British teacher Sarah Bucknall shares her experience about teaching English in Fuzhou, Fujian province, eastern China.
What have you enjoyed the most about teaching in Fuzhou?
Having the opportunity to have an authentic cultural experience through knowing the city’s people.
Chinese students are incredibly curious about you, where you’re from, why you’re here. The more you open up to them and share your life, the more fascinated they become and start to share their own customs and traditions with you.
Can you tell us what a typical day of teaching involves?
Lesson planning does take up a large part of your day. It’s vital to think thoroughly about how you are going to achieve the lesson objectives.
For a native speaker, so much about language use is second nature so stepping back and thinking about how to skeleton the language for understanding and effective output can be quite a task.
There is usually office conversation in the exchange of what activities to try and avoid. Following that, it’s collecting a box of classroom essentials and keeping the energy up to face a class of students.
I can go from teaching a class of seniors straight to a class of little kids so switching your brain and grading your language has to become automatic.
Ensuring you swap the dictionaries for the soft balls is also a must!
What are your students like?
Every class is different, every student is different.
You have the shy, quiet ones who work really hard but close up if asked to speak in front of the class. You have the over-confident students who have a great sense of humour but can be disruptive. This situation isn't unique to Fuzhou.
Over time all the classes start to move towards a common atmosphere. Your personality helps to create the classroom dynamic and the more the students get to know you the more comfortable they become.
Sanfang Qixiang - the historic and cultural area in central Fuzhou.
My teaching experience in Fuzhou has been in a training centre. The students initially don’t know each other either and only meet for an hour-and-a-half twice a week.
Generally speaking, I would say that Chinese students are eager to learn English and really quite funny.
What have you learnt about yourself while living in Fuzhou?
I’ve learnt that being a white, native English speaker is a privilege that shouldn’t be taken for granted.
I work alongside incredibly intelligent women who have a genuine care of responsibility to the students and who, like myself, need a degree to hold the position of teaching assistant.
However, they do not receive a third of the benefits that me and other foreign teachers do simply because of where we are from.
It is our responsibility to be aware that things here are easier for us due to this technicality and we shouldn’t become complacent about the matter.
In what ways has China surprised you?
The one thing that has surprised me is that despite the fact I don’t speak Chinese, it hasn’t acted as a barrier or highlighted the fact that I am an outsider.
I have met people of all generations in the towns and villages I’ve visited who have invited me into their homes for tea or dinner. We have managed to communicate without knowing each other’s language.
The people of China are very humble and proud of their culture and more than willing to share it with those who are open to learning it. This isn’t to say I don’t recommend learning Chinese.
In the cities the dynamic is not quite the same and life is much easier when you know how to speak the basics.
Why do you think China is a popular choice for teaching English?
China has an incredibly large market for teaching English and so the benefits and wages available are quite competitive.
There are also many schools that will take on new teachers without teaching experience and provide training for those with the right qualifications.
I would hope that people also choose China due to its fascinating and ancient history, beautiful culture and vast diversity throughout the country.
What tips would you give someone thinking about going to China?
I would start by saying remember that China is not the same as home. It is not the UK, America, Australia or anywhere else.
There will be differences that are both good and bad in a Westerner’s opinion. The important thing is to be open-minded and accepting and respectful of other cultures.
Temple in Yushan Scenic Area, central Fuzhou.
It can be stressful at times. Things like ordering coffee how you like it can be a challenge if you don’t speak the language.
This is all part of living in another country and it gets easier with time and effort to integrate into an unfamiliar society.
And what tips would you give someone thinking about teaching in China specifically?
One thing that I’ve really battled against is the Chinese style of learning. It is very much a drill, repeat, memorize style that doesn’t support the acquiring of a language as a true skill.
Encouraging students to think freely with language and use it creatively can be a challenge in China.
I would highly recommend getting to know your students beyond the classroom. Find out their interests and hobbies and find a way to incorporate that into the classroom topics.
Respecting the fact that it is their classroom as much as yours will create a much more supportive environment for the students to take risks with using the language. It will also be a whole lot more fun for everyone!
Do you want to teach English in Fuzhou? Apply for a teaching position in China today.