Teaching English in Shanghai: Nathan’s Story

‘Hi! My name is Nathan and I live in Shanghai.’  That’s a pretty cool thing to be able to say in our books: we’re already jealous.  So we’re picking his brains to find out exactly what life is like teaching English in Shanghai – be prepared for some major TEFL inspiration

Why did you decide to start teaching English?

I was stuck in what felt like a bit of a rut and after seven years working in an office I needed to do something which would give me a fresh challenge. So I decided to apply for an access course with my local college in the hope of gaining a place at university, were I wanted to study English Literature. As my three years at uni were coming to an end I was weighing up my options and saw that most jobs would see me back in the white collar environment I had strived to escape. I thought that after having the benefit of four years education now was a perfect time to “put something back” and thought teaching, especially young children, would be a great way to do that.

Did you do a TEFL course before you started teaching?

Yes. I started the 140 Hour TEFL course in June and was teaching by September.

Where are you originally from?

I am from Hull, East Yorkshire; and this is where I went to uni although I came across TEFL while at a jobs fair at Leeds Uni, where I had moved after graduating.

Where are you teaching now?

I’m teaching in a kindergarten in Shanghai, China.  The company has several centers across the city and I was lucky enough to get a year’s contract so am here for the foreseeable future.

What attracted you to TEFL?

The opportunity to travel, see new things and experience new cultures.  The TEFL brochures caught my attention straight away and I was excited at the possibilities the qualification combined with my degree could bring.

What age kids/adults are you teaching, and what were they like?

I’m teaching kids between 3-6 years old, and they’re a pleasure to work with – some can be a little challenging at times but on the whole they are brilliant. We try and keep our kids engaged in the lesson throughout so we actively encourage them to be as loud as they can which they certainly are. The kids are very bright and even some of the youngest can communicate using full sentences and already have a good grasp of the English language.

How are you finding the experience of teaching?

The experience of teaching is very rewarding: at times it can still be as challenging as when I first arrived, but not one class goes by when I don’t feel as though I have played a part in making the kids’ education that little bit better. The foundations we are laying here will benefit the kids massively when they first attend school. The size of Chinas population means that any head start in education the kids can get will benefit them in the long run. At first I was surprised that kids so young could start a class at 8 at night but once I understood the dedication of the children (and their parents) to succeed I realised what a big responsibility I had to deliver the best classes I could. With the children being young, the classes need to be very energetic and this has also benefited me personally as I feel like I have found a new side to my personality. I have never been shy, but before I came to Shanghai I could never have imagined taking hold of a class of fifteen four year olds and keeping them engaged with my voice and motions. I have also being able to interact with the Chinese teachers who work here and this has also given me a brilliant insight into how Shanghaianese people live their lives, as well as being able to get some firsthand tips on the best sights/restaurants/bars etc.

How would you rate the experience out of 10 and why?

It sounds farfetched and little bit dramatic but I really would rate it as 10 out of 10.  Why?  Where to start? I have already mentioned how rewarding teaching children can be and that is obviously high up on the list. Other than that I get to live in Shanghai and experience the day to day life of this great city. The center I work in reflects the city as both are run at 100mph with little time to catch your breath. I have also made friends with people from Holland, America, China and Canada among other places and feel as though the trip has benefited me a lot on a personal level. Thankfully the experience thus far as matched the expectations I imagined while sat at my desk in UK.

What would be your advice for someone thinking of TEFLing?

Stop thinking about it and do it.  After working in an office environment for seven years it still wasn’t too late for me to make the changes necessary which have resulted in getting me here. At 26 I have being able to come and explore a great part of the world and experience things I never really thought were accessible.


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  1. Mike C.

    Hi, Nathan, This is a great story! My wife and I are planning to move back to her hometown of Shanghai this year, and I was wondering if you might have some advice for me regarding then “private” tutoring landscape there? We have googled around some, and not found much, and she is not in touch with this area of work there. We have our own place to live there, and only need to learn more about the do’s and don’ts of private teaching there. I have had the i-to-i cert for many years, and presently have a heavy private English tutoring schedule here in Flushing/Queens, NY. I’d really appreciate any words of advice or ideas you might have! Thanks a lot, in advance. My best, Mike C.

    • Elle Pollicott

      Hi Mike, how exciting! Unfortunately as Nathan is over in Shanghai, he’s unable to answer, but I’ll do my best to answer your question instead! The most effective way to start private tutoring in China – like most other places – is by referral, so a good place to start would be going to Universities and putting up posters. The average hourly fee for private tuition in China is about 250RMB/$40, so initially, it may be worth lowering your price slightly until you get more students. We also offer a 10 hour specialist module in Teaching English One-to-One for $40; although as you already have previous private tutoring experience in NY, it’s not totally necessary, but it’d be an extra qualification to highlight your expertise to Chinese students, and you can see the module here: https://www.i-to-i.com/tefl-courses/specialist-certificates/teaching-english-one-to-one.html. Hope this helps!

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