The last leg of this trip is being spent in Langkawi; an island in North Western peninsular Malaysia. We chose this island because the rainy season isn’t as bad here as it is on the east coast.
When we planned out this holiday, we were going to be staying in Langkawi from January 30th to February 6th. Of course, all of that has changed with the virus. Schools are now closed until the 17th (originally we went back to work on the 10th) and we don’t want to go back to China until we need to, for obvious reasons. So, we decided to stick around Langkawi until around the 14th instead.
All jokes aside, we have no idea how long we’re going to be here. A lot of different factors are at play. On one hand, our cats are being looked after and we can get pretty much everything we need here in Langkawi. The virus is still spreading in China, and doesn’t look like it’s going to relent very soon. Solid reasons to stay away.
On the other hand, I don’t want to leave our cats for too long (I miss them so much!!!). My teaching responsibilities are resuming on time, although the school is staying closed until the 17th. I’ll be teaching online, which is a bit of a problem because my laptop is back in Suzhou.
At this point, we’re just playing it all by ear. I think 5 weeks is the maximum I want to be away from the cats (that’s the longest we’ve ever been away from them), plus, life sort of needs to go on. Suzhou is quite safe and the virus hasn’t caused any deaths there. There are 54 cases total, and the virus hasn’t spread as quickly in Suzhou as in other places. We’ll be ok when we go back… The question is simply: “when?”
So, until Feb 15th at least, we are staying put. We can do laundry here and the guesthouse where we’re staying is owned by some really nice people. We have a pool and we rented a motorbike so we can get around easily enough. Food in the area is cheap and Malaysia hasn’t been hit hard by the virus. Malaysia has only actually had 8 cases so far, and all of them were Chinese nationals. We’ve chosen a very good place to ride this out.
As far as relaxing here goes… We’re about as chill as we can be. Dave is still working and studying, and I’m getting ready to start making the video lessons that my students will watch from the safety of their homes. There are lots of beautiful birds in Langkawi and we’ve seen plenty of lizards too. We even saved one from drowning in the pool the other day!!
Between work, school and keeping up with the news, we’re making the most of our time here! I’ve got plenty more to write about so check back soon!
We knew before we booked that Danang wasn’t going to be a bit cooler than it had been in southern Vietnam. Still, it was an affordable holiday destination with great food and coffee!
Our first few days here were actually lovely. We had Sun and relaxed on the beach. It was nice and warm, without being too hot to do things. Perfect weather.
Then winter hit, the sun disappeared and we wished we’d packed more than 1 sweater each.
Still, we aren’t ones to let weather dictate the quality of our holiday, so yesterday we head down to the hot springs near Danang to get some swimming in!
On our drive there and then again on our drive back, we got drenched in little mini rain downpours, still it was worth the trip!
After drying off, we decided to do another bbq dinner at the night market. After we’d enjoyed yet another delicious meal there, we decided to do a bit if shopping, and had into the sales market. That’s when the skies REALLY decided to open!
We hung around until the weather cleared, and then walked a few streets down for the new year countdown. Why let a little rain ruin our fun??
Being an English teacher has its challenges, but one of the biggest perks I have as a language teacher is that I can teach my lessons through a variety of lenses. If I’m teaching about conditional voice, for example, I can have the students talk about which super powers they wish they had, or about regrets they have from the past.
This year, I chose to teach my grade 9 students English through a lens I think everyone should consider: “Critical Thinking in Social Media”. I introduced them to Snopes, discussed the power (and danger) of memes and we talked about subjects ranging from gun control in the United States to South Korean fan superstitions. My hope was that I’d teach them how to be considerate and intelligent Netizens, but I probably learned nearly as much as they did.
Our class discussions about the dangers of Social Media really got me thinking. We discussed the idea that people rarely write about bad things that are happening in their lives, but instead tend to focus on the positive, making their lives look more glamorous and perfect that they really are. In of itself, this isn’t a problem, but when others see those happy posts, they start to compare their own lives with the (perfect) lives that others present to the cyber world.
Elephants in Thailand
Ziplining in Laos
Cruising down the Mekong River looking for Irawaddy Dolphins
Sunsets on the Great Wall
Sunsets in Phu Quoc….if all you see are these…it seems like my life is a breeze!
I try not to do this, but, of course, it can be difficult. I haven’t been feeling particularly positive lately, so I thought this would be a good time to write about the negative aspects of living as an expat. *Spoiler…it’s awesome…but like everything, it has its downsides*
June is a hard month for a lot of reasons. It’s the end of the school year, which is stressful for all teachers. Between grading, report cards and final tests, teachers across the planet are barely holding it together every June. When you’re an expat teacher, you have to also consider the stress of booking flights home, finding cat sitters, and spending 6 weeks living out of suitcases. It’s stressful.
Not to mention the nightmare of travelling…
And the fact that I have to go to an airport that has SIM card vending machines every few meters, but bottled water is hidden away
And then there’s the train station…. Have I mentioned we do all this with luggage???
That’s not to say that I’d give up my trip home to avoid these stresses…but it is something a lot of people don’t think about when they think of what it’s like teaching abroad. Other things include…
Saying Goodbye to Students
One event was particularly emotional for me this month. My grade 9 students have been with me since my very first day at SFLS, and in September, they will be moving onto high school. Many of them will be moving abroad as well, so it’s not as though I’ll be seeing many of them again. Their graduation was last Friday and although I promised myself I wasn’t going to cry (I even refused to bring tissue in an attempt to not even give myself the option), I ended up red in the face and tearier than I would like to admit. When you love teaching…it’s easy to become attached to the kids you see every day for 3 years.
Victor and I with Wendy. I was happy I could put my hands in front of my face because I’d started crying a few moments before and simply couldn’t stop
This class is full of the coolest kids in China. I’m sure of it
This is Angel. She’s the reason I was crying. She came up and gave me a hug and whipered ‘thank you’ in my ear and I just couldn’t stop. As a teacher, you pour yourself into your students. You spend all your free time grading their work and helping them on Wechat. You spend you life getting them ready for exams and making sure that they’re getting the best education you can provide. Unfortunately, teaching teenagers can be pretty thankless. They often forget about their foreign teachers because we aren’t as important at the school as the Chinese staff. It’s amazing what one quiet “Thank You” can make you feel. Also…I know teachers aren’t suppose to have favourites…but Angel is one of my favourite students ever. She’s kind and intelligent as she is beautiful.
Michael and I at the Drama Festival. I’m still waiting for him to send me the photos of us at grad, although he made me cry too. He has popped up in many of my blog posts and will always have a special place in my heart.
Ken, back when he was in 7th grade
He’s taller than me now…but still one of the coolest kids I’ve ever known. He’ll be moving to Hawaii over the summer. He was accepted in the a school there. I’m insanely jealous.
Still, I wish them all the best, and although it sucks to see them go, I have new students coming in next September, and they will provide new challenges and rewards for me and all their other teachers.
This class is full of the coolest kids in China. I’m sure of it
Kate looked beautiful in her graduation dress. She reminds me so much of what I was like at that age…kind of sarcastic…very dramatic…but as passionate as they come.
With the students at this year’s spelling bee
Final class photos
The friendships you form while living abroad are also a very important part of the expat life. I’ve made friends from all over the world, and although we’re all very different people with very different backgrounds, there is one thing we all have in common: we don’t really belong anywhere.
When you’re away from home, having a good group of friends becomes increasingly important. They’re who you spend Christmas with and they’re who help you through troubled times. Most importantly, they’re the ones who understand you, because as much as people back home can try and empathize, they only really see the really good and really bad parts of being an expat…none of the ‘in-between-everday-stuff’.
When a student of mine committed suicide in January, it was Kim and CJ who helped me through. Kim has been a teacher for years, and she understands the pressure Chinese students deal with. It’s pressure different from anything western students experience
These people have helped us both through a whole lot of crappy days, crappy months and crappy moments.
Mike also helped me through Pony’s death. He and I spend quite a lot of time brainstorming ways to make sure our students know we are there for them. Pony was his student as well, and I think that if I hadn’t had someone to talk to about how we could prevent this from happening again…it would have been even harder to get through it.
Dave and I are far more outgoing and far more adventurous abroad than we ever were back home, and our social life is pretty awesome. We spend lots of time going out for dinner, going to KTV, going to Salsa parties, and of course, I have my band. All these things are done with friends…and 99% of my friends are currently expats, or people who were previously expats, but have moved back home to China.
Cheetar (USA_, Myself and Tythus (Malaysia). They both work in the highschool. Cheetar and I have been working together for 3 years. He is leaving to move to a different part of China this summer. I’m going to miss seeing him around the school.
Dedrick, Mark and I….We are the Sundaze! Dedrick moved to Hangzhou last summer…it’s only an hour away, and I still get to see him often, but it’s sucked not having him around. Luckily, he’s moving back to Suzhou in September!! Mark and I are planning to leave Suzhou at the same time. I’m working on convincing him and his wife to join us in Vietnam. Fingers crossed!
Katie, Kevin, Dave and I last year at Dave’s Birthday. I just learned that Katie is moving back to Suzhou after finishing her Master’s degree in England. It’ll be great to have her back!
Jeff…the very first friend i made in Suzhou. When he found out a new Canadian was going to be working at SFLS, he emailed me to welcome me to the team. I felt more welcomed in Suzhou before I even moved there, than I did my whole time in Guiyang
Liz. One of my longest friendships in Suzhou
Adam is also one of my oldest Suzhou friends. We only worked together for a year before he moved to a different school, but we’ve stayed friends even though he’s across the city. His girlfriend, Tracy, lives in our building, so we get to see her often
Kevin is one of my best friends in the world. He moved away last week. I miss him more than I really want to think about
You make friends at school too, of course. Sam is the giant on the far left. He teaches economics with me in IGCSE. Crystal is the Chinese teacher and she is also my cleaning buddy in the office! And Victor is one of my bffs. We’ve worked together for 2 years at SFLS. He’s from Nigeria and he’s a fantastic human being
Linda and Paul are Taiwanese. We became friends over the past 3 years because Linda’s parents own a restaurant we like
Miya. One of the most beautiful people on the planet. She moved away for a year to live in New Zealand. It sucked.
Michael and Dave. Michael is a Kiwi who lived in Suzhou for our first 2 years. I still find myself missing him although he moved back to New Zealand more than a year ago now.
We are losing Shane on Saturday. He’s moving back to Australia. He’ll be missed a lot. Other than Dave, he’s our best groupie!
Of course…when you are a nomad and surround yourself with other nomads…people enter and leave your life regularly. It’s difficult because I understand it…but I hate it. I also hate that soon I’ll be the one leaving people behind. Already, I find myself wondering if I’ll ever find friends as good as the ones I have in Suzhou…
Occasionally, you get to see your expat friends again….
We were lucky to have 2 friends visit us this year. Joan and Lexie both visited us in the fall
And sometimes, people even move back…like Miya. this was us the day she came back to Suzhou. I look only about half as excited as I actually was!!
The ‘Home Dilemma’
Home becomes a really weird concept when you live abroad. I like to say that ‘Home is where my cats are’, but in reality, I spend 3 months away from them every year. I’d like to say that ‘Home is where you grew up’, but nobody in my family even lives in that tiny Manitoba town, so how can that really be home? Steinbach never really felt like home for me, because I was too different from the local people. Oddly enough, in some ways, Suzhou has been feeling more like home than anywhere I’ve ever been. I’ve become a part of the community, through music, foodie groups and through school.
My band has turned me into a more social and charismatic person. Playing with these guys is easily one of the funnest things I’ve ever done in my life
Whether we’re playing in dingy bars
Or at music festivals
We always have a blast!
I think that living abroad changes you in that way. Home isn’t as easily defined when you don’t ever quite fit in. In China, I’m a minority. I’m only one of a few thousand expats in a city of 8 million people. Back home, it’s the same. I’ve had such a different 4 years than most of my friends and family. It’s difficult to explain your feelings about things when the people in your life see the world differently than you do. It’s especially noticeable when talking about world politics or world events with people back in Canada. It’s easy to talk about India’s poverty or an earthquake in Indonesia when you see it as some far off place, separate from you. But when you can picture the smells and sounds of a place….when you’ve been there and it’s personal…you see those events very differently.
What makes it especially hard is that we’ve never had any family or friends visit us here in China. I know that it isn’t in everyone’s budget, and there are a thousand reasons why people can’t just hop on a plane and visit, but regardless of those reasons…it makes ‘home’ a difficult subject. At the end of the day, China is currently our home, but the people we know and love back in Canada have no idea what our life is like in the place we call home.
And that’s why I hound my family save up and come visit us…it’s not because I want to show them the sites or because I think China is the most beautiful place on earth….it’s because I want them to understand me. I people back home to understand what life is like in the city I currently call home.
Always Missing Somewhere or Someone
And of course there’s the obvious reason it’s hard being an expat is all the stuff you leave behind at the end of the summer. It’s great having stories to tell your family and friends…but I really do wish I had the power of teleportation. Then, I wouldn’t need to miss everyone so much.
I always laugh because when I’m in China, I call Canada Home…and when I’m in Canada, I call China home
There’s so much I miss about Winnipeg. Going to concerts is definitely one
I miss lakes and trees….and quiet.
I miss these wonderful people most of all!
It isn’t All Bad
Of course, it isn’t nearly all bad. June is probably my least favourite month of the year. It’s difficult saying goodbye to students. It’s difficult saying goodbye to friends. Add that to the fact that it’s exam season and end of term…and I can’t believe it’s taken me 4 years to write this post.
Still, there are a thousand things that being an expat allows us to do. It sucks saying goodbye to friends…but it’s great meeting so many new people all the time. It sucks only seeing our family and Canadian friends once a year, but we always have so many stories to tell them! And being an Expat gives us so many opportunities that we’d never have back in Canada. My band wouldn’t get nearly as many gigs if we weren’t ‘interesting foreigners’. Of course, we could never afford to travel this much if we didn’t live in China. And with Dave working from home, we were able to foster little Oscar. Here are some pictures of Oscar to remind you of all the reasons I love being an expat!
Stay tuned! I’ve got half a dozen more posts coming in the next month or so!!
He was found in the bushes right outside my school
He was mostly blind when we found him. Within our first week with him he started following movements
He was such a princely little cat!
What a flirt!
If Dave didn’t work at home, we never would have been able to give him the care he needed
These are the lovely women who adopted our little foster kitty
This is the hallway outside my office at school. As you can see, the hallway is mostly open to the outdoors. Many schools in China are designed this way.
On a warm sunny day, this doesn’t really affect me, but on days like today, when it’s cold and rainy…. My office is also cold and rainy.
Kids come in and out all day and usually leave the door open. Even after we (the expat staff) installed an automatic door closer, several of the teachers have taken to propping the door open with a magnet to “let the fresh air in”. The results are discomfort, damp homework and grouchiness.
I don’t know why schools are designed this way. It’s often quite dangerous. The floors were wet with rainwater all day today and I nearly slipped twice. Students routinely go running down these halls and I’m constantly worried someone is going to get hurt.
This is my desk at work. I like to keep it organised because I hate forgetting to do things and I REALLY hate not being able to find things.
I also love being able to remind the kids how organized I am when they claim I’ve been lost their work. That’s fun.
At home, I’m nowhere near as neat. That probably has a lot to do with the amount of time I actually spend at my desk at home. Working in my home office is a bit painful because it’s really hard to grade when you have a black cat batting all your markers to the floor and a 3 legged cat trying to jump into your lap.
As a result, my desk at home acts as storage space more than it does a work space.
A few weeks ago, one of the home room teachers approached me with an idea to launch a writing mentor program for some of the IG1 students.
These grade 7 students come to me with strong oral English, but their writing skills haven’t really been developed. They’ve learned basic grammar, of course, but don’t have much practice using it in written form until they reach middle school. This means I have a year and a half to teach them how to pass a Cambridge exam.
What makes my department unique is that we have students in grade 8, writing an exam meant for grade 10 students. It’s a tall order for a bunch of 13 and 14 year olds, but we make it work. I am actually very proud to say that my grade 8 class last year actually beat the grade 10 students in another department who wrote the exact same exam.
So when Tracy asked me if I’d help set up a tutoring program and pair up her grade 7 students with my strongest grade 8&9 students… I jumped on the opportunity.
Today was our first class. I chose 7 students from IG1 who I knew needed some help, and paired them with some volunteers. The results were fantastic. They worked together for the entire 40 minute lunch period and several students made arrangements to meet again outside of the Writing Center because they had run out of time but wanted to finish helping their mentees.
I start my day at 7:30am, so I can be at work for around 9:30
From 9:30 – 12:00, I work on the IG English curriculum. This way, when I leave Suzhou, the work I’ve put into building the English program won’t go to waste.
Lunch is from 12:00 – 1:20. It’s a long lunch break and most of my Chinese peers spend the time napping or resting. I use the time to prep my afternoon classes.
1:20 – 4:35 is spent teaching. I don’t have any morning classes on Tuesday, which is really nice. It makes for a busy afternoon, but that’s when I’m at my best… So I’m glad my classes are scheduled for then.
From 4:35 – 7:00, I spend my time tidying up my desk, traveling back to SIP and eating dinner with Dave.
From 7:00 – 9:30, I try and catch up on grading. This week alone, I have roughly 100 summaries to check for grammar, spelling, vocabulary, content and format. Each summary takes between 4-8 minutes to grade.
9:30 -10:30 is excercise time. On weeks when I’m really busy I like to walk after I’m done grading. Sometimes I do yoga instead, or calisthenics if I happen to have energy left from the rest of the day.
10:30 – 11:30 is time to wind down. Lately I’ve been watching Criminal Minds and Scrubs. Been going old-school.
On the right, there is a student named Michael. He’s 15 years old and in my grade 9 class. He is inquisitive, hardworking and has a great attitude. I’ve been his teacher since 2015.
On the left is Tim. He’s new to IGCSE. He’s in grade 7, and his English skills are a fair bit lower than the rest of his class. Still, he has a positive attitude and a very encouraging home room teacher, so instead of giving up on his writing assignment, he asked for help.
These two students chose to spend their lunch hour today working together. I’d like to say it’s a happy coincidence, but so much has gone into this.
Encouragement from homeroom teachers and parents. Without their support, neither of these students would have been where they were today at lunch time.
A department that fosters a willingness to help. In IGCSE, students learn that helping others is both rewarding, and their responsibility.
An English teacher that believes that collaboration is the most effective way to learn language.
Being a teacher is about so much more than ‘reading, writing and arithmatic’. It’s my responsibility to teach these kids to be caring and compassionate people. It’s my job to teach them about responsibility and expectations. It’s my job to give them the confidence to reach out for help and to offer it to those in need.
This picture might not look like much, but today….I felt like a superstar.
It’s hard to believe that Dave and I have nearly been back in China for a month already! The past 3+ weeks have flown by possibly even faster than our time in Canada did! I sat down today with the intention of writing about Vancouver and realized that until I updated all the things that have been going on out here, I couldn’t focus on another topic. So here we go!!
I’ve Been Performing as a Lead Vocalist!
Until recently, I was working back up or in duets with The Chairmen. It’s been great fun playing with those guys, but when Kit (our fearless leader) approached me and asked if I’d do a duet show with our guitarist, Mark, I jumped on the opportunity. We’ve only done one show so far, but it was pretty cool singing all 3 sets by myself. Best of all, Mark is super flexible about what play, so I’ve been able to do a bunch of new stuff. It was a nice switch up after all the Adele and Stevie Nicks I’ve been doing since May!!
I’m Competing in the Suzhou Expat Talent Show!
This one came about in a bit of a crazy way…Back in July, one of the HR staff at my school contacted me about representing the school at some kind of school district party. I agreed because I knew I’d already be back in Suzhou by that point and all was good. They knew I cover Adele, so they recommended I do “Rolling in the Deep”. I was cool with it.
Fast forward to the day of the ‘government party’…it turns out that this was less of a school district party and more of a ‘government beer party’. There was a full band there waiting for me along with about 100 government officials and 200 teachers (etc) from schools in the area.
The real kicker was when HR Frank told me…about an hour before I went on…that if it went well, I would be representing Suzhou Foreign Language School in this year’s Expat Talent Show. Notice that he didn’t ask…
It went well. Fast forward to 4 DAYS LATER (!!!!) and it was talent show time! There was a mix up with the band (mainly, there wasn’t one) but I lucked out when I learned that The Chairmen (my band) were also going to be performing (the rest of them all work for the same school). They ended up backing me for my song too, and the performance went pretty well! Here, you can see it yourself!!!
To my credit, I don’t feel like I looked as unprepared as I felt! I was very relieved to have Kit and Mark there! I also had a student come to see me perform, which was pretty awesome. I have awesome students. Have I mentioned that?
I have no idea what the results were for this show. From what I understand, they are going to be watching video auditions for the next month, and choosing people to go onto the second round from there. I just hope I find out with more than 4 days to prepare this time!!! I Am Writing for a News APP and a Newspaper!!
The night of the talent show, I received a text message from an editor at Nihao Suzhou, an APP designed to help foreigners in China (it’s actually a branch of Nihao China…every city has their own, I believe). They had been for writers earlier in the week, and I’d inquired along with a link to my blog. The editor liked my work and asked me to write an 800 word piece about anything I wanted. A week later, I was published!
The article was pretty successful and received over 2000 views in the first day. Carrie, my editor, told me to go ahead and write another article if I wanted, and I submitted that one today! Also, she was so happy with the article that she recommended it for publication in the Suzhou Daily Newspaper! So there’s that, too! I Lost the Olympics
Dave and I decided that we wanted to be more social this year, so we’ve been busy trying ot get involved in the expat community. Dave’s joined a gaelic football team, I’ve been doing gigs (and everything else above)…and we subscribed to this really cool website called InterNations.
InterNations plans all sorts of events across the city. The one we attended last weekend was held at the Kempinski Hotel, where there is a Paulaner Brewery. We got to learn about the ancient German art of beer making and we spent the afternoon playing games with a few friends we’d dragged along, and a LOT of new friends that we met at the event.
The Ladies of our team
Lizz and I, designing our team flag
I did not win. Not by a long shot. But it WAS a blast! And I feel like we met some really cool people. It was definitely a good time and we’ll be attending another InterNations event next Friday.
Mia, killing it at Beer Pong (just kidding…our team only managed to get 1 in, the whole game!!!)
Our team mate, Miguel, playing the 1 game I sat out. I can sip beer…I am not a chugger. I cheered from the sidelines!!
September 1st was our first day of classes. I am transitioned into a full-time English teacher (no more cooking classes) and am getting to know my 2 new grade 7 classes! So far, my new coworkers are upbeat and awesome, and I’m having a great time!
One of my new Grade 7 writing classes
So that’s been our last 3 and a half weeks! Pretty wild! Now I need to catch up on some sleep…
Suzhou Foreign Language school’s Autumn semester begins on September 1st. As I prepare for my classes and plan out my term, I thought it might be a good idea to write a little bit about what it’s like teaching in China!
I don’t have many selfies with my older students! They’re too cool for selfies!
I’m not going to lie…living abroad isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. When we arrived in Shanghai last week, after a sleepless 11 hour flight, I was not prepared to deal with the bus depot’s toilets or the long ride back to Suzhou. I wanted to get right back into the plane and return to Canada. But as I sat there, fighting back tears of exhaustion in the bus terminal, Dave reminded me that soon I’d be back at work, and that calmed me right down. I thought of all my students and all the plans I had for them this year, and I knew that everything would be okay. Teaching is what I was always meant to do and I can’t express enough how rewarding it can be. I’ve taught children as young as 3 years old, 50 year old business men and everything in between, and I’ve gotta say…it doesn’t matter what age or level you are teaching…being an educator is a blast!
No matter how awesome the job is, though, the beginning of the semester offers some rather large challenges. If you know about them ahead of time, it can help a lot, here’s a list of tips I have for teachers at the beginning of the term. 1.) Be Prepared!!!
I once had an interviewer ask me what my ‘super power’ is. I replied, without hesitation, that it is organization. My ability to stay on top of my chaotic life all goes back to my day planner. Without it…I am lost. I am the master of lists and checking off items is sometimes all that gets me through hectic days. But that’s the key…it DOES get me through!
I recommend check lists to everyone and everyone because they allow you to stay on top of everything (and not forget about important events or tasks!) but also because they can give you a real sense of accomplishment. I recently had a coworker tease me for having ‘start grade 7 ppt’ as one of my check-list items. He thought it was silly that I had only ‘part’ of a task listed as an item on my list.
So, I asked him: “What’s the hardest part of making your weekly Power Point?” He answered “getting it started…” Boom! Item #1 is done and once you start, it’s not nearly as daunting of a task.
I also firmly believe in the power of lesson plans. I know countless teachers who go into their classes with an idea of what they’re doing…but with no physical plan. I honestly have no idea how they do it…I lose track of time, I miss items and I let the class get carried away in discussions when I don’t have a proper plan. Don’t get me wrong…discussions are great in an ESL classroom! It’s what you WANT!! But in your 8:30am writing class, it isn’t always good when little Tom asks me ‘what I like about Suzhou’ to try and distract me from teaching about Present Perfect tense…
And going Macro…Term plans can also be an excellent idea, especially when you don’t have a book to teach from! Last year, none of my classes had actual textbooks, so it became very important for me to plan ahead to make sure I was covering all the material they’d need to know for their IGCSE exams. Even when I DID have a book to teach from, when I was teaching Elementary and Kindergarten, my term plans were crucial to making sure all content was covered. It was a simple outline for the term, but an outline nonetheless. I recommend these tools to anyone! (And if you have any questions about layouts or things you should have in any of these plans, shoot me a question in the comments section! I’m always happy to help a fellow teacher!)
2.) But not too prepared…
This may seems silly…but in China, you need to expect things to change. Your classes might get moved around or cancelled at the last second. I’ve often walked into my classroom to find no students there…when I track down their homeroom teacher it’s usually because some other activity was planned and they forgot to tell me. This is normal in China. You have to roll with the punches because like it or not…these things are CONSTANT!
These types of things used to drive me CRAZY until I had someone tell me the reasoning behind it. China is what is known as a ‘Shame Culture’. I’ve written about ‘saving face’ in previous posts, and that’s what’s coming into play here. Things are often planned at the last second in here because it reduces the chance of having to cancel events. Cancelling an event is very bad in Chinese culture and knowing that actually made me feel a lot better about the ways it affects me. People here aren’t stupid or disorganized…the cultural norms are just different. That is something VERY important to remember when living here! 3.) Be Prepared for all the September/October Holiday Mayhem
The beginning of term always takes it out of me… Whether you are in a Training Center, a Foreign Language School or an International school (the 3 basic types of schools in China). the beginning of term has many challenges to overcome.
First, you need to get back into the groove of things and find your flow in the classroom. Then, you have to get all of your ‘beginning of term admin stuff’ out of the way…then you have to deal with 2 holidays within the first month of teaching!!!
Mid-Autumn Festival is a lovely holiday (one of my favourites!) celebrated by getting together with family and eating Moon Cakes. It takes place in the beginning of September and it usually means a 3 day holiday for teachers.
Then, there is China’s “National Day”, which actually lasts a week. It’s known in the tourism industry as “The Golden Mess” because there are literally over 1 billion people all on holiday at the same time in China! The regular tourist sights are PACKED and even the lesser known sights are still teaming with people. We traveled to Xiamen our first year in China during the holiday and it was uncomfortable trying to get anywhere, because you were shoulder to shoulder with tourists…
And then there’s the other problem with all these days off…Holidays are great, but they REALLY mess with your schedule! In China, if you are given 3 days off, it doesn’t necessary mean that you don’t owe some of them back. For example, this year, Mid-Autumn festival falls on September 15,16 and 17 (a Thursday, Friday and Saturday). In order to make up for that time off, schools open on Sunday and the week following the holiday becomes a 6 day week, with 2 Tuesdays in it. My first year, I had to have someone sit me down and draw a chart so I understood what was actually happening and when I had to work!!
4.) Form a Good Relationship with your Co-Teachers/Homeroom Teachers
I cannot stress enough how important this is! It seems like common sense…who doesn’t want to get along with the people they work with? But too often I see people treat their Chinese counterparts in the education system poorly (and vice versa). There seems to be a mentality at some schools (and even in some departments at my own school) that it’s US vs THEM!!! This is SO counterproductive!
It’s natural to connect more easily with other expats…
But it doesn’t mean there’s no value in befriending someone from a different culture. It can be difficult sometimes…because some people ONLY want to be your friend because you’re ‘exotic’. But most Chinese people are genuinely very warm and friendly. There’s no need to treat them badly just because you don’t understand their culture!!
I’ve always tried my very best to be kind to the people I work with…to me that’s just common decency. When I was at the training center, I became good friends with Talia and Kayla. They weren’t teachers, but they were the people who helped me translate for parents and made sure that parents got important information about homework and students’ progress. Now, I work at a Foreign Language school where I’m co-teaching with Chinese teachers. We may not always see eye to eye on the way some things should be handled (education systems vary greatly from country to country!), but I always try to find a reasonable compromise.
Talia and I at Halloween
Kayla and I…she and I went through the ringer together with some pretty difficult parents. She always stood by me and was always SO helpful! I love both the TAs I had at Interlingua
I also do my best to never to create more work for my co-teachers. I’ve worked with teachers that wait until the last minute to do their progress reports or who don’t grade their papers until they’re told they HAVE to, even when they know that their Chinese counterpart needs them to finish up before they themselves can begin. Once more, I feel like this should be common sense, but I’ve seen it happen SO many times!!!
This doesn’t only extend to the classroom either. Staff rooms can be tricky when you have a mixture of different cultures together. For example, the Chinese staff typically don’t want to have the air conditioners on in the summer or the heaters on in the winter. It’s a belief in China that they both blow dirty air, so they prefer to open the window. I run hot, so this has always been an issue for me in summer, but I compromised and bought myself a fan. On days where it’s particularly humid, I ask if I can turn on the AC for 15 minutes or so, to dry out the air. Then, when the room is cool, I turn it off again! There’s no need to be demanding…you’re in THEIR country! And it’s amazing, because 9 times out of 10, when you are respectful, so are they!!! I didn’t even have to ask by the end of the year…my dear friend Ivy would go and switch on the AC when it started to get uncomfortable.
5. Extra Work = Extra Awesome!
I’ve found in China (and pretty much everywhere else in the world too) that the better you are at your job, the more you are asked to do. It can be a bit much sometimes when you’re an overachiever (I may fit that description…), but I always remind myself that I am asked to do things because I’m doing well. The bright side of those extra projects is that you expand yourself SO MUCH when you take them on! Last year I organized the school’s first yearbook and hosted the annual Drama Festival, both in the second term.
The Drama Festival was SUCH a success!!!
Both events were SO fantastic!!! Not only did the students work hard, but they also saw ME working hard…that does wonders for your relationship with them. When they know that a teacher actually cares about them…it’s like the game changes a little bit. There are so many foreigners teaching China that are only here for the visa and so they can live abroad….and that’s okay! That’s how I started out too…but then I fell in love with the job and now, I take that job very seriously! And students can always tell when they have a teacher who is present and putting in effort vs the teachers that show up and do what they have to do.
Being a positive influence is SO important. As an educator, I know that my students are learning more from me than just what is coming out of a text book. My boss, Nathan, is a prime example of teaching through doing…As I’ve mentioned before, he does a lot of work with Migrant schools and other charities around the city, and this year, our grade 8 class organized a big fundraiser for the migrant schools Nathan works with! It was so awesome watching them find ways to raise money and they really did a great job! Students are watching you ALL the time! Be an inspiration!!
6.) Have Fun with It!!!
Lastly, make sure to have fun teaching!! It’s an AWESOME job and at most schools you are given plenty of opportunities to let your own skills shine. I mentioned earlier that I didn’t have textbooks for any of my classes last year. That may have intimidated some teachers (which is why my boss offered me a few textbooks I could follow along with if I needed), but for me…it meant I got to be creative.
I may not be much of a drawer, but my jelly bean people are always a hit! This is how I taught family vocabulary. If you notice that the family members all have different facial expressions, it’s because I was also teaching the students how to make sentences about emotions using their family members. For example: Daddy is angry.
I had a lot of free time during my administrative hours (we weren’t allowed doing grading etc…) so I jazzed up my classroom with my arts and crafts skills. I was VERY proud of this! It went from being an empty quark board, to a colourful masterpiece! lol
I also made these tracking boards for each class. I awarded stickers based on schoolwork, class behaviour and effort. Whoever reached the end first won a prize. It went over VERY well!
In Food and Nutrition, I decided to teach my students about culture and how it relates to food. I did focuses on Mexico, Brazil, Jamaica, Italy, France, India and then I also taught them about December Holidays around the world (and the foods people eat during those holidays). It ended up being a tonne of fun! Because I’m so interested in both travel and cooking, I was able to shape this class around my own interests and talents. It worked out well for everyone, I think!
For Drama, I used my writing skills and training to have the students write their own plays for the drama festival! I’m also very competitive and I turn everything into competitions within my classroom. The students ended up LOVING the way we chose which play we’d perform in each class.
The Drama Festival was a huge success because I used the skills I had to make it happen. Best of all, I learned a lot along the way! I’d never been given an opportunity to direct before, nor had I ever coordinated an event like that. I developed new skills while using skills I already had. It was a perfect combo 🙂
So that’s the beauty of my job! I decided to try and keep my posts shorter this year, but as I was writing, I just couldn’t stop! I’m far too in love with my job and have so much advice to give!! I do hope that you’ve found this informative and if you’re teaching in an ESL classroom yourself, and if you are just reading to know what it’s like to be a teacher, I hope you got a good idea of how awesome my job is 🙂
If you have any comments or questions about anything I do…feel free to as in the comments section below! Thanks for checking in!