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What kind of person succeeds as an English teacher in China?


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I've been thinking about this question a lot recently. My experience is primarily in teaching young children (4-13) at private language schools or on a volunteer basis. A few things I think are important...


Flexibility - I see some teachers who just cannot adapt very well to fairly sudden changes in their routine. In China, not everything is perfect and things tend to be late notice and quite ad hoc. This can be for a number of reasons. For example, a parent insists on watching a class, a student and their parent are willing to pay for 2 years of tuition but only if they can try a class today. Other things might be printers breaking, internet not working etc. Of course, a brand new teacher is going to get flustered by this kind of thing but even after 6 months some teachers just find it very hard to adapt to changes. If the printer breaks or a student is thrown in the class, it's the end of the world.


Energy / Openess - To teach with energy and enthusiasm that will be mirrored by the students. I know that some people can be shy and not everyone is outgoing but this can affect a teachers ability to build a good rapport with students. The students can stop listening if they aren't suitable captivated / engaged when the teacher is speaking. If someone is particular introverted or quiet, it can be mistaken for a lack of confidence or interest.  The students find it harder to 'know' the teacher. The whole manner of someone who is quite shy can also impact on parents perceptions. Even if the content of their class is great, if the delivery isn't so good they'll have problems.


What about you? What do you think?


***Let's just say that by 'succeeding' I mean a teacher who is considered 'good' and above by peers, management, students and parents a like while being aware that each of these groups may have a different idea of what a 'good teacher' actually is. This includes a variety of things like popularity, student grades, appearance, punctuality, personality etc. I also mean a success as an English language teacher as it currently stands in China. I didn't want this to become a debate on what it means to be a success.




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Yes, that's true as well.


What would your answer be to the question? Would you add any qualities or traits?


Edit: I would say some things are more likely to happen in China though. Such as the lack of notice for things ... for instance, being told about a demo class 1 minute before it starts or having an 'experience class' student thrown into your class with 5 minutes notice. One time my friend finished 8 hours of class and was told 'The drivers waiting outside for you' ... 'errr what driver?'. The school had him go over to a public library to do a demo but just didn't tell him. Now you could say this is an example of 'not so good' management rather than Chinese language schools. I would say this is too common occurance here to just be that. One factor is that management tend not to tell employees things until they absolutely must know - usually at the last minute. This can lead to friction between foreign and Chinese staff.  Of course, the example I gave is never nice but some people have the ability to just 'roll with it' and others just can't seem to.

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Flexibility - I think ChTTay is right that in most Chinese teaching environments this is especially important, more so than elsewhere


Energy/ Openness - as anonymoose said, this is important anywhere. You can't make a distinction between the content and the delivery - a lot of the time when teaching, the medium is the message, and the manner of delivering and responding is what makes the class works, not what was prepared.


My experience is all in universities, so I'd add this - it's important to maintain a good relationship with the administration and the non-teaching staff (e.g. Students' Union). I've seen various teachers struggle because they fail to respect the admin people, who then in turn do not respect them and will often passively hinder them.


If we're just focusing on what's particular to teaching in China, as opposed to teaching in general, I'd highlight that. Also an understanding of the different kinds of teaching and assessment that students undergo throughout high school and beyond (Gaokao, IELTS, etc.), as this is such a prime source of motivation and experience (read: misunderstandings) of how to learn

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What would your answer be to the question? Would you add any qualities or traits?


As I said, these things are applicable to most jobs, in most places. But for example:


Organisational skills - having prepared well for your lessons, knowing what you're going to teach and when, and have enough contingencies for when things don't go exactly according to plan.


Leadership skills - well, being the teacher at the front of the class in essentially a leadership role.


Communication skills - some people know their subject area well, but unless they are able to communicate this effectively to the students, it is of little value. And of course, one is often dealing with the parents also (if one can speak Chinese).


Responsibility - I'm not sure how much this is of an issue any more since visa rules have become more stringent, but back in the day when essentially anyone could be an English teacher in China, it wasn't uncommon for teachers to be there just as an extended drinking holiday, and would turn up to school late, drunk, or not turn up at all.

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I think on flexibility, there's a line to be drawn between helping out when necessary, and being taken advantage of. Some rich folk have brought in their three kids, might be about to fork out for a year's tuition, but want to meet a foreign teacher NOW - fair enough, that's not predictable and it's a reasonably big deal for the school, so I might miss lunch to help them out. If I find out actually that meeting was arranged two weeks ago and nobody bothered to tell me about it till the last minute - well, next time I'm not going to be so helpful. 


I think you do see with new teachers sometimes a combination of a willingness to help and a sense that 'I'm in China, I have to fit it', which means they say yes to every daft request, and by the end of the year they're all resentful. Set some boundaries early and stick to 'em. 

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I just had dinner with a teacher friend in HK.

There is a major grind about English teachers who have no Chinese background (I am trying to be politically correct). Many, many times, these teachers come in thinking they are superior to the other teachers and the system and trying to change things. Also, they try to take advantage of the system to do less work. In my friend's own words, "who do they think they are coming into a new school without having proven themselves and trying to change things? The ABC's, BBC's and CBC's have a far better attitude to work and get on with it".

My friend wants people to prove yourself first and then earn the respect. He is well pissed off with English teachers coming in with a superiority complex but being crap teachers. How about teachers with a superiority complex but good? I forgot to ask but the Caucasian English teachers haven't lasted. In fact, the one that recently left vandalised the school accomodation he was given, on his departure.

Of course, not every person will have a superiority complex but this is a story from the other side of the coin from HK (not mainland).

Also, I would have to add my friend's school is not the typical private language school you see in mainland China. So take the story with some perspective.

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