GoAbroad Interview

Ginger de Ridder - TEFL Academy Course Director

Ginder de Ridder - TEFL Academy Course Director

Ginger is a Dutchman who lived in more than eight countries before eventually deciding to call China home in 2012. Since then, he has been teaching full-time and training and recruiting teachers, as well as enjoying the rich Chinese culture and ancient hospitality. In his spare time he enjoys traveling around China by train, listening to cheesy Korean pop songs, reading Hemingway novels, and taking free online courses in topics he knows nothing about.

How did you get involved with Teaching Nomad?

I initially came to China to teach English for a year before going to law school, but I fell in love with the rich culture and ancient hospitality of China and decided to extend my stay. The first city I lived in was Luoyang, in central China, which was the capital of ancient China for a number of dynasties. A beautiful city, but there were few opportunities to develop professionally or personally; so after a year and a half, I decided to move to Shanghai and try my luck there.

After having some bad run-ins with local recruitment companies, I came across Teaching Nomad. What drew me to the company was their motto: “You can have anything you want if you just help enough other people get what they want.” After my bad experiences this really resonated with me, and I decided to apply for a position. That was two years ago.

International teacher with elementary student in China

Ginger and his favorite student

Tell us about the history of the TEFL Academy.

We actually started talking about offering teacher training in June of 2014. At the time, I was also involved in teacher training for both a training school in Shanghai and several public schools here. What amazed me was that a lot of new foreign teachers who had completed in-class TEFL or CELTA courses were woefully unprepared for the Chinese classroom. The most important skill (especially when teaching young learners) is classroom management, and while the new teachers usually had very creative activities and well-structured lesson plans, they did not know how to control students. In fact, a study done in the U.S. in the 90s showed that of 32 different variables, knowing how to manage a classroom effectively had the biggest impact on the academic success of your students (interestingly enough, the social-economic background of students was found to have very little influence on the academic success of students).

While I was doing the teacher training, I also talked to my colleagues at Teaching Nomad about offering some sort of teacher training to new teachers. We figured we’d have an edge over other providers because we have so much experience recruiting foreign teachers for Chinese schools.

After looking into other TEFL courses, we hired a former CELTA and TEFL trainer and another professional teacher to help us develop our course. Our moderator (TEFL International) was also helpful in this process. That being said, we always ask our graduates for honest feedback so we can improve the course and ensure future trainees have the best experience possible.

Teacher taking a photo of students in a classroom

Say cheese!

As Course Director, what questions do you receive most often? What is your response?

Q: Where will I work once I graduate?

A: Most trainees take our TEFL course because they’re interested in teaching in China upon graduation. Our trainees are assigned a personal placement consultant who presents the trainee with a number of different options. Since we work with about a hundred schools in Mainland China, it’s not hard to find a school that’s a good fit. At Teaching Nomad, we believe there’s no such thing as a good or a bad school, just a bad or a good fit. Some schools require you to work overtime for extra pay, but if you came to China to travel this might not be ideal for you. Other schools do little teacher training or other professional development and require you to follow pre-made lesson plans. Great for teachers who are looking for little responsibility, not so much for professional educators looking to turn teaching into a professional career. 

I am aware that there are some TEFL providers in China that place teachers at a school directly after graduating for a period of three to six months. However, while these teaching “internships” constitute a “guaranteed jobs”, they are usually underpaid (30 to 40 percent of what regular teachers earn) and completely unnecessary. What’s more, they often require you to work on a student or tourist visa (which is illegal). That’s another reason we decided to help teachers find positions while they’re here, rather than guaranteeing a job that teachers might not be happy with!

What sets Teaching Nomads apart from other similar organizations? 

Moving to China can be daunting, and having someone who can help you makes it so much less stressful. Customer satisfaction is incredibly important to us, both for the training and the recruiting side of our business, and all of us at Teaching Nomad go above and beyond to make sure our teachers have a good experience. Whether you need us to pick you up from the airport, take you to the hospital at 3 a.m., or negotiate a better contract for you, you can count on us. 

What sets us apart is a sense of service and dedication to our teachers and trainees. All of us routinely work late or weekends to make sure everyone is happy. There have been months where I would work without taking a day off just to make sure everything was going according to plan. Many of my friends call me crazy, but I always rebut that the people in South Chinese factories that make their sneakers and sweatshirts work twice as hard as I do for a fraction of the pay. Living in China really helps put things in perspective.

Teaching Nomad graduation dinner

June course graduation dinner

You speak English, Dutch, Mandarin Chinese, and Cantonese, how do your language skills come in handy in your role, considering both brand and curriculum development? 

Being able to pick up languages fairly quickly has mostly helped me appreciate the difficulties language learners (and teachers) face. Learning a foreign language is an integral part of our course, as it allows our student-teachers to experience what it is like to be back in the classroom.

I think being able to understand Mandarin allows you to understand China and Chinese people. Studying proverbs (成语) has been especially helpful as they’re such a big part of Chinese culture. Although it’s hard to say how being multilingual helps with brand and curriculum development, being able to speak Mandarin has helped me a lot when dealing with local teachers, administrators, and Chinese people in general. For example, I like to tell my Chinese colleagues 能者多劳 (the capable work harder) when I ask them to do me a favor and it always works. At least until they read this interview!

You’ve been with Teaching Nomad for almost two years, what has been your greatest accomplishment so far?

Good question. Starting our Teaching Nomad TEFL Course and making sure all our graduates find good teaching positions have definitely been my biggest accomplishments. That being said, it was a team effort, and I could not have done it with all the helpful people at Teaching Nomad.

What is the best part about working for Teaching Nomad?

Being able to help prospective teachers realize their dreams of teaching abroad. I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s very rewarding to see how trainees grow throughout the course and develop their own teaching styles. I’m extremely proud of everyone who has graduated from our course and I know that all of them are committed to become excellent teachers.

In addition, all my colleagues are incredibly driven and positive people. We all help each other grow, both professionally as well as spiritually, and we’re all committed to changing the global teach abroad industry, even if that means working 70 hours a week!

International teachers with their students in China

TEFL Trainees and their students

Where do you see the future of Teaching Nomad? Anything coming up we should keep our eye out for?

We’re launching a special TEFL course at a university in Shanghai this fall. The course will give local Chinese students an introduction to TEFL teaching and Western approaches to language learning. The vast majority of English teachers in China (and any country for that matter) are locals, and the way they teach the language is a little different to what many ESL teachers are used to. Chinese education focuses heavily on rote-learning, drills, repetition, and mechanical practice, while foreign teachers usually focus on using English creatively and independently. Both approaches have their advantages, and it will be interesting to see how Chinese trainees apply the concepts learned in our classes. 

In addition, we will start to give more ongoing training to existing teachers (both local teachers and foreigners). Since there is such a demand for English teachers (especially local ones), language schools often don’t have adequate resources or staff to give new teachers the training they need. That’s where we come in!