I’ve had plenty of labour intensive jobs, from working on the oil rigs in Northern Canada to running a printing press in Calgary, but none of them resulted in the same kind of fatigue. There’s no question about it, working on the oil rigs was the most physically demanding job I’ve ever had and will certainly ever have. But after a long day of teaching English in China, I was tired in a different way.
Being in front of a class of 8-12 kids may sound like a piece of cake, and in comparison to many jobs, it is, but keeping a ridiculously high energy level while playing games and hollering at the top of your lungs can be very tiring…if not a bit nerve wracking! I was somewhat lucky because I had older students to teach (Grade 1 – 7), the majority of Dariece’s classes were kindergarten! She had to be upbeat and interesting the whole time in order to keep her students’ attention.
On Saturdays and Sundays we worked from 8:30 – 5:30 with 1.5 hours for lunch and another 45 minutes in breaks spread out over the work day. It may sound like a lot of breaks throughout the day but during them, we would plan the lesson for our next class. By the end of the weekend, our throats were dry and scratchy, our heads were pounding from the relentless squeal of primary children, and our bodies were dehydrated from sweating in 99% humidity – Chinese people don’t like to turn the air conditioning on, which resulted in a constant battle between the foreign teachers and the Chinese staff, students and parents!
Of course, we still loved our jobs. Every day at work was fun and the kids always made us laugh with the hilarious remarks they would make. It was a great feeling to watch the students we taught go from one level to the next before finally reaching the point that they could properly communicate with us.
But for all of you out there who are planning to teach English as a second language, BE WARNED! It can be the most exhausting job you’ll have. Many of our fellow colleagues and other foreign teachers at other schools in China had a different teaching method than us. Some teachers were quieter and not as upbeat and to be honest we didn’t agree with that method of teaching. The students get bored easily and in order for them to learn and have a good time, you need to engage them as much as possible.
We were extremely happy to have only worked 16-20 hours per week, but I think if we had to work more than that, we would have probably lost a lot of energy and ended up teaching those “boring” classes I was talking about. This may sound like laziness to people at home who work 16 hours/day, but I’d be surprised if that same person could last 8 hours in front of a class of kindergarten or primary students!
We suggest staying hydrated and trying to sit or relax while the kids are playing. This will help keep your energy up while teaching. We always had a bottle of water in the classroom with us, even if the students weren’t allowed to drink…
Another idea for keeping your energy levels up (and keeping a sane mind) is to teach your students to raise their hands when they have a question, rather than yelling it out. Probably the most draining aspect of the job is answering 100 questions at once. We also decided to make bookwork time silent time, which really helped to calm the students down.
It’s also important to stay healthy and in shape. Working closely with 100 kids a week means that your body has to be ready for an overload of germs. When you’re a teacher, colds seem to last forever because you’re constantly irritating your throat by hollering enthusiastically at your class, which can draw out your symptoms for 3 weeks or more. We suggest taking vitamins, getting enough sleep and doing exercise while living in China, all of which will help to keep you healthy and have a sharp mind.
Teaching English in China is a very special experience and if you’re making a lifestyle change to be a teacher instead of working in a factory or in a cubicle, you’ll never regret it. It’s the ideal job for travellers and it makes every day an adventure. Just being in a new country is an amazing feeling, and being able to teach English to eager children is just icing on the cake.
Or, if you’re travelling to China, have a look at our Backpacking Guide to China
Have we scared you out of teaching in China?! I hope not…