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What You Need to Know About Teaching Children in China

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So you’re thinking about teaching English to young learners in China. You want an adventure: an incredible year full of laughs and challenges, exploring the world’s most mystifying nation while immersing yourself into the local culture. But you’re also a bit nervous. Maybe you’ve never taught kids before, or you’ve never been to Asia.

Trust me, three years ago I was in your shoes. Not only was I nervous about living in China, I also worried about leading a class. Would I be a good teacher? Could I handle the kids?

If you’re thinking about teaching English to Chinese children, here’s my advice after three years of living and teaching in China.

1. Compassion and Patience are Everything

If you’re going to work with children, you need compassion and patience. This is true everywhere in the world, but especially if you’re teaching to non-native speakers. Kids behave differently in every country in the world, so be patient and understanding of the cultural differences. Sometimes you’ll have difficult days. Kids will forget words they’ve known for months. They might refuse to sit still, hiding under the tables, running around the classroom.

You might want to tear your hair out, but try to remember they’re just children. If they’ve been in school all day, the last thing they want to do is sit in another classroom for more school. Try to put yourself in their shoes and teach with a little compassion and understanding. Patience is everything!

2. Be Prepared to Create Connections

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You’ll create strong bonds with your kids, especially if you teach at an English language learning center like Disney English, where class sizes are small and you’ll be seeing the same few children every week. Be prepared for your heart to melt. Seeing how much your learners love having you in their life, makes the job so worth it.

Teachers in China are also allowed to build a more personal bond with their students. It's something I really enjoyed as a teacher in China.

Your kids will want to be affectionate with you as well. My students played with my hair, snuggled with me on the couch and often brought me candy and snacks from home. It was nice to develop such a close relationship with them, rather than keeping the distance that’s expected in a lot of Western countries.

3. The Role of Family

Grandparents have a significant impact on the family unit in China. Often, it’s the grandparents who care for children while the parents work during the day. Expect to have grandparents sit in on your classes, or ask you about homework. Many of the grandparents don’t speak English themselves -- though that doesn't mean they're opposed to learning. I had one grandmother who sat in on classes to improve her own English!

But even if you do have grandparents who speak limited English, as a trainer you can give them guidance on what they can do with their limited English to help the children practice at home. Songs, games, videos, and interactive websites are all good ways of doing this.

4. Pressure from Parents

Children in China are under a lot of pressure from their families to perform. Many Chinese children don’t have siblings, so they have both their parents and two sets of grandparents expecting the best. In addition to a full day of classes, most Chinese children have music lessons, English lessons (likely yours), and more after school.

Even so, expectations from the parents can be very high. They’ll expect a lot from you as a foreign teacher, and are very intent on their kids speaking English well at a young age.

5. It’s Easier to Create Lesson Plans Than You Think

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I was so worried that I wouldn’t be a good teacher before I arrived in China. How do I create a lesson plan? How do I know what to teach? However, after I arrived I learned there are plenty of resources online to give you lesson plan and game ideas.

Many English language learning centers, Disney English included, will give you a set lesson plan, allowing you to get creative with games and activities. If not, you can always get ideas online: farm animals, body parts, jobs, food, colors… there are plenty of things you can teach without running out of ideas.

If something doesn’t work, move on. Each teaching job is a learning experience, and every classroom is different. Find what games, learning styles and lessons work for your kids, and adjust your lesson plans as you go along. The best way to get kids to learn is to make your classes fun and engaging. Don’t be afraid to create games, use funny pictures on your PowerPoint slides, and create incentive programs with prizes and stickers.

6. Manage the Kids Who Misbehave

You’ll always have one or two kids who terrorize your classroom. Come up with strategies to manage the misbehaviors. Usually the kids who behave poorly are also charismatic and can encourage other kids to misbehave as well. This can lead to chaos in the classroom, as one kid slowly creates a riot!

This may sound counterintuitive, but you can solve this problem by making your naughty kids the classroom police. Let them correct others who misbehave, and tell them they have to be on their best behavior, or you’ll give the policing role to another student. Most of these kids are so desperate to boss the others around, they’ll be model students for the rest of the year!

7. The Stereotypes Aren’t Always True

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Before I arrived in China, I was expecting all of my students to be extremely well behaved, expert memorizers. I can’t tell you how wrong I was! My kids were just like students from any other country. They love games and cartoons. They enjoy any activity that involves running around the classroom. They forget the vocabulary words just as much as any other kid. They have their own opinions and personalities.

The stereotype of focused and quiet Chinese students comes from what the Chinese education system forces students to be. Chinese schools force kids to memorize ridiculous amounts of information, and children are judged solely on their test scores.

Also remember, your students are kids but they're also people with feelings. Develop a good relationship with your classroom learning partner and encourage them to be on the same page with you about behavior management. Listen to the kid’s needs when possible and acknowledge their feelings. Sometimes teaching to little kids can be exhausting, especially if your kids don’t want to sit down and learn. Try to be understanding.

Teaching Children in China is a Wonderful Challenge

Overall, teaching English to children in China is an incredibly rewarding experience. You’ll learn so much about Chinese culture, while creating relationships with students, parents, and co-workers. Have the adventure of a lifetime, while also gaining valuable work experience. Challenge yourself to push your boundaries, and you'll have the time of your life!

Ready to find a job? Disney English is one of the largest and most reputable language learning centers for teaching children in China -- and they're hiring! Visit Disney English's listing on Go Overseas to read reviews from previous teachers and learn more about their current openings.

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Photo of Richelle Gamlam

Traveler, blogger and serial expat, Richelle has been living and working in China for the last four years. From high school English teacher to college admissions consultant, Richelle has tried her hand at many different jobs in China. She spends all of her vacation days traveling Asia off the beaten path, and in her spare time, she loves to scuba dive, salsa dance and try weird foods no one else will eat. For more of Richelle's crazy misadventures, check out her blog Adventures Around Asia.