Things I wish I knew before.
Firstly, take the visa process seriously. The Chinese government’s attitude to foreign teachers has gotten much more strict recently, and unfortunately, some teachers and employers have not caught up with the new reality. Take original copies of degree certificates and all other documentation used in the visa process with you to China. Avoid working on a tourist visa, as some employers will try to suggest this, but it could result in serious ramifications. Make sure all your references are legitimate. Don’t work in China on insufficient paperwork – it’s just not worth it.
Secondly, learn as much Chinese as you can before moving over. My immediate colleagues speak English, but virtually no-one else I interact within China does. The more Chinese you know, the easier and more fun your life in China will be.
My initial impression was how warm and welcoming all my Chinese colleagues were they made me feel at home from the moment I arrived at the airport. I didn’t speak any Chinese at first, and that made things really overwhelming, but the school made sure to send someone who spoke English as part of the initial welcome team. From arriving at the school, I felt safe, welcomed and respected. I consider my Chinese colleagues to be my really good friends now.
The support from Chinease
Tony set me up with a job that I really love and which suits my skills and my desired professional development. Tony and Grace’s assistance during the visa process definitely made things easier, and it was great to have guidance to make sure I was doing everything correctly.
One thing I would have appreciated was if the whole visa process was outlined to me from start to finish as soon as I accepted the job. I felt that many steps were not explained initially, and on many occasions, I thought that the process was over only to learn that I had to fill out another application! This also resulted in me not taking all the documents I needed with me to China, which created a lot of stress. I expect this was probably because the people at Chinease don’t want to overwhelm candidates, as the process is long and complicated, but personally, I would have preferred to know what I was in for from the start.
Being a teacher in China
Teachers in China are much more respected than in the UK. Chinese society, in general, sees teaching as a very respectable profession, and this translates into a huge difference in how I am treated by employers and (especially) parents compared to in the UK. In the UK, working with students and parents feels like much more of a battle, but in China, I have invariably found parents to be useful allies in helping my students to learn. I also feel much more trusted by the school management to do my job. I have a lot of freedom with lesson and curriculum planning, which I really enjoy. Observations and other professional development activities are much more constructive, compared with the UK when they can feel oppressive and arbitrary.
Having said that, anyone looking to teach in China should be aware that our typical impression of Chinese discipline in schools is very exaggerated. Part of me was expecting docile robots for students, but it turns out that teenagers are teenagers wherever you go! Personally, I think that’s a positive, as it makes the job more fun and more rewarding, but just be aware that you will still need your classroom management skills and you will still need to know how to respond to challenging behaviour.