An Interview with Natcher at Changzhou School Attached to Beijing Normal University
GS: So, can you tell us a bit about how you first got into English teaching?
NP: I volunteered with local underprivileged children while an undergraduate and realized that I found teaching a hugely enjoyable and rewarding process. When thinking about what I wanted to do after graduating from college, I decided that it might be interesting to go to China, where I could combine my love of teaching and my knowledge of English as a native speaker (while maybe learning some Chinese). More than two years later and I have no regrets about the decision!
GS: What advice do you have for people about the recruitment and interview process when looking for jobs teaching in China?
NP: The first piece of advice is to just be patient; the administrative processes to come to China can be long, but the experience is absolutely worth the hassle.
The second piece of advice is to embrace the unexpected and to consider living in places you have never heard of before. China is so much bigger than Shanghai and Beijing.
The third piece of advice is to really think about where you want to teach—do you want a public school or private training center? What are you looking for in the culture of the school you will teach at? Speaking from experience, one of the factors that influenced me to choose Changzhou School Attached to Beijing Normal University was my interview with the school, when I was able to see for myself how much the teachers here care about their students.
GS: You are teaching in Changzhou at the moment, can you tell us about your impressions of the city? What do you like most about living there?
NP: Changzhou is big enough to be convenient and easy for a foreigner to live. At the same time, Changzhou is not enormous, meaning that it still feels like a manageable place to live and that Changzhou has not been fully internationalized. And while much of the city is rapidly modernizing, there are still pockets of more traditional culture remaining. For instance, I love walking along the canals downtown. Plus, Changzhou punches way above its weight class in tourist attractions; Tianning Temple is seriously impressive, and China Dinosaurs Park is one of the most endearingly over-the-top kitschy places I have had the privilege of visiting.
GS: Talk us through a typical day teaching English in your city
NP: My days typically start in the primary school, where I will teach one to three forty minute classes depending on the day. After that, it’s time for lunch, then a rest. In the afternoon, I teach a combination of primary school and middle school classes. My teaching day normally ends between three and five in the afternoon. After classes finish, I can choose what I want to do. Typically, I either work on more lesson plans or study Chinese.
GS: Tell us about the living cost/apartment in your city
NP: I live in the school dormitory, so I do not pay for my housing. Most Changzhou prices are quite reasonable; buses and taxis are relatively inexpensive compared to bigger cities like Shanghai. Food is, for the most part, quite affordable, though there are a few nicer and therefore more expensive restaurants.
GS: What are the teaching resources like there?
NP: The teaching resources are plentiful. The school is newly built, so all the classrooms come equipped with technology (the campus is also quite nice). My Chinese colleagues are very talented teachers, and are always willing to let me watch their lessons or talk to me about teaching. The school strikes a nice balance between providing all the resources I need for my teaching while still affording me the freedom and flexibility to experiment with my classes and develop my personal teaching style and curriculum.
GS: Tell us about the restaurants and local food in your city.
NP: During the week, I mostly eat at the school canteen, which has shown remarkable improvement this school year—the noodles they serve are actually pretty good. As I’ve commented before, Changzhou is not an enormous city, so it doesn’t have quite the same repertoire of international cuisine as larger Chinese cities, but Shanghai is a quick bullet train ride away and the options within Changzhou are definitely adequate. I eat many of my off-campus meals at smaller nearby noodle shops, which are delicious and which have a decent range of options. Local Changzhou food is sweet, although all varieties of Chinese food are easy to find.
GS: Tell us about the salary for English teachers in your city.
NP: My salary is reasonable for English teachers in Changzhou and is beyond adequate to cover my living and entertainment expenses.
GS: Tell us about transportation in your city.
NP: Changzhou’s transportation is highly satisfactory for a city of its size. There are two high-speed train stations, both located relatively close to the city’s center, and an airport in the eastern suburbs. The road network is generally well-developed, though traffic can be annoying during rush hour. The bus system is exceptional in its reliability and pricing—one yuan per ride! The one downside is that the subway system is not yet online; much of the city still acts as an extended construction site, and line one isn’t scheduled to open until December 2019 (line two supposed opens a year later).
GS: Can you tell us about your favorite class at the moment?
NP: My primary school students are adorable, but my favorite teaching moments come with my seventh grade students. Their English skills are a little bit stronger, so they can communicate more with me. They are also a little bit more rebellious than the smaller children, which adds a really fun element of unpredictability to the classes. I love the feeling that the students help me come to the final version of my lesson.
GS: What do you like most about teaching English?
NP: I like the opportunity to interact across cultures and languages with Chinese students. I like knowing that my class can be a fun and low-stress moment in their otherwise high-stress days. I like knowing that I work alongside my phenomenally talented Chinese coworkers. And I just like having the chance to help my students understand more about American culture and showing them that they can use English to learn about and communicate with the world. It’s a really powerful and special experience that I am sure to treasure for the rest of my life.
GS: China is full of surprises and unexpected adventures, tell us about one you have had recently.
NP: One of Changzhou’s best features is its convenient location within China. A number of major cities—Nanjing, Suzhou, Shanghai, and Hangzhou—are accessible within two hours’ bullet train ride. I love being able to take escape the city during the day and be back in my bed for the night.
As far as unexpected adventures, my favorite unexpected adventures are when I find myself wandering the city later at night with my friends. There is something oddly magical about getting Chinese barbecue at an ungodly hour of the morning.