Seek Truth, Foster Originality, and Live Up to the Name of Teacher

So goes the motto of East China Normal University, and I’ve already written a blog post with that title, but I like it so much that I felt my first post about teaching on this blog should share the title.

I wasn’t expecting to teach in China, but the virtual ink was not yet dry on my registration as a student when I was asked if I would teach a few periods a week.  I couldn’t think of an excuse on the spot, so a week or so later I found myself pacing up and down my room wondering how to get through my first experience as a teacher the next morning.  I’d been given no training, no syllabus, and no instruction of any kind other than to try to get the students talking as much as possible.  Fortunately we live in an age where years of experience can be substituted for a little hastily-learned internet wisdom, so I started working my way through the blogs of previous foreign English teachers in China.  When I was most of the way through a rather recondite treatise on ‘extrinsic and intrinsic motivators’ and their relation to ‘expectancy theory,’ I accepted that I wasn’t going to become a pro overnight, found an interestingish-sounding ‘introduction game,’ and went to bed.

Things are rarely as bad as you imagine they will be.  Actually I’ve no idea if that’s true or not, but in this case the first lesson went relatively smoothly.  I was a bit nervous, but I don’t think it was too obvious.  My planned activity was a little chaotic, but it certainly got them talking (albeit mostly in Chinese).  The timing was fine, and I was able to dismiss the class when the bell went after having completed the activity and even having set some impromptu homework.

I’ve got three classes, none of whom study English full-time.  Two of them consist of civil engineering students (95% male), and the other studies Japanese (95% female).  All have 30-40 students when everyone’s there, but that doesn’t seem to happen often and I haven’t been given a list of who’s meant to be present or been told what I’m supposed to do about it.  I got the Japanese class first, which was probably lucky, as the girls are certainly easier to teach.  (My second class was on a par with the first in terms of difficulty, the change in predominant gender being counteracted by the fact that I’d already practised the lesson once.)

For now the name of the game is still survival.  My latest homework on the proposed UK badger cull aims to start fostering a little originality, but I have my doubts about whether or not my students’ English level will be good enough to cope with it.  Seeking truth and living up to the name of teacher can come next week.



  1. Teaching in small groups as I have done is hard enough, I don’t know how I’d manage 30-40 people who don’t share the same first language as me.

    Good luck!

    PS – note to self to look up ‘recondite’

  2. How old are your students? And why are girls easier to teach?

    I remember when I had my first English class taught by an american woman, we were actually the one that were panic – afraid of not understanding what she’s talking about.

    1. About 20. The girls are more enthusiastic and up for getting involved in whatever activities I have planned for a lesson. In this case it may also have something to do with the fact that the boys are Civil Engineering students whereas the girls are Japanese students, and therefore should have some sort of interest in language learning.

    1. Hi – apologies for the lack of updates recently. All is indeed well – end-of-term exams next week, then returning home for Christmas.

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