By Dick Tibbets - University of Macau, Macau
A teacher asked: "Did anyone find their background prepared them well for teaching in China - especially for the first time?"
It is the knowledge that is important and organised courses are probably the easiest way to get some of this knowledge. The letters [MA, Phd], well, they're just for the CV.
If you take a course then you are accepting someone else's syllabus and, to some extent, someone else's ideas of how you should use that knowledge. You just have to hope that they know what they are doing. After all, this is what your students have to do. You are their 'someone else'.
If you design your own course of self study then you need to know which topics will be useful to you. It can work but you are a little more in the dark.
As for my background, yes it's helped me all along. When I left computer programming all those years ago, the post grad cert ed I took really did help prepare me for the classroom and once I got there a series of courses by Rinvolucri helped even more. The experience I gained over the next 10 years teaching various types and levels of English to learners from some 70 or so countries then fed into my MA and both the experience and the 'extra' knowledge from the MA helped when I came to Hong Kong and Macau. I'd say that the experience is the most valuable part but it was those bursts of learning (I won't call it training as a fair bit was independent) on courses that put the experience into contexts and made it all much more useful. Teaching in this part of the world IS harder than teaching in, say, Spain or Germany. Knowledge based experience was worthwhile for me.