The story appears on

Page C2

January 13, 2010

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature

Expat English teachers get As

MANY expats who are native English speakers teach English when they first arrive in Shanghai, getting to know the city and its people. Some are just passing through, some who came for fun get hooked, and some are highly qualified and dedicated.

In any case, the life of an English teacher in Shanghai has its ups and downs, though China's demand for more qualified English speakers is increasing. There are quite a few English-language training centers of all kinds; no one knows the number of English teachers.

The global economic downturn has taken its toll, however.

Just last month, the Kaien English training center, one of the biggest in the city, abruptly closed without explanation, stranding 70 expat teachers, many with salary owed, and hundreds of pre-paid course takers.

The center had been operating for around 13 years in Xuhui District, one of the city's first. More than 170,000 students graduated.

But it had not paid its rent since May, according to the property manager.

In October, Linguaphone, another center, closed abruptly.

So many English teachers are scrambling for work. Those who were just passing through are probably passing through. But dedicated teachers remain.

One of them is American Wyatt Bixby, 28, from Philadelphia - after Kaien crashed, he landed on his feet and now works at English First.

When he arrived in Shanghai more than two years ago, he only expected to stay for his six-month contract. He fell in love with the city and made fast friends, both expat and Chinese.

"Shanghai is a dynamic city. There are so many things happening that it's hard to find a time without something to do."

With another teacher Bixby has developed a Career Corner that offers professional situations in which students can improve their English. He also set up a class in Changning District where young Shanghai policemen could improve their oral English for the upcoming World Expo. It involved role-play and situations in which police interact with foreigners. It was well received and other sessions may be scheduled.

When he's not teaching English, Bixby is sometimes a food critic for a company called Best Food in China. He doesn't get payment but the food is free, he likes to write reviews and considers it cool.

"Teaching is a profession in which you always keep learning," says Bixby, who holds a bachelor's degree, a certificate for Teaching English as a Foreign Language, and around two years of experience.

"I'm not very worried about the sudden shutdown of Kaien English. We live in a world where so many companies fail, while others survive," he says. "At some level, it's about management. My only goal is to deliver the quality of classes that our students deserve."

He says there's a lot of enthusiasm to learn English as the six-month World Expo opens in Shanghai on May 1.

"It will make this city even more vibrant and full of energy in terms of English learning," he says.

At EF all teachers must have a bachelor's degree, a TEFL certificate, and have at least one year's teaching experience. They must be at least 24 years old and be a native English speaker with passport from an English-speaking country.

Chinese customers these days are smarter and more demanding, says Irene Quan, director of public relations at English First China, which operates more than 100 schools. This means more is demanded in terms of teachers' quality and teaching facilities.

"Historically, English-language schools have been very hard to distinguish - they all had rooms with white boards, teachers and seats," Quan says. "People chose their school based on location and price, since there was nothing else to choose from. You could survive without offering a better service."

Those days are over.

"Customers are getting wise to the fact that some methods are faster than others and some language institutes care about results, while others don't," says Quan.

Over the years EF has helped more than 1 million people in China improve their English. The learning system is constantly improving and the focus is on student satisfaction and prudent financial management, she says.

Another EF teacher is South African businessman John Etchells in his early 50s. Today his daughters are running the family business, leaving him free to pursue his dream of traveling in China.

Etchells graduated with a law degree, then majored in educational psychology. He received a diploma from Trinity College in London in teaching English to speakers of other languages.

"I have always wanted to do something to add value to society and I could not think of a better way than teaching and educating," Etchells says.

On a visit to China five years ago, he says: "I fell in love with the country and the culture. It became clear that it was my destiny to use my skills and abilities to teach English in a country that reveres education."

He first taught in northern China for two years and has been in Shanghai for three years.

"I lead a balanced life, which includes work, sport, socializing and cultural activities," he says. "Shanghai leans itself to a full lifestyle. The city is user-friendly and has everything to offer its citizens and the expat community."

He is close to his students whom he calls diligent, disciplined and enthusiastic.

"It gives me great pleasure to see them grow their English and to see them grow up."

Speaking of the collapse of Kaien English, Etchells remains optimistic about the city's English-learning market.

"Our industry is capital-intensive, dynamic and competitive and if companies cannot sustain and innovate they will continue to fail," he says.

English ability is a key for students to attend good universities, study abroad and secure better job prospects, and choosing the right place to study is essential, he says.

California guy

For the past six months Timothy O'Connor has been teaching at the Shanghai New Oriental School but he has been in China for around 25 years, mostly in Taiwan.

O'Connor, 58, spent a year teaching in Harbin before coming to Shanghai.

He studied education at the University of California and first visited China in 1984. He was hooked.

For years O'Connor had been hoping for a way to make a significant and positive difference in people's lives.

"I hope I can have an impact, however small," he says.

He teaches a variety of classes and his students have made a deep impression on him.

During summer and on holidays he has been amazed to see students from around China who wanted to spend their free time improving their English. In one class he taught students from 12 provinces.

"The interesting and surprising part of this was that they had traveled all the way to Shanghai," he says.

The students would stay with relatives, in hostels or hotels.

"It was sobering for me to realize how important learning English was to them. They willingly sat in long classes in hopes of a better life that would be enhanced by improved English.''

One would think they would take time out for fun, he says, "but my students had fun in class while their English soared to new heights. They are my heroes."

O'Connor says the global financial crisis has caused "a slight slowdown" in business but he is very upbeat about the future of English teaching.

As the World Expo is just around the corner and as Shanghai is increasingly important as a financial center, more English speakers will be needed, he says.

"I am amazed to watch Shanghai prepare for the Expo," he says. "Everything is becoming new: new roads, new sidewalks, new paint and remodeling for so many buildings and neighborhoods. It's an exciting place and I want to watch it grow."


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend