Teach English in SAnchang Zhen - Nantong Shi

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I started teaching ESL in China with a low quality TEFL training course and several years of performing arts experience. Since then I’ve faced classes in size from one to thirty plus students and worked with students aged 2 to university age. I’ve taught at two training schools, a private school for primary students, and at a technical college. Because I lacked focus and clarity about my role in these schools, altogether it was a messy and confusing experience. The solutions for me may be the ESA method and the Needs Analysis from Unit 19 of the 120 hour TEFL course. The original vision I had of teaching was an interactive class with children openly sharing their curiosity. I imagined using English as a means to foster their curiosity about the world, in depth relationships with students that grew in our immersive daily English class, a lot of time together and real world application of what we were learning. I had not considered the vast differences in cultural styles and communication or the gap this would create between my coworkers and me. Even worse, once I arrived I had no idea what they actually wanted from me. Originally I expected to work like the teachers I was familiar with as an American student in a non-conventional schooling system , where rules were as relaxed as the dress code. I expected people to tell me directly what was expected or needed. At the first training school classes were between three and six students aged two to ten. Curriculum was Oxford’s ‘Let’s Go’. Classroom materials were scarce. Students met us once a week for one hour with no practice sessions in between. Communication with management about curriculum, school rules, expectations, scheduling, school holidays, pay, and any other situation was always last minute… literally down to the moment when I arrived to start the class. The school was not well organized, and neither was I. I had expected them to give me everything I needed, and I was lost without that. After six months of struggling and searching for better managed schools I was offered a position at a private school for primary students. Primary school in China is far different from primary school in America. I signed on without realizing the full extent of my actual relationship with the school (I didn’t have the knowledge or experience to ask all the questions I needed to). Information given to me before the first class included numbers of school buildings, classroom numbers, a weekly schedule, and that each class was thirty minutes long. Students main English classes with their homeroom Chinese teachers were five days a week and several hours. Management didn’t tell me what they were working on in their regular classes and I only got a sample English book when I asked. I had no idea how to create a lesson plan to actually help the students. With 30 or more students in class, age groups varying from two to fifteen, no idea of their main curriculum and zero idea how to manage a group larger than 10, this was a crash course in how to not be an effective English teacher. If I had struggled navigating communications and social expectations at the training school, I totally failed in this at the primary school. I was lost about how to effectively organize my ideas, who to talk to for help, or even what questions to ask to make any changes. When it became clear to them I was not experienced enough for this situation, they canceled our contract. Following this, my agent set me up with a technical university. I was no longer adjunct. My business English classes were core requirements for all the business students. Management had given me text books to use and leave to adjust whatever was needed. There were no conflicts about teaching styles or methods. This was good news, because the text books didn’t actually teach English! One book was almost entirely about translating into Chinese, the second vaguely talked about some business ideas. After asking clarifying questions, management told me the students all had university level English skills. Not knowing what this meant I went into class expecting to be almost conversational. The first class of advanced students was conversational, it was encouraging! In every other class most of the students struggled to put together basic sentences and couldn’t follow the lengthy audio segments. I had to scrap the bulk of the book except the titles of chapters and a simple word list. To create full classes I went online to find as much extra material and content as possible. Halfway through the semester, I learned that they were studying this English business curriculum in another Chinese teachers class! At this point I was totally confused about what my actual role was! Now I work at a well organized training school with two managers and another foreign teacher who all speak high level English. They help me troubleshoot situations, offer advice and training, and guide me in the social expectations of Chinese culture. Still there have been frequent misunderstandings. Had I originally begun by filling out a needs analysis with staff and students to guide ESA style lesson plans, I could have saved almost a year of confusion and difficulty. A well thought out needs questionnaire would have given me the information that I sorely lacked. With feedback about what management and students were really looking for help with, I would be able to skip the guesswork! The needs analysis is an invaluable tool that I now use before starting any new class. Coupled with the concept of ESA, it gives me focus and confidence in creating a well structured class that meets the needs of both students and management.