How to do the Job!
When I got my first job in Hong Kong as a teacher (almost 10 years ago! Yikes..), I had no idea what I had gotten myself into. Here then, I hope to give you an idea of what your first job might be like by telling you about mine, especially if you end up in a local kindergarten. I hope through my experience, you get an idea of how to do the job and avoid the mistakes I made. If you haven’t read my previous entries, please do! They can be found here (part1) (part2) (part3)
Landing on my Head
Before I started my job, I was with an agency and they took me to a meet the principal and have a look around the school. The first thing my principal asked me to do when I visited the school was to get a haircut.
Make sure that if you are male that you cut your hair so it’s short before you meet the principal. These days, more modern principals are relaxed about this kind of thing but many are still very conservative.
Not exactly the warmest welcome but her rationale was that the children might confuse me for a female teacher. Fair enough. After we got over that hump, they began to never tell me what my actual job was. That’s the funny thing about working in Hong Kong, it’s assumed you’ve been told everything already.
It’s always a good idea to ask what it is your employer expects of you before you start your job. This is a bit of a double-edged sword because savvy principals will see you are willing to do more and they won’t hesitate to give you more. Ask with caution and be willing to say “no” to things. Something I am still learning.
Learning where my job began and where it ended was a case of trial and error. Of course, they expected me to teach and I had only ever worked with adults, so…….yes, that was a learning experience. I had 6 classes in the morning and 6 in the afternoon (all running 20 minutes each). I taught 2–6-year-olds and it was intense. The idea was to act as a sort of English enrichment support member going into each classroom and playing phonics/oral based games with the kids. This was easy enough to plan for. They gave me the curriculum plan for the year and a basic lesson plan that I typed out for each class and had to hand in a week in advance so the principal had time to look over it. I had to plan my lessons in conjunction with the book each level was using. (in this case, it was LetterLand) This is a very standard thing to do in local Kindergartens, as I have learned over the years.
When you write a lesson plan, to save time, it might be easier to write something more akin to a weekly lesson plan as the requirements for jobs like I had were not very intense in terms of learning outcomes. (what you want the children to learn) In fact, the learning outcomes are actually dictated by what book you are using to some degree. a simple one like this one from ABC teach should suffice to meet your school’s requirements. You have 3 columns which are perfect for learning objectives, activities(what you are going to do with the children which will facilitate your learning objectives) and your assessments (how you are going to assess if students met the learning objectives or not)
The actual lessons were quite fun and you could see it was something the kids looked forward to, probably in part because their other lessons were more academic and boring. I got to go in the classroom and sing songs, watch the kids hit flash cards with hammers and a host of other stuff. The beauty of this job is that I was a subject teacher (only responsible for teaching English) so there wasn’t much in the way of marking or homework prep to do and there wasn’t really much planning to do either.
When teaching the class, a local teacher is normally in the classroom too to provide support and keep the children in check. This is the theory anyway, but in reality, it doesn’t always play out like that. Some teachers use it as an excuse to take a rest and leave classroom management up to you. This is a difficult task if you are inexperienced and don’t speak the same language as the children. It is normally a good idea to politely ask for help from the class teacher before you start complaining about them to the principal. More often than not, they are completely willing to help when you explain that you are inexperienced and looking to learn from them.
After school finished, you were free to leave on time which is not a luxury shared by most local teachers. Working overtime is a big issue in Hong Kong and as I have progressed in my career, I too have fallen victim to it. I worked from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm. Each morning I’d come and have to do something called “door duty”. Basically, you stand by the door and greet the kids as they come in. The same is true when the kids leave. You stand at the door and say “Goodbye! See you tomorrow!”. This is quite an eye opener culturally because you get to see how all the parents interact with their children.
As my school was a half day school, there was an A.M and a P.M session. You got a little lunch break in between. Most of the time, I stayed in school and ate with the staff. This is probably going to be your first real look at social interactions in the workplace in Hong Kong. At the time, I didn’t know much Cantonese so our conversations were limited. Over time, I got better at Cantonese and the teachers began to feel more comfortable around me. We’d talk about general stuff but there was still a lot I couldn’t express. The food was okay. This is hit and miss depending on what school you work in but this one was okay. I’ve worked in some schools where the food is really bad.
I was split between two schools so that was a nice change. The other school I went to was a whole day school meaning the kids slept in the afternoon. These kind of schools are more popular with busy parents because they get to leave their kid at school and go to work for the day and pick them up when they have finished. My timetable was pretty similar between two schools except the second one wanted me to teach the local teachers English on certain days and run the odd parent workshop. Teaching the local teachers wasn’t fun because a lot of them didn’t really want to be there. They had a pile of marking to do and an incoming class of 30 kids to manage so they really weren’t that enthused about learning English on an afternoon. The parent workshops were a little more fun but the language level was so varied that it made planning for them quite difficult. The parents were always grateful for the lesson and they’d always say they saw value in them. It was also a good chance for parents to interact with one another in a playful way as opposed to just saying “Hi” on the street.
Both schools had the odd function that they expected you to attend. Christmas parties, Graduations, parent seminars, etc. There weren’t that many and they were over in half a day, usually. Expect that you will have to do some Saturdays. It’s very common in the teacher circuit to work 5.5 days.
Resources that Helped me on my Journey
I’m only going to mention one website here (I did mention ABC teach earlier which is also a great website) because I think it will be all you need. Genki English. The material on this website (some of which you have to pay for) was a perfect fit for the requirements of my first job. I needed fun games/songs that you could use with the kids in which they also learned a specific objective (phonics/vocabulary/sentence structure, etc)
I hope you have enjoyed reading and have a better sense of what your first job might be like. Even though this is Kindergarten, the cultural aspects I mention carry across boundaries. If you’re an English teacher working in a school, you will most likely be the last one to know anything! Always ask, ask and ask some more.
This brings the “What You Need to Teach in Hong Kong” series to a close. It’s been a lot of fun writing it and I hope it helps people better prepare for a life of teaching in Hong Kong regardless if it’s for Kindergarten or Primary and beyond. Best of luck to all of you who decide to take the leap and teach in Hong Kong.