Mike Cairnduff from Hello Teacher!

Updated November 16, 2018
By Mike Cairnduff

Northern Irishman Malachy Scullion with four kids in a classroom in China wearing Star Wars masks.

For more than 10 years, educator Malachy Scullion has been teaching grammar, managing student behavior, and having the time of his life in one of the most exciting countries in the world – China.

This is part 2 of his incredible story.


You started working as a teacher and now you are a director of studies. How did the promotion come about?

The transition from teacher to senior teacher, and then to director of studies, was actually pretty quick. I believe it came about from being fearless in accepting responsibility.

Living and teaching in China is a pretty unique situation that most people never consider. Having confidence to put yourself into new situations and experiences quickly gets you noticed.

Delivering successful and quality experiences in these situations also helps with follow-up reward, recognition and promotion.

What’s the teacher market like in China?

Teacher turnover is usually high with people leaving after short- to mid-term contracts ranging from one to a couple of years.

People having the right skills and attitude are usually noticed and promoted quickly at English First (EF) China.

A group of English teachers in China holding up certificates.

Having the right skills and attitude are important for teaching in China, says Malachy.

Loyalty to the company is something rewarded highly in my experience with EF Hangzhou. I firmly insist and believe that this is one of the biggest attractors of this school to any career-minded individual.

Of course, being an excellent teacher is foremost. And the ability to train others and manage a team is crucial.

Who do you work alongside at EF?

I work with a range of people including fellow teachers, course consultants (who sell the courses), progress advisers (the bridge between the school and customers and parents), marketing staff, as well as internal and external management.

We run quarterly meetings to give teachers awards for their hard work and effort.

Can you tell us about some exciting adventures you’ve had in China?

There are plenty! Visiting a Siberian tiger conservation park near Harbin, in the north of China, was surely a highlight.

Seeing these big white tigers is a rare and beautiful thing. Feeding the tigers a pheasant and watching them devour it was another sight to behold.

The Crescent Moon Lake in the Taklamakan desert outside Dunhuang in Gansu province was breathtaking. Hiking through the desert and walking up the ridges of massive sand dunes was both incredibly hard work and exhilarating at the same time.

English teachers walking up sand dunes in Dunhuang, Gansu province in China.

Sand dunes in Dunhuang, Gansu province.

Eating dog meat was an experience I cannot say I’m particularly proud of. I have had pet dogs for most of my life – eating them had never crossed my mind until I was in China.

Making dumplings is something I do quite a lot now that I’ve got my technique perfected. They’re delicious!

Going tea picking and drinking in Longjing, Hangzhou was a very relaxing summer activity we enjoyed with EF colleagues. We hand-picked our own tea, brought it back to the tea house, fried it in the owners’ porch and drank it. It was a great day.

You can drink Longjing tea while teaching in China.

Longjing tea, Hangzhou.

Playing golf and enjoying the hot springs of the Mission Hills Hotel in Haikou, Hainan Island in southern China was a very cool and upmarket way to spend a few days.

Finally, sleeping on an oven bed in northern China was another unusual thing. These beds are made of concrete and have fires burning inside them, which retains the heat all through the night.

The adventures I’ve had in China are very different to the ones I’ve had at home in Northern Ireland.

What does a typical ‘day in the life’ of Malachy look like?

Right now, my life is very busy both at work and outside of work.

Being a father, husband, teacher and manager means that I don’t often have much downtime.

During the late evening I try to do the things I want to do like reading, checking Facebook, and keeping in contact with friends and family from home.

In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge English teachers face in China?

I believe once all teachers get over the initial culture shock, the next biggest challenge is to decide how to teach and what your style is.

Three young students in China learning English.

There are challenges teaching in China.

I have worked with, and even observed and trained, many different types of teachers from different backgrounds and one things stands out clearly – the ability to make your students have fun, laugh and have a good time whilst learning at the same time goes a long way.

What’s the best advice you could give someone considering teaching in China?

Open your mind before coming here, and try to be prepared for the difference in language and culture.

Take everything as a new learning experience and remember to be polite, flexible and courteous at all times.

What are you plans for the future, both personally and professionally?

Personally, I’d like to learn how to play basic guitar. I’ve been playing different types of drums since I was a teenager so guitar is next, I hope.

I would also like to have a daughter because I have two sons now. But the chances are quite high for us to have another boy. Who knows?

Malachy Scullion with his wife and two sons at Halloween.

Malachy has two sons and would like to have a daughter.

Professionally, I’m always interested in learning new things, researching whatever I’m working on or pertinent for my developmental goals.

Recently I’ve become very interested in developing bite-sized chunks of learning that can be used on mobile phones. I want to learn how to do this so I can deliver precise, high-value training to teachers with busy schedules.

In the long term, I’m convinced that I’d like to pursue my career in teaching TEFL and management but I want to go back to my software development roots and marry these two fields together into my dream position.


Do you think you could teach in China for 10 years like Malachy? Share your thoughts below.

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