A workday in the life of a TEFL teacher.

14:48 Paul Robinson 1 Comments

The day begins at 6am when my alarm intrudes on my sleep. I'll lie there for a few moments, weighing up the pro's and con's of sleeping for 10 more minutes before I realise my body is already aching from my rock hard mattress. I stumble out of bed and try and get into the bathroom before my housemate. I'm not a big fan of walking in somebody else's shower puddles.

I have a very exotic breakfast of porridge and an orange whilst I check Facebook. At the same moment, most of my mates in the UK are out boozing and celebrating the weekend. I leave my flat and knock on my friend's door. He usually answers the door with shampoo still in his hair and a toothbrush hanging out of his mouth. We both work on the other side of town so usually get a taxi together. During the journey I'll close my eyes for twenty minutes and try and squeeze in some extra sleep.

We arrive at the school around 7.45am. The staff room is usually busy with people scribbling down lesson plans and searching for lost flashcards. I pour some green tea into my flask and generally get in everyone's way. Everyone has a little basket in which they keep all their teaching essentials. In mine I have board markers, text books, the register and lesson plan, flashcards, balls and occasionally some bowling pins. At 8am we all go off to our first lesson.

The lessons begin with taking the register and checking homework. I'll teach out of the text book for a little bit and then throw in a game or activity. In the morning, the kids are usually lively and energetic so the lessons fly by. If I'm teaching young students, we'll play a few games and everyone is laughing and joking. The higher levels can be a bit duller but you can make the lessons entertaining if the subject material is interesting.

For the next few hours until lunchtime, it's just teach, teach, teach. Back in the staff room, people are restocking their baskets with the next set of props and flashcards. The Chinese teachers will usually be having some dramatic conversation in which I don't understand a word. I sit there eating bananas and moaning about my disruptive students.

One of the hardest things about the job in the constant change in gears you have to make mentally. I might start off teaching fluent teenagers and then the next lesson I'll be teaching toddlers who can barely even speak Chinese, let alone English.  I've got to say, I really enjoy the young classes. It gets a bit repetitive if you are only teaching the words "orange" and "apple" for 30 minutes but the kids smiles usually make up for it. They love it when you high-5 them, they love it when you sing, they love it when you drop your flashcards on the floor. It's very hard not to enjoy the classes and I'm usually gutted when my Chinese Co-Teacher tells me we've run out of time.

At lunchtime, the foreign teachers usually meet up and get some street food for lunch. Over a bowl of noodles we'll complain about how rubbish the textbook is or how tired we are already feeling. Sooner or later my bladder gives in and I have to brave the toilet. The teachers have to use the same bathroom as the students. The toilets stink and the urinals are at child height. I keep soap in my locker and always forget to take it the the bathroom, so I spend about 5 minutes walking back and forth between the bathroom and my locker. Then it's back to teaching. Load up your basket and get your game face on.

By about 4pm, I am dead on my feet. Clothes are ruffled, voices are lost and patience in non-existent. I don't even finish until 6.30pm so I eat more bananas, drink more green tea and pray I can get through the day. By the late afternoon, the lessons can drag because nobody wants to be there. Eventually, the minutes pass by and it's time to finish. The foreign teachers meet up and go get some food for dinner. We'll have a few beers, chat and come down from the highs and lows of the day. Everybody has funny stories from their lessons - Lady Gaga obsessed students, Chinese insults, games that bomb and so on. Once we've eaten, we all go straight home. In the taxi I'll think about how I could have improved a lesson or think about what went well. After a day of smiling constantly, my face muscles have given in, but inside I'm usually glowing. Exhausted, I go straight to bed knowing that I have to be up at 6am again tomorrow.

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1 comment:

  1. Hi Paul,
    Found your blog on some expat website, can't remember which one. Ah the initial shock of the long Chinese work day. Actually you'll never get used to it. Looking forward to keeping up with the adventures!
    Jade (Hong Kong).