It’s hard to know where to start! I have had a very enjoyable first month teaching and it has flown by. Having never travelled or taught much outside Europe, I didn’t quite know what to expect. But, I have been pleasantly surprised, to the extent that I will be continuing for a further three months on the expiry of initial contract.

I am using my first blog to give overall impressions, not just about the teaching. First, you are looked after well. The organisation of flights and accommodation has been superb. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to sort out somewhere to live in Beijing, when it can be problematic even trying to buy a travel card! We have been given as much advice and support settling in as you could wish for. This helps so much in making you relaxed enough to concentrate fully on teaching.

No two weeks are the same. I’m teaching adults, who are by nature busy people. Classes can be full or quiet. People who have booked classes don’t always turn up. This makes over detailed and prescriptive planning inadvisable and I find it better to build in flexibility, although pair work exercises in a class of one or three students can be tricky! This week, I had an activity class which eight students had signed up to. I was using a worksheet I had created for another class on the same unit, where they were to match adjectives and phrases about skills to various jobs. Four groups, A to D, looking at separate lists and then feeding back. At the start of the lesson, 4 there. Twenty minutes in there were five, and half an hour in six. Continual rejigging of the plan as I went. Thinking on your feet is essential.

It is a similar story with conversation and I-,Show classes. These are my favourite classes, as you have full rein to be creative in your approach, and there is no textbook. In the first, unknown numbers of students will appear. The main point is to get THEM talking, preferably more to each other than to you. Realistically, in a busy teaching week of 24 to 28 hours you cannot provide perfection every time. I tend to organise things that build from individual to pair to group discussion.

Recent successes include a lesson on adjectives of emotion, using emojis on phones as a way in, ending with them acting them out to guess the words, and one where we discussed ‘Moments that changed history’. They focused on all manner of Chinese history that I didn’t know much about. I learnt a lot from them.

On Wednesday, in advance of a trip to Chengde I had organised, I had annoying last minute problems with train tickets that ate my planning time. Solution, vent my frustration with the class, explain ‘pet hates’ and get them to talk about theirs’. A month in, I have learned that these classes are quieter in the week. You might have 8 to 12 in. At the weekend, 20 to 24. Plan accordingly!

It takes a certain confidence and self belief to manage such classes (The I shows are for me similar, but you can use IT, and students book in). If you can’t think up new ideas, it is harder, but there are plenty of resources on the internet that help. Even in these, you can be surprised as I had 20 students turn up to one that only 9 had booked into the other day. Cue last minute dash to photocopier and rejig plans.

Class Full

More formal classes follow Meten’s bespoke course books. VIP classes are one to one sessions, tailored to the requirements of the customer. This week I had lovely lessons with a gold medal winner from the 2008 Olympics. MC classes in small groups of up to 4 focus on grammar, speaking, listening and pronunciation. Units vary in quality. Again, flexibility is key, knowing when to supplement or replace material, which is fine as long as you hit the learning objectives. Activity courses see you teach groups of up to ten students, and they consolidate learning through doing.

I feel I have learned a lot in my five weeks here. First, Chinese students are a joy to teach. They are curious, receptive, polite, and very willing to learn. Go the extra mile for them and they will for you. Secondly, use them as a resource. Their range of skills and experience gives you so much to work with. Be positive and friendly, and try to get everyone to contribute. They really appreciate the effort and it is very rewarding when you realise that they recognise and like what you are trying to do for them.

I haven’t even mentioned the opportunity this job gives you to see Beijing and beyond. That is the subject of quite another blog, but using your days off to experience as much as you can is a treat to me, keeps me positive, and in the end, is just more material there for the using..

If you wish to participate in the Gallery Teachers Academic Exchange Programme to China, read more about it here.