by Clark Nielsen, author of Yes China!

EFL Classroom in China by Clark Nielsen

After working at multiple schools in China, I’ve switched gears and am now teaching in Thailand, facing many of the same obstacles and noticing similarities on a regular basis. Namely, the school facilities are almost identical. I think a lot of us EFL teachers go with the naive assumption that our school abroad, wherever it may be, is going to be clean and modern and cozy. But we’re English teachers! We don’t always get the best. So here are five things you should be aware of, in case any of these are deal breakers:

1. Chalkboards

I love whiteboards, but my new school in Thailand is the only one I’ve taught at that actually uses them. The sad part is, only four classrooms have whiteboards. The rest are filthy, stained, broken chalkboards. Working with chalk is such a pain, too. After a day of teaching, my clothes and everything I took to school are covered in chalk. I’m to the point now where I’m planning lessons around doing things that require far less writing on a chalkboard.

2. No air conditioning / heating

Some schools flat out don’t have air conditioning units installed in the classrooms. Those that do usually don’t use them, either, because they’re too cheap or the students and teachers are worried about catching a cold. So all you have are ceiling fans that spin comically/dangerously out of control, which isn’t enough to curb the heat in China’s summers or Thailand’s year-round weather. Be prepared to be hot all the time!

3. Squatter toilets

You’ll most likely get put in an apartment that has a Western toilet, but your apartment may not be close enough to the school for you to run home “in case of an emergency.” The toilets at the schools, though, aren’t much better than the typical public toilets in China and Thailand. Guess what that means? It’s squatting time!

4. Unreliable A/V equipment

My brother taught at a so-called “TV College” in China, but none of the classrooms had projectors or any kind of A/V equipment in them. It’s all about the chalkboard! Nicer schools might have a computer in each room or, at the very least, a cable for you to hook up your own laptop. Don’t count on this always being there, though, and especially don’t count on it always working. Things can stay broken for a long time around here…

School in China by Clark Neilson5. Multiple buildings / classrooms

The most frustrating part about being an EFL teacher is that you aren’t given your own classroom. Instead, you’re sent running around the school to different floors in different buildings. Your 9:30am class could be in Building 1 on the third floor while your 10:20am class (with no break scheduled in between) is in Building 3 on the second floor. This makes it hard to personalize your classroom… and is just a tiring setup in general.

Clark Nielsen has over two years of experience teaching English in China and is just starting to get his feet wet in Thailand. He is the author of: A Quick Guide to Teaching English in China and the travelogue/memoir, Yes China!

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