An Interview with Jeremy at Best Learning in Shijiahuzng, China
GS: So, can you tell us a bit about how you first got into English teaching?
JB: I was studying Chinese in America and when I made the decision to come to China, I didn’t want to go to one of the big cities like Beijing or Shanghai. Outside of big cities like that, teaching is the best option for work, and that is how I started down the path. I taught at a University first, and also got into tutoring and teaching at other training schools.
GS: What advice do you have for people about the recruitment and interview process when looking for jobs teaching in China?
JB: Try to talk to one of their foreign teachers personally. Ask them what the down sides of the school are and what challenges they’ve had. Do some research ahead of time regarding the city and the school itself.
GS: You are teaching in Shijiazhuang at the moment, can you tell us about your impressions of the city? What do you like most about living there?
JB: Shijiazhuang has experienced rapid growth in recent years, much like the rest of China. I like it because while it does have the conveniences of a modern city (everything from Starbucks to Burger King to Imax theaters), it isn’t like the sprawling megacities of China. The people are nice, and another plus is that there is no local “Shijiazhuang” dialect. Although outlying counties have dialects, there is no official city dialect, which means that it’s an excellent place to start, or continue, with studying Chinese. It’s a travel hub with many tourist destinations nearby, there is a nice expat community, and the cost of living is relatively low.
GS: What do you like most about teaching English?
JB: I really enjoy helping students to improve their pronunciation. The truth is that students can learn vocabulary, grammar, reading, and writing from Chinese teachers, but the one thing they can’t improve is their pronunciation. My students have made excellent progress in this area due to my focus on the subject. I also enjoy fostering creativity. Unfortunately, creativity is not something that the Chinese education cares about, so I love giving students, not just the chance to exercise creativity, but advice and help regarding how to do so.
GS: Can you tell us about your favorite class at the moment?
JB: I teach the highest level class at our school. Some of the students in the class have been studying at our school for years, and everyone in the class has incredible English. The teaching is done only in English, and the students are incredible. It’s a lot of fun to adjust the learning to the needs and wants of the students. We do everything from play fantasy role playing games to rehearse plays to make posters. We study science, grammar, popular culture, and many other things. As a result, the students’ English has experienced, and continues to experience, phenomenal growth.
GS: Talk us through a typical day teaching English in China.
JB: This really depends on the level of experience of the teacher. Teachers with less experience will need to spend more time familiarizing themselves with the content and resources. Teachers with more experience can focus more on coming up with new content and ideas. Either way, there is a mix of class preparation and actual teaching. At our school, class prep is usually done in the afternoons on Wed-Fri, while teaching is done later on those evenings (which gives a chance for sleeping in on all the weekdays). The other classes are taught during the daytime on weekends (leaving weekend nights free for relaxing). There are dinner and lunch breaks as appropriate.
GS: What are the teaching resources like there?
JB: We use McGraw Hill teaching material and software. Furthermore, we have lesson plans created for all the classes, although teachers are also encouraged to adjust to the class and also come up with their own content. Overall, the abundance of resources makes class prep easy, and gives more time to think of ways to innovate and be creative with the teaching. Our facilities are very modern. We have computer and smartboards in all the classrooms, and our school is a beautiful facility with wood floors and a bright, sunny atmosphere (please note that the pictures I’ve included are from a few years ago before we renovated the school. Back then we had carpet)
GS: How many teachers are there in your school?
JB: The number of teachers varies depending on many factors. Right now we have 6 foreign teachers and the same number of Chinese teachers.
GS: China is full of surprises and unexpected adventures, tell us about one you have had recently.
JB: My parents recently came to visit and we took them to a town outside the main city where you can visit the oldest free-standing stone bridge in the world. The town is famous for donkey meat, and we ate a lunch in which all the dishes contained donkey meat. Believe it or not, it’s very delicious, and even my parents, who are very picky eaters, thought it was good!