Becoming an English Teacher


Planning too far into the future appears to be pointless. Considering that over a 2 years period my life-ambition changed from becoming a doctor to becoming a backpacker. This transition was a great success, before becoming broke after 3 short months. The curious thought of becoming a teacher did cross my mind at some point; I knew I’d never want to be one.


The memories of teachers extended from primary to secondary paints a bleak picture of soulless monsters having to control a group of annoying little bastards. Being as I was one of those annoying little bastards, the thought of having to deal with that ensured teaching was never an option.


Even when applying for this job, I was led to believe that I’d just be an English teacher. I’ve had experience in foreign English schools in my time backpacking (although brief). Its fair to say that anything I may have of expected turned out a hell of a lot differently. A complex combination of ignorance, confusion and a lot of misleading led me to become a foreign teacher in an English school in Beijing, China.


The details of the exact company I work for must obviously stay secret, for reasons that will become clear. It is however one of the biggest most widely distributed English schools in China.


Am I Qualified?


No, no I am not. Other than high school grades and half a degree, I have no qualifications, let alone anything that qualifies me to work with children. However, that doesn’t matter, because that’s not really in demand. The real question is; can I speak English? Yes? Then I’m qualified.


That seems to be the only thing these schools are interested in. A native English speaker in China is a valuable commodity where nation-wide schools across are willing to pay very generously for their services. Great for me, unqualified and jobless, it provides a great opportunity.


However, when you consider what sort of education these kids can have from someone who isn’t qualified, with all their “training” done in 5 days, it’s a little concerning. Even more shocking is when you realise the parents of these kids pay £2,000 A YEAR for this education.


The training was a simple crash course, going over everything quickly once before you were thrown into the deep end. You do have experienced people there to help. You’re even given a Chinese teacher who’ll be there every lesson, helping you all the way. However, it’s a hell of a lot less training than you’d need back home.

Our view of Beijing on the last day of training


Is it Official?


In China; as long as it looks official, then its official. Where the parents are concerned, I’m a highly qualified teacher, even been given my own fake backstory. As you can imagine, the parents wouldn’t be too happy knowing their child’s £2,000 education is by a non-qualified backpacking twat. That’s why my backstory goes as so:

I’m 26 years old with a degree in Biomedical Science, who spent a year working in an international school in Jakarta, before deciding to work in the school’s headquarters in Beijing for a year.

Turns out, it’s not only the parents that are being fooled, the police/government too. Technically, I’m illegally working, along with every other teacher in the school. Its all down to our visas. Most have a tourist visa (2 months) or like myself, a business visa (3 months), neither of which allow you to work. If we were to be caught working without the correct visa, we could be deported. This is an all serious issue. In schools across Beijing, they have regular “raids” where the police turn up and all foreign teachers are made to hide to avoid deportation. This could lead to waiting 7 months in prison potentially.



What’s it Like Being a Teacher?


I’m not what you’d consider a teacher to be back home (or hope not at least). Firstly, its not a 9-5. Its an after-school class, as the kids are all in their normal elementary schools throughout the week. The disadvantage is the weekend becomes the busiest time of the week, but the weekdays are lighter. At most I have 3 classes a day, usually an hour and a half long, but can range to 3 hours or an “all day” class. Only 3 days a week would I have to start work at 9, however for another 3 nights I’m working until 8:30pm.


Admittedly at first, I was flustered. The first 2 days included a confusing array of observing classes before I was dropped into teaching 6 different classes of kids. The teacher I was replacing had a degree in primary education and was responsible for the highest grades of children in the school, no pressure then.


However, when I’d finally gotten into the swing of things, it became very natural and quite easy! Between your shift, only about half of it is spent teaching, the rest can be used to plan and prepare your classes. All the information and lesson plans are provided for you, even giving you the freedom to nip-and-tuck wherever you see fit. Its following a routine that’s been set there for a while.

Team bonding

Another very different and very beneficial difference is the inclusion of a Chinese teacher (CT) who assist you with your classes. They’re the link between you and the students/parents. They’ll also help you with the lesson planning, and are with you throughout your classes to help cross the language barrier if needed and generally help teaching and controlling the kids. This majorly lifts the pressure off you and makes sure everything goes well.


Just to demonstrate the laid-back nature of the work, it’s completely acceptable to nap at your desk when you’re not in class. An unbelievably welcome bonus on those exhausted days.



Who Do You Teach?


They’re all schoolchildren between the ages of 3-12 divided between different grades given their levels. There are three types of classes Pre-kindergarten (PK), Kindergarten (K) and Grades 1-5 (G) for the higher-level kids.


The number and level of classes you’ll have are decided for you. It will be down to your training, and where the trainers believe you’ll be suitable. Some will solely teach one level of children; however, my schedule includes a PK, 2 K and 2 different G classes. They also provide private lessons for certain children, done on a 1-on-1 basis. I have 2 of these classes.

My Christmas dinner with my students

In this case it becomes a bit of a challenge, because the teaching methods between each age level obviously differs. The incredibly hyperactive screaming and looking like a general idiot works incredibly well with the younger kids, however makes you look like an absolute twat to the older kids.


What’s the Pay?


Quite simple, I’m earning MUCH more now than I was while working 60-hours a week in 2 jobs back home. The pay is incredibly generous and comes from several different avenues. As well as being given an accommodation allowance (enough to cover your rent), you’re given a base monthly wage AND paid by the hour for being in class. The number of hours you work obviously depends on the number of classes you have, but there’s opportunity to pick up further classes if you wish.



Benefits of Being a Teacher


I’d never thought id say it, but I actually enjoy being a teacher. Its surprising how enjoyable and (as cheesy as it sounds) rewarding it really is. Such as trying to teach these 5-6 year olds the difficult concept of living/non-living things or the definition of the word “The” in a foreign language to them. The reward comes when you see they’ve understood exactly what you’re trying to teach.

As much work as it would seem to maintain 6+ classes of kids would be, its surprisingly easy to manage your schedule given you find a routine. There are already lesson plans set up for you to use. All you have to do is familiarise yourself with the content, edit/add whatever you see fit, print off worksheets and you’re ready for the lesson.



Disadvantages of Being a Teacher


Its not all candy and roses in this line of work, which begrudgingly makes me sympathetic for my former teachers. The most irritating aspect of teaching for them (as is for me) are the misbehaving or effortless children in your class. However, being as I was a little shit in school, I can easily spot them, and I will not tolerate a child like myself in my class.


At times its made difficult for a few reasons. Firstly, this isn’t a typical elementary school, meaning the kids have no real obligation to try and we have no obligation to force them. You also have to consider that these children are MADE (along with several other activities in their life) to do this class. These kids have no time to be an average kid. When I asked children in my G1 class “why do you want to learn English?” a question attempting to warm the class up, the response I got from one child with a broken-hearted face was “I don’t want to learn English”.


Another slight disadvantage is that your mood must remain consistent. You can’t take your problems and mood into the classroom. You’ll get those days when everything is going perfectly, you’re hyperactively bouncing all over the classroom making the kids scream with laughter. The problem is the kids will now expect that in every class, which becomes a real problem on those days when you have no energy or everything’s going wrong.




Considering there never was an ambition to be a teacher, its incredibly strange how quickly I’ve managed to settle into the role and start to enjoy it. Everyday provides a new challenge, moulding you into a better teacher as each class passes. Will it be a future career? Probably not. However it does provide an attractive opportunity to be able to work in English schools across the world.

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