An Interview with John at Ivy International Prep School in Weihai, China
GS: So, can you tell us a bit about how you first got into English teaching?
JH: I first heard about ESL teaching from my friends at university. However, after I graduated, I followed my major into the science sector and worked in a microbiology lab for around three years. After I managed to pay back most of my outstanding student debt I began to get itchy feet and was reminded of conversations with old classmates about heading off to places unknown.
I decided to take the plunge and set off on a three-month journey where I would end up enrolled on a TEFL course in Zhuhai, China. After completing the month long class (which was invaluable, by the way), and sending out my CV to all the usual sites and receiving what seemed like a million responses, I ended up at a training school for young learners in Hangzhou.
GS: Could you give some details about your dealings with Gold Star TEFL Recruitment?
JH: After 5 years of working in Hangzhou, I decided it was time for a change. I wanted to get back to my roots in science and was seeking a job teaching biology and to older students. I sent my CV out again to several sites and this time, Gold Star got back to me.
Communication was easy and professional and I always received timely responses to any questions I had. I specified my requirements for my next teaching role and they were able to quickly get me in touch with the school I am currently working in Weihai, Shandong province.
GS: What advice do you have for people about the recruitment and interview process when looking for jobs teaching in China?
JH: Take your time. You can very quickly become inundated with so many requests for interviews and job offers. Decide on the ones that look most professional and that get back to you with decent English and accurate, legitimate advice. Make sure also to read carefully over any information you receive from potential schools before having an interview.
This will allow you to prepare fully with some engaging interview questions for the interviewer and to make sure that this is actually a job that you would seriously consider if you were to be offered the position. As someone who used to interview potential new teachers, I have a lot of first hand experience of wasted time, on both sides of the interview experience. However, if you go through an agency such as Gold Star, you should only be receiving interviews that you are suited for, so this shouldn’t be an issue.
GS: You are teaching in Weihai at the moment, can you tell us about your impressions of the city? What do you like most about living there?
JH: It’s a small city on the coast next to the Yellow Sea in Shandong province. I have really enjoyed it here. Compared to my previous city, it’s not exactly ‘bustling’ but the air is clean and now that summer is here, it’s a very pleasurable place to live. The coastline is beautiful, great for hiking, bike riding or fishing and there are plenty of restaurants and bars to go to in the downtown area.
There is also a good community of expats living here so you never have to feel lonely.
For me, I came here for the teaching job but the best thing about Weihai is the environment. It’s so nice to be living in China and have fresh air and blue skies on a daily basis!
GS: What do you like most about teaching English?
JH: My favourite thing about teaching is getting through to the students. Classes, like people, come in all shapes and sizes and it’s of the upmost importance for teachers to be able to cater for all the individuals in our care. Teaching large classes may be a challenge but it is this very situation that keeps the job interesting and you on your toes every day – I’ve been lucky to not have to teach classes any larger than 20.
Difficult students in a class tend to be the ones that you can make the most impact on. Getting through to these students, not only makes your class easier to manage, but as you both learn to see where the other is coming from and develop an understanding, walls come down and progress is made. This can take months, semesters or even years to achieve but believe me when I say, there is nothing more rewarding than when that students sits down and begins to make progress with your subject.
GS: Can you tell us about your favourite class at the moment?
JH: My favourite class right now is my oldest set. I teach them for SAT which is really quite a challenge, given the time restraints and the sheer volume of questions to be answered in the exam. It can also be quite monotonous going through past paper questions to help with content understanding and test timing issues.
However the class work well together as a team and we have developed a very open, quiz style lesson landscape where the students themselves tend to dictate how the lesson proceeds, which for me is great. They give me feedback on how to tailor the lesson to keep them engaged and we have fun while preparing for quite frankly, boring multiple choice exam questions.
GS: Talk us through a typical day teaching English in China.
JH: I get up pretty early now, and am in school just before 8am. Classes run for 45 minutes and I tend to have up to 4 classes per day. I find the schedule to be just right, as I get time between classes to prepare properly for the next day. When I first started at this school, mostly due to the courses I am teaching being much more involved then when I was teaching at the training school, I’ll admit to taking work home with me. But now, I have found a good balance and all my planning and marking is finished within school hours. There is even a bit of time for chatting with other teachers in the office! Every day I’m out of school and back home before 5pm.
GS: What are the teaching resources like there?
JH: Resources are pretty good. We have access to a good range of multimedia in the classrooms and there is plenty of online assistance in the form of the Cambridge Online teachers forums that we all have access to. Should I ever require any extra resources such as books or other teaching materials for lab experiments, I simply put in a request and I usually have what I need within a week.
GS: How many teachers are there in your school?
JH: The school is divided into three sections: the training school, primary school and the high school campus where I work. Across the different locations there are a total of 16 foreign teachers and many more Chinese teachers and staff.
GS: China is full of surprises and unexpected adventures, tell us about one you have had recently.
JH: I’ve been living in China for more than 5 years now so I’d say that I’m fairly accustomed to the strangeness that goes on – most days! However, one of the best ‘adventures’ I had was when I first arrived in Hangzhou. I took the bus to the downtown area to explore it for the first time, although having never been there before; I had only a map and a confused expression with me.
When I got off the bus, a slightly older lady asked me (in Chinese) if I needed help. I tried to explain that I just wanted to look around and hopefully find somewhere to buy some clothes. She ended up commandeering another passerby who spoke some English. Both of them ended up spending the next couple of hours showing me around the West Lake area, taking me to buy clothes and then treating me to lunch before taking me back to the bus stop to get back to my apartment. Being so warmly received in a foreign country was such a humbling experience, not one that I will quickly forget. I will be forever thankful of this warm reception and mean to pay it forward as often as possible.