I worked at two private language schools when I first moved to China. I enjoyed teaching young children because most of them were really enthusiastic. The pay was great, too. The problem with private language schools is that you have to work evenings and weekends. Plus, you don’t have much freedom in the classroom. I much prefer my current job at the university because I can design my own syllabus and have proper conversations with my students.
I teach at Hubei University of Arts and Sciences (previously known as XiangFan University). It is located on the outskirts of XiangYang in Hubei province. The university was founded in 1905 and it has about 11,000 full-time students. The campus is large, leafy and beautiful. I teach four classes a week and each class lasts for an hour and a half. Two of my classes are for English-majors (class size 30-40) and my other two classes are for non-English-majors (class size 60-80). My remit is to teach Oral English but I also set written homework and teach presentation skills.
There are a number of clear advantages to university EFL. First, you have a lot of freedom when it comes to planning and delivering your lessons. I have to submit a semester overview to the Chinese teachers at the start of each semester, but I am free to change this over the course of my teaching. There are also not many set textbooks. When there is a textbook available, I am free to pick and choose which sections to cover in class. The second advantage to university EFL is that you are able to move past the basics and deal with interesting topics. The students have already studied the most important parts of grammar as well as the most familiar topics.
There are, however, a few disadvantages. First, universities will not pay you as well as language schools will. To make matters worse, your university will bar you from taking any form of part-time work apart from one-to-one tutoring. Second, your university will probably not offer you many classes each week. I only teach for six hours each week and my university will not pay me extra if I decide to take on more classes. The third disadvantage is that increased freedom comes at the cost of low accountability. Observations are very limited and I do not have to attend any meetings to discuss my teaching.
I really enjoy my job in spite of its disadvantages. I particularly like my English-major classes. Those students have been learning English for a long time and they are able to express themselves freely. They have also covered the most important aspects of English grammar. My job is simply to encourage my students to speak and to boost their motivation for learning the language. My students are interested in current affairs and social issues, so I can have meaningful discussions with them. I am free to focus on presentation, debating and even writing skills. Moreover, my students are always eager to find English-language songs and movies.
It is more challenging to teach non-English-majors and this is partly due to low levels of motivation. Remember that Chinese students start to learn English at a young age and many attend language training schools alongside their schoolwork. In addition, Chinese university students have to take classes in English irrespective of their chosen majors. It is no surprise that many students are fed up with English by the time they attend my first class. I have one class of Nursing majors and another class of Mechanics majors. There are about 80 Nursing students and most of them are engaged with my lessons. But many of my 60 or so Mechanics majors talk, play on their phones or even snooze for the duration of my class.
I have concluded that university EFL is not a long-term option. My job is just too easy and unfulfilling for me to make it a career. I enjoy interacting with my students and sharing aspects of my culture with them. But many of my students will never use English again once they have graduated from university.