Sophie Corr on teaching tiny tots
Sophie Corr hails from the UK, but China has been home for the last five years. After two years of training with Eton School, Sophie received her Montessori teaching qualifications and now serves as a nursery lead teacher at the Global Trade Mansion Eton campus. She’s also head of the nursery at home, where she has two “Beijing babies” – a 3-year-old daughter and brand-new baby boy (who you can check out on p21 in our New Arrivals section!).
What brought you to Beijing?
My husband was interested in doing TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) since we’d been traveling around Asia for a while. When we got back to London we spoke to someone who suggested that we really should try China. So we came over and lived for a year in a rural area, but then returned to London. But before long, my husband had applied for another job over here and we found ourselves back in China. We really love it here.
What made you decide to be a teacher?
When I was at home I had a little brother and sister and I babysat for them. As I grew up I was always babysitting and volunteering in schools for kids with learning difficulties. It was something that I was always good at, to be boastful! It just came naturally to me, so I carried on.
What’s the hardest thing about teaching kids this young?
The biggest challenge is to encourage independence, so that they rely less on adults. A lot of our kids come from a one-on-one environment with an ayi or a mother – [sometimes there can even be]up to three people watching one child. So when they come to school and they’ve got ten classmates and three teachers it can be a bit of a shock for them.
What would you say your teaching secret is?
Patience – that’s all you need to be a nursery teacher. If you don’t have patience you are in the wrong job; I would say I have a lot. But I find it easy because I’m very inspired when I see the children happy. I get children the first time that they’ve left their family. It’s always nice watching them grow and to see them go from being upset and quiet to all happy and smiling a few months down the line.
Is there anything different about your job because you work in China?
I have a really high turnover of students. There are very few instances where I’ve watched a child grow up through the years. People come and go all the time. Also the language thing is different: We get a lot of students who have English as a second language or don’t speak English at all when they first start. But I find it more interesting that way. It’s more interesting to have this diversity in culture.
What are the biggest advantages and disadvantages to being a teacher in China?
The big thing is that the schools are so well-funded. Working in London or other places, you have to beg for things or have to rely on making a lot of stuff on your own. Here I can ask for this beautiful piece of equipment and usually I get it. Disadvantages? You have to get used to the culture. Chinese culture is very different from my own. For instance, my biggest problem at the beginning was working with Chinese parents and not understanding what the big problem was when a student wasn’t wearing a scarf under their coat. I just didn’t get the big drama – it wasn’t even cold outside! But that’s the sort of culture shock that anyone coming to China has.