Interview with Eoin Clarke, state school teacher in Wuxi 2017-present
What made you decide you wanted to teach English in China?
When planning for life after university, I knew I wanted a new adventure, one which would simultaneously provide both invaluable career and life skills. I was introduced to TEFL through a close friend who was searching for a similar adventure. Following weeks of discussion about different countries, we decided on China. On paper, and now experienced in reality, China was ideal for me across three specific criteria; language, cultural experience and finance. Although teaching English in China would not provide me with a fortune, the low cost of living (especially in lower tier cities) would allow me to save a significant proportion of my earnings. The opportunity to learn Chinese was also one of the strongest motivations along with experiencing Chinese culture.
What grade(s) are you teaching and what are the pros and cons of teaching this age group?
I teach lower primary (Grades 1, 2, and 3; approximately 6-9 years old). The pros of teaching this age group are that it tends to be a lot easier to peak their interest with the topic, and enthusiasm is often not hard to come by. Individuals of this age are akin to sponges in the way that they absorb information and so teaching this age group allows for vast leaps in language ability. This provides overall satisfaction as a teacher. The cons of teaching this age group are what you may expect; students can often get distracted easily, and thus, classes need to be interactive and consist of different types of exercises to keep students interested. This age group can also struggle to follow instructions, and so your sentences must be simple, clear and often explained a few times before they understand and respond.
How have you found adjusting to life in your city?
I live in Wuxi, which is situated in the Jiangsu Province, a 45-minute train ride away from Shanghai. Wuxi is a second-tier city, and so does not lack the modern amenities of any medium to large city across the world. However, due to the cultural differences and my unfamiliarity with the way everything works, adjusting to life in Wuxi was a slow process. The first few weeks consisted of many instances of utter confusion, however, with the aid of translation apps and online maps I usually found my way, eventually. Thankfully, colleagues in my school were beyond helpful, helping to set up bank accounts, finding an apartment, setting up a phone contract and the invaluable WeChat Pay/Alipay, along with providing advice on how to fully utilize Taobao (China’s answer to Ebay). After subsequent months of trial and error, my initial confusion was replaced with a feeling of normality.
What are the main challenges you’ve encountered during your placement so far?
The main challenge I have encountered during my placement is getting accustomed to being a teacher. From what I have gathered from others who came with Teach English In China, applicants have degrees from an array of subject fields and so teaching is not something most have prior experience in. Although I had picked up some techniques which proved useful through my experience teaching as part of a group in the Beijing camp prior to placement, my confidence and understanding of how to teach English has been a learning process. Although there were more than a few classes where things didn’t necessarily go to plan, through learning from my mistakes and more careful lesson planning, I now feel more confident in my teaching.
What advice would you give to someone considering teaching in China?
My advice for someone considering teaching English in China is to know your motivation/s. Knowing my motivations for embarking on this adventure has helped me throughout the process, especially in moments where I was unsure if I had made the correct decision or in times when I had a decision to make. Reminding myself of what I set out to gain throughout this process has been a comfort and a motivating factor to get the most out of this amazing experience.