We interviewed experienced educator and author Andrew Johnson to get his take on teaching in China vs teaching online.
There can be no doubt that the occupation of teaching – surely one of the world’s oldest professions – brings with it many rewards and joys. However, not all teaching is the same. And with today’s technology a teacher can be all the way on the other side of the world from her students. In the end, while many details differ, it’s a question not so much of technology as it is of simple location. If someone had told me when I was 10 years old that I would one day be teaching in China, I would have been stupefied by the exoticness of the idea. On the other hand, if that person had instead told me that I would end up watching a small computer screen, teaching a class to students on the other side of the planet, live… well, I would have thought that was pure science fiction. Something wacky from Star Trek. It’s real, it’s now, and our effective adaptation to and utilization of these choices will largely determine our futures as educators.
So let’s go ahead and compare and contrast two of the biggest venues for teaching in the world today: teaching on location in the country of China itself, versus teaching online – often to those same young Chinese students. I’ve taught both ways – abroad “in the field”, as it were, as well as online, from the comfort of my home. As you might imagine, both have sometimes overlapping benefits and drawbacks - and which is which largely depends on the teacher in question, and his situation.
Teaching in China
Positives: The first and perhaps the most obvious benefit to teaching abroad in China is … China! The experience itself, immersion in one of the world’s great cultures, the pillar of the east … higher salary/benefits, food, lower expenses, balanced by proximity to all the hotspots of Asia for your next vacation … which makes it harder to save, of course, but still quite possible. A life of adventure if not ease awaits. And for many who come to China, they find most prices are lower than in their home countries, and salaries higher relative to the cost of living. This is a welcome change from struggling to make ends meet in the same old rat race, day after day.
Negatives: Chinese bosses who exercise what a Westerner might perceive as too much control or not enough – matters of “face” are seemingly often more important than the job itself, even if you don’t fully understand any of the complex social dynamics involved, which just makes it all the more frustrating. You’ll have to grow accustomed to a certain lack of control of your environment. Feeling that your time is often wasted, and your input undervalued. Different methods of communication. Loneliness, too little structure outside of work. Language problems. Truly, there will be times when you will walk around and feel like a stranger in a strange land, an alien on another planet. Living abroad is not for everyone, and clarity about what is important to you is crucial here to making the right decision.
Positives: Likewise, the main benefit from teaching online is the simple convenience of being at home, in the domus, around the most comfortable and controllable surroundings possible – controlled by you – because you are the boss of your house! (perhaps) … and no foul expletive-inducing commute awaits you twice a day! You’re sitting there with your favorite cup of tea in your comfortable chair, That’s irreplaceable. And after your class you can go downstairs and have lunch with your mom/husband/son etc. The convenience of working from home is an important factor in reducing stress in the lives of many. For those who need/want to be closer to home, for whatever reason, working online is an attractive option.
Negatives: The loneliness and isolation which comes from not being around your peers every day at work is a real occupational hazard of working at home. Likewise, the unfortunate fact is that not having a boss physically there is too much for some people to responsibly handle. The lack of structure and any type of control other than self-control can be simply too liberating. For those people, they soon find they require someone to get them pointed in the right direction in the morning – you know who you are! However, most skills can be learnt, and this is indeed just another skill. In time, many teachers can adapt to online teaching, just as they once adapted to the classroom environment as fledgling teachers
Summary: It’s a human norm to tend to think in absolutes; to generalize. For example: this activity is good for these kinds of people, bad for the others. But in reality, we all exist upon various spectra and invariably move over a period of time from one position to another, from one viewpoint and set of characteristics and desires to others. Therefore, it’s only appropriate to speak of kinds of people knowing that tomorrow or next month or in a few years some of them may well have grown into quite different “kinds” or “types” of people. And let’s not forget that, at the end of the day, we are all still just teaching the students. That is the job. The same preparation and attention to detail which enables success in one setting will enable success in another. So it’s simply a matter of finding the best fit for you, at that time. And as with everything else in life, it’s up to you. If your situation doesn’t fit, find a way to make changes. The bottom line is to find a place where you will be happy. For some, that’s a grand adventure in China. For others, it’s right there in the comfort of home. And for many the location will change over time. It certainly has for me. Being aware of this dynamic can enable one to consciously be in the right place at the right time. In the end, you the prospective teacher should be filling out your own pros and cons lists, and then deploy yourself accordingly. Good luck!
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