Mike, Former Sumo Wrestler, Teaching English in ChinaBy Kevin Mermel
April 14, 2020
A former professional sumo wrestler, Mike, made a career shift to teaching English in order to see the world and experience living abroad. He’s been an EFL teacher in China since 2018, where he’s currently transitioning to teaching his classes online due to the coronavirus crisis.
What’s your personal and professional background? How long have you been teaching English?
My name is Mike Wietecha. I taught for 5 years in California before I took a break from teaching to pursue sumo wrestling. I represented the United States at the World Games in 2017 in Poland and had the opportunity to act in a few movies and commercials. Due to injury, I have since stopped sumo wrestling and decided to reenter the teaching field. Since my wrestling experience allowed me to compete in many different countries, I wanted to experience teaching in different countries as well.
What made you decide to become TEFL/TESOL certified with Bridge? How has your Bridge certificate helped with your teaching career?
There were a lot of job listings online, especially in China, but many required a TEFL certification. I wanted to complete the certification online since I wasn’t near any in-person programs. I also wanted to start right away. After running a search, I found that Bridge was highly regarded and affordable, so I enrolled. I was able to find a job immediately after completing my certificate. I spent 2018-2019 teaching at a high school in Shanghai and 2019-2020 teaching English at a university in Zhengzhou.
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Just as a great basketball player might not be a good coach, the same may be true for a native speaker who becomes an English teacher. There are so many things that we do naturally with language that might be confusing to someone learning English for the first time. We aren’t really conscious of our grammar, syntax, tense agreement, and phonetics awareness when we speak. Learning language rules, language rule exceptions, and the nuances of colloquialism is important so that you can explain things clearly. My studies with Bridge introduced to many of these concepts and really prepared me to be a more effective teacher in China. It also made me more cognizant of my relationship with English, allowing me to analyze and correct my own speech and writing more easily.
Teachers around the world have had to adjust their daily routines and teaching schedules due to COVID-19. Obviously, China has been one of the most strongly affected countries thus far. What has your experience been?
Teaching during the Coronavirus outbreak has been a confusing scramble for many institutions and teachers. Many schools did not have operating procedures for such an emergency and a lot of teachers are not very tech-savvy. I know many of our former colleagues are struggling with the situation. Luckily for me, I have always been around technology and education. I helped develop some offline digital curriculum for deployed military personnel, designed some online learning modules, and did some online tutoring via webcam. I also participated in some online courses as a student, one being my BridgeTEFL certification. Familiarity with learning, teaching, and professional online correspondence is a very good skill in the modern workforce.
This entire spring semester has been conducted over the internet and I am happy I can still teach 300 students without missing a beat. However, I cannot wait to get back in the classroom with my students. I love the freedom that I have as a university teacher and the enthusiasm and energy put forth by the students when they know they are in a stress-free and positive learning environment. That is not something that can exactly be reproduced online.
Aside from work, how has your daily life been affected in light of the crisis?
On a personal note, I have been isolated from people for about 2 months now. I only leave about once every 2 weeks to buy groceries. Although I thought it would be difficult, I have used this time for self-improvement and reflection. I have lost 50 lbs by eating healthy and exercising in my apartment. I’ve also been practicing my Chinese and writing short stories. Without the internet, this whole experience might have been dreadful, but I can still talk to everyone I know, learn anything I want, and take a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life that we have become so accustomed to.
I know everyone is quite scared, but if everyone can practice vigilance while remaining calm during this difficult crisis, it can hopefully be resolved soon.