Chris Kelly's Biggest Surprise as a Teacher in China

teaching in china Feb 08, 2017

As teachers, we are always proud of our students when they are successful. Being an instructional coach for new ESL/EFL teachers is no different. I love seeing new teachers develop both their skills and confidence. Chris Kelly is a perfect example.  Just over a year ago, Chris contacted me about providing instructional coaching before he headed off to China. We had a few Skype calls and off Chris went.  It was great to hear from him after he completed his first year as a new teacher in China.  (If you are interested in learning more about instructional coaching with me, click here

Chris can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am 26 year old new (1 year in) teacher from America. I hope to make international teaching my lifelong pursuit. I’m learning Chinese and how to cook. Both are going very slowly, but I will succeed! Eventually.

Where did you do your TESL/TEFL training?

My primary training is divided between my Bachelor’s which is in TEFL through a self directed major program and my Master’s that I will be finishing in early February in Teaching English Learners (TEL). I also did an online training course, but it was largely for visa purposes and did not expand on anything I had not learned in my Bachelor’s.

You are in China now.  How did you find that teaching position?

I found my first position by working with a recruiter who was recruiting for universities, and that got me into China. I found my current position by sending out my resume with an introductory letter to as many Chinese universities in big cities that I could find the Foreign Affairs Office contact information for. Time consuming, but it definitely paid off.

Tell us about the classes that you are teaching. What are you teaching? What are the class size like?

At my previous university I taught Public Speaking, Oral English, and English Movie Appreciation courses. The majority of my classes were with Business English majors, and the rest were the Oral English courses for various other majors. The class sizes averaged roughly 30. In my new position I will be solely teaching Public Speaking to classes of 15.

What is the biggest challenge for you as a new teacher?

For me, the biggest challenge was trying to understand and correctly address the differences between typical American classrooms and typical Chinese classrooms, and how these differences affected my expectations and those of my students.  The best example is class participation. In many Chinese classrooms the focus is on rote memorization and individual work and reproduction. In American classrooms, the focus can often be on small group work and student centered production. This difference in focus can lead to discomfort at first until the Western teacher learns how far to push their new students to get them out of their comfort zone without throwing them in the deep end without any assistance, and the Chinese students learn how to accept the new teaching methods and their own capacities for individual and group success. Thankfully my students have been great so far and have helped me understand, and things have gone very well since I have gotten a grasp on it.

What is your best memory so far as a teacher in China?

My best memory so far has to be the end of the semesters. First, because I got to see my students present individual presentations, and seeing the ones who previously were deathly afraid of public speaking stand up and give successful presentations on their own was a real joy. Second, because my students were amazingly kind with gifts and goodbyes and well wishes when they found out I would be moving on to another university.

What has surprised you the most about living and working in China?

Well, frankly, I think the thing that surprised me the most is that the race issue is drastically overblown on online forums and on the internet in general. Have I had strange experiences? Yes, but they generally range from basic curiosity (staring as an example, primarily by older people) to simple Western media based assumptions (assuming all black American’s can rap……ok, I can, but that’s not the point haha). I was warned by many people that I should not go to Asia being Black and that I would hate it here. I emphatically say THIS IS NOT TRUE. It is doubly true for potential employers. If an employer will not hire a teacher because of their skin color, I promise you it is not an employer you want to work for. The good employers are looking for the best teachers, full stop.

What advice would you give teachers who are thinking about teaching in China?

Do it! Seriously, it is such an amazing journey in all realms of life. Personally, professionally, experientially, financially…….and understand that you will have some struggles that need to accept and overcome (no, the taxi drivers do not know English, and yes most of the toilets are different) but you will also have some amazing things that you would never have expected (amazing food, amazing people, amazing country). You’ll grow in all of the realms I mentioned above, yes, I do mean all of them.

What are your future plans?

I am starting a new position in about a month, and I hope to stay here for a number of years. I really enjoy living in Beijing and my new place in life so far. Also, I will be working on expanding my personal education services to the college counseling and testing prep (IELTS, TOEFL, etc.) realms. Personally, I want to travel to one new place in China and one new country per year, and keep on growing personally, professionally, experientially, and financially.

Thanks Chris.  All the best!   


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About Me

My name is Patrice Palmer, M.Ed., M.A., TESL and I reside in Canada. I have 20 years’ experience as an ESL Teacher, TESL Trainer, and Curriculum Writer in Canada including 7 amazing years in Hong Kong. I have taught students from 8 to 80 years in a variety of programs such as ESP, EAP, Business English, and language programs for new immigrants in Canada.  I now work as a teacherpreneur doing the things that I love such as writing courses, blogging, sharing teaching materials, and instructional coaching for new teachers. Having a flexible schedule allows me to conduct short-term training around the world at any time of the year.  Download teaching resources at

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