An Interview with James at Giraffe English in Shanghai, China
GS: So, can you tell us a bit about how you first got into English teaching?
JJ: I have been pretty fortunate in that whilst growing up, my parents took me travelling to a variety of countries across the world, and as a result I was infected with the travel bug! Upon graduating I was 100% sure that I wanted a job abroad and one of the easiest ways to achieve that was through becoming an English teacher.
Although I had that mindset at that time, I didn’t put in much thought into actual English teaching until I was smack bang in the middle of my first class of middle aged businesswomen in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Luckily, I was surrounded by many helpful, passionate teachers who showed me the ropes and made me realize the value and challenge of teaching.
After a year spent in Mongolia teaching adults, I arrived in China with the challenge of becoming a competent teacher of children and young learners. This was and is a challenge but a rewarding one and one that I have learnt has no boundaries in terms of growth and development as a teacher and as a person.
GS: What advice do you have for people about the recruitment and interview process when looking for jobs in China?
JJ: Firstly, I would have to say, be open-minded about where you want to go and who you want to teach. Teaching English in China is an amazing experience whether you want to do it simply to experience Chinese culture and travel or to start to develop a teaching career. Either way, and no matter what age range you teach, you are guaranteed to find yourself teaching students whom are motivated, enthusiastic and passionate about learning English.
Secondly, don’t be open-minded about the company with which you teach. Before signing any agreement with any school, institution or training center, be completely certain that you are confident that the company will look after your interests and provide a working environment that is up to your standards. Taking interviews set up by reputable agencies such as Gold Star can guarantee this safety and peace of mind.
GS: You are teaching at in Shanghai at the moment, can you tell us about your impressions of the city? What do you like most about living there?
JJ: Above all the most impressionable thing about Shanghai is the people. For the four years I have been here, I have always felt happy, primarily because the people around me are always so happy and friendly.
Furthermore, being here with my wife and expectant baby; a very important thing about living in Shanghai is the feeling of safety and security. At home in the UK, you are always advised not to go to certain places at certain times of the day or night. In Shanghai, I don’t need to have that kind of caution. I feel safe wherever I go day or night. There are still concerns, for example with the traffic (drivers are crazy), pollution and food safety, but like with everything, any problems are avoided with a little common sense.
Beyond that, Shanghai is an amazing place to feel Chinese culture whilst still having western comforts. Also, because of that, it’s a great place to call base in order to explore the rest of China and Asia.
GS: What do you like most about teaching English?
JJ: When teaching adults, I loved how every lesson was a lesson not just for the students but also for myself, in learning the culture and people of a country. When teaching children and young learners, I love how in every class, I must be on my toes to keep the students satisfied and motivated. Therefore teaching is a profession that does not let you sit back and fall into a routine which for someone like myself is just what I need. I am the type of person who always wants to learn and always wants to grow. Being a teacher completely satisfies that need.
GS: Can you tell us about your favorite class at the moment?
JJ: My favorite class at the moment is my Saturday morning 10:30 – 12:00 class. They are a class I have taught continuously for the past four years starting from when they were just three years old. Now they are seven years old and I am very proud to have seen them grow from very cute crying babies to young students who are now putting sentences together and asking me which football team I like.
As corny as it sounds, it really is satisfying when you see how your students have grown over a period of time.
GS: Talk us through a typical day teaching English in China.
JJ: There is no such thing as a typical day at our language school. Of course a typical day consists of teaching classes which can range from a class of three year olds to a class of ten year olds. Generally, classes are one to one and a half hours long. Outside the classes, there are many exciting things that go on.
For example, if it is Christmas, Halloween, Mid-Autumn Festival, Mother’s Day, Children’s Day etc we will be preparing extra games, activities and events for the students, which usually involves everyone digging into their inner actor.
For the staff, we also have a lot of fun activities and team-building games going on. We recently had a whole company “amazing race” event as well as sports day, quiz night, company spring trip and monthly birthday celebrations. There is always a lot of fun going on both for the students and the teachers.
GS: What are the teaching resources like there?
JJ: Unlike many training centers, we do not have interactive whiteboards. This, after a good time of teaching, I understand not to be a disadvantage but rather an advantage. A successful class and successful learning does not rely on extra resources; the most important resource a teacher has is…the teacher. Here, there is a lot of time and money invested into this key resource through ongoing training both the school and outside. Recently, two of our teachers went to the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, USA for training and came back to share their experience. Also, each year, a group of teachers go to Taiwan for training at the English Teachers Association’s annual meeting in Taipei.
There are also a lot of extra resources ranging from puppets, sticky balls, dice, posters and hammers all the way to Mr. and Mrs. Potato Heads, nerf guns, and air hockey. We have a whole preparation room dedicated to props and resources that is constantly being updated and restocked.
It would be difficult to go through all of these resources but the most commonly used ones by every teacher are the flashcards and of course the textbooks.
GS: How many teachers are there in your school?
JJ: Our language center has two schools. One main center located in Xujiahui and another near Shanghai South Railway Station. We have over twenty foreign teachers and around forty Chinese teachers and teaching assistants.
GS: China is full of surprises and unexpected adventures, tell us about one you have had recently.
JJ: I was sitting, preparing my classes only two weeks ago when the head of the teachers department came up to me and asked, “Would you like to go to Guizhou.” I said yes and then the next week, I was on the plane to Guizhou with two of my colleagues for a charity teaching trip at a remote school in the mountains of Guizhou. It was an amazing experience and one that I will treasure dearly when I eventually come to leave China.