When I arrived in Shanghai, I like so many others, turned my nose at English teachers.
The rep they collectively had was not good. My perception was that it was a cop out, for people with no career path, and a way to be lazy whilst earning enough money to sustain a good lifestyle.
A year after starting Mandala Group, we were grappling with our concept. Trying to find the right model that would get traction and earn us stable incomes. Our savings dried up faster than we imagined and we literally went through those anxious tight chest moments of.. I have 140 RMB in my account, and nothing coming in.
How do I fund my dream? Investment is one way. Bootstrapping is another. We opted for the latter.
Suddenly English teaching became appealing. I figured out that teaching two days (Saturday and Sunday) afforded me enough money to live, travel during the week, and build Mandala Group.
A feeling of relief swept over me as I applied for positions I previously turned away from, and it began to make sense. A vehicle in which to work solidly on my dreams, but also actually be able to live.
The sacrifice? Weekends, brunch and big nights.
The reward? Fulfillment and monetary security for the short term.
The stigma surrounding English teaching never faded, and in fact still sits with me. The satisfaction I found in doing something I didn’t have a good opinion of came from actually breaking the mold. I took what I saw as the downfall of English teaching in Shanghai and delivered lessons I was proud of, and that I was engaged to teach.
It made my time feel worthwhile and taught me several skills I wouldn’t have learnt otherwise.
The first was being able let myself look stupid and really loosen up the limbs in front of a group of people—albeit minion-sized. As it turns out four year-olds aren't engaged by lectures and well formatted powerpoints. They need to see you do the robot and make noises with your mouth.
The second and the most important was reframing. Reframing a monotonous task—lesson planning, for example—into something that could challenge and fulfil me.
“How can I deliver a lesson that completely engages the class?”
“How can I only use games to teach today’s content?”
Challenging myself kept my mind engaged, and gave me some metrics to look at before and after class to gauge my personal development in teaching effectively. Seeing that progress was the secret to sanity, for me.
The takeaway here is that I wasn’t ecstatic about having to give up time for a pursuit I saw as pointless, but through reframing the opportunity and putting it in terms that made sense to me, I was able to develop two useful skills and a mindset that has stuck with me to this day.