There’s a whole host of skills and talents associated with teaching: organizational skills, people skills, technical knowledge of your subject, and, of course, having almost Buddha-like levels of patience.
When teaching in China, there are also a lot of skills you’ll develop on the job that might not be readily apparent to the untrained eye. Here are just five of them.
The ability to roll with the punches
A personal example: the heads of our American program had come to China to audit our classes.
I was given a day’s notice and no indication of which class they’d be sitting in on.
On the day of the audit, the electricity for the entire neighborhood was turned off without warning, rendering my PowerPoint lesson plan useless.
But rather than curl up in the fetal position, I pressed on thanks to a skill I’ve acquired while teaching in China: the ability to think on my feet and keep going.
Working in education, regardless of the country, can be a mishmash of disorganized madness and anarchy.
China is no exception, and anyone who’s taught here for longer than a week has no doubt run into a wide variety of bothersome situations, ranging from the pedestrian to the truly unique.
I’ve taught through hours of power outages, had classes added or taken away at the last second, and seen mysterious students suddenly appear or disappear with no reason.
One colleague of mine even had a student bring a live bird, concealed inside her jacket, to class.
The point is that having everything and the kitchen sink thrown at you while teaching in China will help you become a much more versatile person.
Despite the inevitable high levels of stress that come with a changeable job like this, you’ll be able to whip up new ideas on the fly to adapt to any situation — skills that will be useful in all walks of life.
Any veteran China teacher has seen the time bomb and the sponge among their colleagues.
The time bomb is prone to fly into a rage at the slightest hurdle and is constantly aggravated by the inefficient bureaucracy inherent in Chinese schools and for-profit educational institutions.
On the other hand, we have the time bomb’s natural enemy, the sponge, who does whatever is asked of them in the easiest way possible and consequently is usually an ineffective educator.
So, where’s the middle ground?
The second skill that teaching in China grants you is the ability to politely assert yourself.
You know that whatever you need to get done is likely going to need multiple attempts, so you start early.
You begin sending polite emails, following up with WeChat messages, and dropping by cubicles like a non-threatening stalker weeks before you actually need the item or service you’ve requested.
With these skills of polite assertion up your sleeve, you’ll find most people get the message and deliver what you need, just to get you off their back.
All the while, your colleagues will feel pleasantly inclined towards you because you’ve mastered the art of getting stuff done in a Chinese school without anyone losing “face”.
Picking your battles
Anyone who’s been asked or forced to go to a meeting at a Chinese school or language training center has heard at least one stupid idea.
As a teacher in China, you will often have to sit through meetings with people who are not teachers and who have terrible ideas about education.
This brings us to our third skill: picking your battles.
Open disagreement and anything but positive feedback to management are discouraged in Chinese culture.
However, the flip side of this is that, oftentimes, when a bad idea is suggested by management, no-one ever acts on it, or, if they do, they try it once, confirm it doesn’t work and give up.
Consequently, exploding every time you hear something illogical and fighting tooth and nail against it is not always in your best interest.
Teaching in China gives you exceptional skills in knowing how to pick your battles.
Also, if you can muster the patience to wait out a seemingly bad idea, you’ll occasionally find it’s actually a sound strategy in disguise.
Applied cultural awareness
Some ideas are difficult to explain to non-native learners.
You might find yourself floundering in front of a class as your students stare back at you blankly.
So much for the awesome list of comprehension checking questions you had planned.
That’s when knowing something about the local culture can come in handy.
Case in point: I was once teaching a class and a question about poetry came up.
I tried explaining it using figurative language, rhyme, and, in desperation, named a few Western poets.
This failed miserably until I remembered that all Chinese students have to memorize a painful amount of poetry in school.
I referenced one such Chinese poet and instantly saw the light bulbs go on in their heads.
Teaching in China helps you apply cultural knowledge efficiently and effectively to get points across that otherwise might take a lot of time and tears.
This ability to communicate effectively across cultures by using references your audience understands is an invaluable skill that teaching in China can impart.
Getting creative with classroom management
Many schools in China are only interested in their bottom line.
They need students in seats and they need the parents of those students to be happy.
The less they can do to ruffle the feathers of either, the better.
Consequently, most Chinese schools and learning centers won’t give you a lot of options when it comes to disciplining unruly students.
The solution is a skill that almost every teacher in China will develop in a bid to avoid going crazy: the ability to dream up artificial systems of classroom management.
Instead of letting the kids do whatever they want, or rewarding them for everything they do right, it’s possible to use a combination of positive reinforcement and clear expectations to keep all but the most committed hell-raisers from acting out.
Implementing a ranking system for good students, which can be fed with small harmless rewards, like being able to choose a game for the class, creates positive competition for your approval.
To sum up
Thus, teaching in China helps give you the skills to manage difficult or large groups of people when the easiest management tool, punishment, is not readily available.
These skills are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what you can learn while teaching in China.
The longer you teach here, the more you skills you’ll acquire.