A Murder Most Heinous

“What?!” you gasp, reeling from the news, for how could it be true.

“Dr. Black is dead?”

Days, weeks, maybe even just moments later, your thoughts return to the circumstances surrounding Dr. Black’s death. Isn’t it suspicious that a classy, social climber like Miss Scarlett would find herself snooping around in the basement? And why aren’t the local police force taking an interest in this case? Something fishy is going on and anyone aged eight or above should be interested in finding out what.

At least this was the premise behind introducing Cluedo, or Clue, to my students in Chengdu. But why introduce it at all? This goes back to a particular event taking place at my ESL school, Vertigo.

We had an entire week of “homestay”, or living with your teacher, to bat activities around. There were only so many times we could get the kids to race through activities like making the bed (a great game by the way), formal lessons, exploratory walks through the neighbourhood, and craft sessions. Most of these tending to be appropriate only during the day (see photos below). So then, what to do with long evenings? Board games.

I was fortunate to be working with Yoyo, a passionate language teacher of vivacious character. We had been teaching phonics together and had been focused on developing educational activities for the kids that would engage and interest the children. We were teaching kids aged from 3 to 9. Due to a lack of English language comprehension in our students we found that physical activities with verbal prompts produced a better level of engagement as well as a higher frequency of use. We saw this as using language in context. Games became a cornerstone in our teaching methods.

Many of our activities were site based and used the materials immediately available to us. So in that respect we didn’t always need to create materials. For the youngest children, learning the interplay of nouns and verbs meant following instructions or giving instructions that resulted in funny outcomes. Sometimes this was revealing of the children’s perspective, many children loved saying things like, “Can you stand on the table?” because it was strictly prohibited otherwise. Or, as in the case of one little boy, “Can you kiss Teacher Sharon?” displaying what we supposed was an infant crush.

We had began moving to board games after we had played around for some time with floor mats. We had began looking at classic games and because of the upcoming “homestay” excursion, an oxymoron I know, I put together an adaptation of Cluedo which is available here for download.

The purpose of recreating it was simple; to fill time. The idea of teaching vocabulary was actually secondary and a bit naughty of me. I should have adapted the language to be simpler but became carried away.

The primary school children enjoyed playing the game and picked it up well with supervision. However I would recommend adapting the vocabulary further if you have the time and means to do so.

I’m providing in indesign file (via MEGA) and a PDF. The indesign file would require Adobe software to edit but if you are looking for a quick fix, the PDF should suit you fine. In either case, the file was designed to be printed on A4 paper then stuck together. We laminated ours.

Good luck solving that crime!


Spirit Kids Guangzhou (a subjective review)

I have decided to write this for ESL teachers and TEFL/CELTA graduates who are looking to work for Spirit Kids Guangzhou.

As with any school, there will be aspects of work life that are negative and many that will be positive. Spirit Kids is no different. I’ve decided to first focus on the positive points of life within the company and then I’ll outline some areas of concern. Ultimately, one should bear in mind that the school experience is always going to be what you want it to be. There were teachers with whom I worked that cared only for the months wage packet and for them the children they taught were simply to be tolerated for an hour in exchange for money. Fortunately enough, during my time at SK I worked with a group of individuals who sincerely cared for their students and their development.


The Positives

1. The children.

Before arriving in China my interviewer, a foreign teacher, joked about how he had not known what to expect before arriving in China. With the authoritarian depictions of Chinese people in the West he had came to think that maybe Chinese children would be incapable of play. Unsurprisingly children in China are like children anywhere. They love to play and love to be involved fairly in the games they play.

Most students are aged between 5 and 7 but the full span of children are 2 – 14. This may change in the future since the school is in a constant process of development.

I loved the children I taught in SK and would like to share a video that I made with one small class: watch on Youtube or Youku.

2. Flexibility

As illustrated in the film I have just shared with you, the classes and their outcomes are flexible. Something like the film creates a product too, that is something that the children can take away as a bookmark for their time under your care.

My students learnt through gameplay, storytelling and word/object recognition tasks, this was fun and we were able to be creative in the way that this is done. There is a flaw here but I’ll get to it later.

The contract specifies that teachers stay in the office for the set number of hours. This time is usually taken up by lesson plans, some meetings, and occasionally a demonstration of a class in order to stimulate ideas around teaching methods and approaches to games. However, it is not so strict as to prohibit doing lesson plans outside of the office provided you have already signed in and you’re not missing classes or meetings. Overall, SK is quite lenient and forgiving in this regard.

3. Co-teachers and Staff

The native staff that I worked with were genuinely supportive and consistently supported the contribution of new ideas into the classroom. Not all foreign teachers bother to make friends with their colleagues, some seem to do this out of a sense of superiority although it could be that they were never all that interested in the school in the first place. However, I made some great friends at SK since it seemed the management were adept at employing sincere and genuine members of the public.

Classes tend to have one Chinese teacher and one Native teacher. Unless you are preparing the kids for an official exam and they are attending primary school, lessons were pretty fun since they were mostly language based games (and I received training for this). The toughest thing here is to keep the games diverse enough to be interesting to both teacher and student (nothing worse than a teacher who bores themselves).

One individual [Jacky] stood out for his keen mind and genuine professional approach to the teaching environment, for as long as I’ve known he has been a part of Spirit Kids’ training and research team and for all my knowledge will continue to do so long into the future. If there’s ever a person to whom to go for advice, Jacky is your man. Jacky is usually stationed at the headquarters so you’ll meet him if you work there.

4. Guangzhou

Guangzhou itself is an interesting place to live in and if you are able to meet some locals who know the city then it becomes a whole new place all over again (a badly written sentence).  Luckily there are a multitude of hidden dim sum places to discover as well as factory outlets. Shopping and eating are both adequately covered.

5. Lesson planning

Spirit Kids lessons are highly formulaic and pre-planned. This could be a boon for you or a drawback. I’ve decided to include it as a positive feature since the school is highly flexible provided that you fulfil the criteria set for assessing the kids progress.

6. Reliable payment

Foreigner teachers are paid duly and are given the amount that they have earned.


The Negatives

1. Summer and Winter camps

These are pretty tough since they are long hours and intense. Classes rapidly pile-up on one another  and the attention the children require is tenfold that which you would normally give them. Classes are more intense since naturally this kindergarten does best with energetic teachers who can match the energy output of the students. They are children, they need to move around and play. You are the teacher and you need to make sure they are engaged and are learning.

What disappoints teachers is the increased workload, the increased number of “contact” hours, the increased amount of after hours work (preparing classes and arts and crafts), and the respectively lower income compared to the termly wage rate.

2. No Chinese

It seems that every teacher wishes they could speak Chinese but they don’t have the time, or the initiative, to learn. After a while teachers appear dissatisfied and want to do something else with their lives, leading up to their seeking of another job.

To put it like this: You are in China and your friends, or, at worst, colleagues, are all teachers, yet you don’t know any Chinese. This is a personal thing but I am aware that a lot of schools do it as much as I am aware that I am in China. On the street and doing grocery shopping I need a basic level of Chinese really function effectively.

This means SK can feel as though it is a stepping stone into China but is not a place to stand for too long.

3. Flaws in the Work Materials

This is not something exclusive to SK, in fact flawed “made in China” ESL materials seem to have a cult following in Chinese kindergartens who wish to attract parents to a novel school.

SK and the aforementioned Jacky are progressively developing the school’s materials yet the process is slow. This causes problems for teachers who discover inaccurate descriptions, misnomers, and poorly constructed assessment tasks. It is, the teachers responsibility to correct this where possible and to inform the research department. However these errors do form a crack in SK’s armour and can lead to the disillusionment of foreign teachers at the school.

4. Staff turnover

For whatever reason, foreign and local teachers have had a tendency to arrive and leave the school in less than a year. One needn’t necessarily look too deeply into this as teachers are in high demand all over China and many people end up taking other jobs at schools that can offer higher pay for fewer hours. Additionally to this, Guangzhou is really but a step into a much bigger country, and is very close to Hong Kong, another place popular with expats. To say the least, with the schools supportative environment, this is a good school for those wishing to enter into China.

5. Housing

You will need to verify about this with the company as they might be able to help you.

I received help finding an apartment right up until I actually found a place. Rumour has it that other employees entering the country for the first time did not receive as much help. Of course, entering the country for the first time is intimidating and meeting a responsible person at the airport is damn reassuring. Make an inquiry and see what they can do for you.