An Interview with Patrick Sheley at Webi English in Suzhou
GS: So, can you tell us a bit about how you first got into English teaching?
PS: Yes, I began teaching English while studying in college. I developed close friendships with several foreign students and as things usually go, friends often help each other so I began helping my friends with pronunciation, usage and writing. Eventually I began helping several friends with journal publications and major presentations.
GS: What advice do you have for people about the recruitment and interview process when looking for jobs teaching in China?
PS: The first thing I would say is ‘do it’! But, with this said, I think one must have a real desire to experience a different culture and to understand the significance of leaving the comforts of family, friends and home to move to a new country with a different culture, language and a different way of doing things. One must be determined to persevere through the inevitable challenges.
Once the decision is made to do this, I think two options exist: looking for a job hunter to help find a good position, or applying directly to a company such as WEBi. Once you apply for a job, I think the interview process is similar to what one would expect in the West. Be prepared to share the reasons for wanting to teach, the reasons for wanting to move to a new country and to show true passion and desire to take on the responsibility and commitment to teaching abroad.
GS: How would you describe the assistance you received when you joined our school?
PS: I may not be the best person to ask this question because I had taught in China previously and I moved back into my old apartment so I didn’t need assistance finding housing. However, with this said, for my welcoming experience, WEBi arranged for a friend to pick me up at the airport and secure my residence paperwork. I visited my center upon arrival and met many of my colleagues. One of my colleagues verified that I had housing and offered to show me apartments if I needed help.
Everyone was very friendly, but as is typical with relocating to another country, the paperwork was tedious and challenging. This is not something unique to China, this is a normal experience moving to most any country. There were delays and mistakes made, but everyone was helpful and friendly. The reason I mention this is because things don’t always go smoothly, and patience and perseverance are often necessary. Initial training was limited, but WEBi provides lesson plans and PPTs; I think most anyone who sincerely desires to teach will find the lesson plans helpful and substantial enough to begin teaching.
GS: You are teaching in Suzhou at the moment, can you tell us about your impressions of the city? What do you like most about living there?
PS: Absolutely, Suzhou is an amazing city to live in. It is about 30 minutes from Shanghai by high-speed rail so all the excitement, glamour and extravagance of Shanghai is just a short trip away. At 11 million residents, Suzhou, is quite large by Western standards, but not so much by Chinese standards. It is beautiful and the quality of life is quite nice. The city has an ‘old-town’ that offers a more traditional experience of China.
Suzhou is several thousand years old so there is an amazing history and culture here. The city is full of beautiful gardens, pagodas and canals. Suzhou also has new neighborhoods that are absolutely filled with all the modern conveniences one could desire. Shopping, dining, sports, culture and recreation are all readily available. This is a very diverse city with many expats from all over the world. Transportation by bus or subway is excellent and affordable.
GS: What do you like most about teaching English?
PS: What I like most about teaching is helping others achieve their goals. It doesn’t matter what I teach, but somehow teaching English can be very rewarding because communication skills are one of the most important skills we can possess.
GS: Can you tell us about your favourite class at the moment?
PS: I don’t have a favorite class, but I will say that teaching the business English courses is great fun. Business is such a practical topic because we all need jobs and we all live in the business world whether we realize it or not. There is so much practical, everyday language skill to learn, and business is universal, it’s the same all over the world.
GS: Talk us through a typical day teaching English in China.
PS: A typical day begins in the morning with me logging online to see what classes I have been scheduled and pulling the lesson plans to review them. Then I usually try to arrive at my center two hours before classes begin to prepare materials, review the PPTs and see if I need to find new material or adjust the lesson plans. I usually teach five or six fifty-five-minute courses and afterwards I type in my notes for students and head home. It is a rather long day, but enjoyable.
GS: What are the teaching resources and support like there?
PS: Resources and support vary depending on the day. I am thankful I have my laptop because I use it for most classes and I often look for additional material online. I don’t often need extra support, but I can say that the few times I’ve had questions, my supervisor was always there to offer advice or support.
GS: How many teachers are there in your school?
PS: We have seven ESL teachers at my center. It is quite fun because we have teachers from Great Briton, Kenya, Australia and the United States so we can joke about how the English language varies from country to country.
GS: China is full of surprises and unexpected adventures, tell us about one you have had recently.
PS: China is an amazing place to live, offering a unique juxtaposition between traditional culture and the modern business world. I regularly go out with students at the center to explore Suzhou. We’ve recently gone to one of the local ‘ancient’ towns where we experienced China’s traditional culture, history, music and local cuisine. We’ve also gone mountain climbing and hiking through the city. It’s a wonderful experience and a great way to get to know everyone.