon already then I’ll be in class by 13:50, if not I’ll come back a little earlier to prepare myself. Have 2 classes from 14:00 – 15:30 then my next class is at 17:00 so I have time to recollect myself. Teach 4 classes from 17:00-20:00.
Because I have worked at both, I would like to briefly compare working at a kindergarten/international school and working at a training school.
Working at a kindergarten/international school in most if not all cases you will be there all day, 8:00-17:00, Monday-Friday. While only actually teaching maybe 2 or 3 classes. At first, this sounded like a sweet deal, however, for me; this became excruciatingly boring after time. As I felt my services were not used to their full potential and or I was wasting time just sitting there supervising students during play time. Weekends were off, which was nice, but the rest of Beijing also had off these days which made sightseeing in Beijing at times extremely crowded. Having weekends off also means working 5 days straight. When the winter rolls around being outside waiting for a bus or taxi in the cold early morning was not my favourite thing to do.
Working at a training school means light weeknights of teaching and busy weekends. Then, somewhere in the middle having 2 weekdays off. In my experience sightseeing around Beijing on a weekday morning/afternoon allowed me to go at my own pace and not feeling like I had to rush around and beat the crowds. Also, I found it more enjoyable having the work week divided up instead of working 5 days straight.
GS: What are the teaching resources like there?
JB: The teaching resources and foreign management at Great English is what attracted me to the teaching position here. Great English is the second school that I have worked at in Beijing so I knew in advance how much preparation it could take to make a lesson plan. For most of the classes, at Great English, there are already made lesson plans that set a blueprint on how to reach the objective of the lesson. This streamlined the process of preparing for classes and allowed me to add my own flair of creativity. Also, the teaching materials provided were extremely helpful; PPT games, digital music files, realia, flashcards, etc. There is also a once a week “brainstorming” session which was great because I was able to hear other teachers perspective on how to perform activities and attain certain objectives. All of this support gave me the tools I needed to become the best teacher I could be.
GS: How many teachers are there in your school?
JB: When I was working at Great English there were 4 foreign teachers including me. Each class also had a Chinese teacher in the room as well. In all, there were 8 Chinese teachers that assigned and checked homework, spoke to parents and did WeChat communications.
GS: China is full of surprises and unexpected adventures, tell us about one you have had recently.
JB: China has given me the most amazing unexpected surprise. Upon arriving in Beijing, never in a million years did I think I was going to find a partner to spend the rest of my life with. What I planned, at first, to be a 1-2 year adventure has now become a lifetime adventure here in China. The wedding party itself was a crazy adventure from having to do ceremonial “hong bao” handouts to the party games me and my groomsmen had to compete in.
JB: On a final note, if anybody would like to contact me personally and ask questions about working at Great English I have given them permission to give out my WeChat for further communication.