I taught English in Xi’an, China and I had no idea what I was doing. I walked into the university in China with almost nothing prepared. I just learned as I went along and got better at teaching as time went on.
I went to university for Computer Science for one year then continued school elsewhere for Computer Animation which only lasted half a year. One of the major reasons why I didn’t finish is because of money. I couldn’t go back unless I paid off the previous semester. None of my classes had anything to do with teaching.
When I was applying for teaching positions in China, I was worried that they would want a bachelors degree and/or TEFL or ESL certifications. I started with a simple Google search for positions in China which resulted in dozens of positions. I emailed all of them and included my resumé. Many of them claimed they required a degree but I sent them an email anyway. A day or so later most of them got back to me with open positions and were interested in hiring me. Here I was worrying about not being able to find anything because of my qualifications but to my surprise I actually had a large selection to choose from. After careful consideration, I chose Siyuan University and I was leaving in less than three months.
I could have studied teaching material but instead I felt lazy about it. I was too occupied getting things sorted out at home after coming back from a year round-the-world. I walked into the school not knowing a single thing about teaching.
The school provided material that we were supposed to use in all of our classes. I had about a week to study them and get use to my new life. I went over all of my material and could not help but laugh how horrible the textbooks were. I planned out the first day and what we would go over. I thought to myself this would be easy.
I walked into my first class to forty freshman girls clapping and wooing.
I was suddenly nervous and I didn’t know why. I was still early so I thought I would put my things down and go to the restroom to get fresh air (there’s a joke somewhere there). I thought to myself what the hell am I doing.
I went back to the classroom and introduced myself. Everyone in the room was quiet and just gave me a blank stare. We went around the room and did some basic introductions. After that we went right into the textbook. This lasted for about 10 minutes when I realized I was screwed. This textbook wasn’t going to help me at all. I had to toss the whole idea of ever using the textbook and improvise. I later got a call from my boss that the students complained they couldn’t understand me and I had to slow down.
After a few months of improvising and planning better, I started to get better at teaching and the students started to learn better. Some of the other English teachers also had no experience teaching so we started to trade lesson plans, ideas, and collaborated on lessons. Things were getting easier and I felt more confident about teaching as time went on. The students were actually starting to learn and when you realize that as a teacher it’s kind of amazing and rewarding.
When the second semester started, I knew exactly what I had to do to prepare. I planned out several lessons sometimes for weeks ahead of time. Since most of my classes were once a week and I had several classes a week, I would use the same lesson throughout the entire week then change plans for the following week. I walked into class rooms with confidence and I started to feel like a real teacher. In the first semester students were sleeping and texting during class but by the second semester I was kicking students out of the room and taking their cell phones away. That got their attention and their respect of who I was as a teacher.
This was an important life lesson for me. I did something I never thought I could do and never thought was in my reach. By the end of the year, I felt like a better person. I might have been the teacher but I felt like I was the one learning the most. I was in a far away land with totally different culture than how I grew up, taking a job I had zero experience in, took the risk, and owned it.