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Teaching with Mickey: My experience working for Disney English

“What is Disney English?”

This is a question that I have been asked a lot, especially while I was working for the company. The confusing looks I got whilst trying to explain my job were rather amusing. Still today, some people had heard of Disney English but don’t really understand what the company is, others have never heard of what is a rather large part of The Walt Disney Company’s presence in Greater China.

Because of this lack of coverage, I thought it would be good to chronicle my time at Disney English. Working for Disney English was an incredible experience and one that I thought people would benefit from hearing about. A few weeks ago, my book covering my experiences, Teaching with Disney, was published by Theme Park Press.

As an accompaniment to the book, I thought it would be good to outline what exactly Disney English is, what I did there, and share the amazing experiences I had along the way, with the WDW Radio Blog readers. Disney English is a great concept and a life changing opportunity for those who want to experience another culture entirely, so if this article can inform and interest people, then I have done my job.

Disney English classroom

What is Disney English?

The vital question. Disney English is a series of language centers in China with the mission to teach English as a second language to children. Unlike other language centers and schools, Disney English educates through the use of a litany of Disney IP.

Lessons are pre-designed and each lesson has a distinct theme and a Disney property that goes with that theme. For example, students learn about jungle animals with help from The Jungle Book, toys with the help of Toy Story and rooms in the house with help from Winnie the Pooh and friends.

Unlike a typical school schedule, students come either after school or on the weekend for either one, two-hour session or two, one-hour sessions. Generally, students sign-up for a one year contract, but they can stay longer. Content is designed for 3-11 year-olds, but the majority of students are from 3-7 years of age.

The content and the teaching were by far my favorite bit about DE. I really loved teaching using Disney properties, and it really was a dream come true. Some of the lessons were very enjoyable and you could have a lot of fun with them. But, in addition to the content, it was the students that really made DE special. When I left the company, I was incredibly sad about how much I was going to miss my students. They really did bring life to the classes and brightened up the gloomiest of days.

One big concern, for new recruits was always whether or not they would be in the classroom on their own. This is not the case. Each Foreign Trainer (English teacher) has a co-teacher referred to as a Learning Partner. LPs are Chinese natives and incredible assets. They don’t normally get the credit they deserve, but Disney English wouldn’t exist without excellent LPs.

Disney English classroom

Where is it?

Currently Disney English, as a company, only exists in Mainland China. Disney English has centers in Shanghai, Beijing, Nanjing , Chengdu, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, with the majority of centers being in Shanghai.

Disney English employs hundreds of native English speakers from the U.K, US, South Africa, Canada, Australia and New Zealand each year. This is similar to other language centers and companies, but from my experience, Disney English made the whole process as easy as possible. They booked my flights to Shanghai, helped with the visa process and put me up in a hotel for three weeks until I sorted out an apartment. It is worth noting, that some people have to jump through a lot of hoops throughout the Visa process, but as far as I’m aware, the recruitment team at Disney English does everything it can to help.

How long was I there?

I applied to be a foreign trainer in December of 2014, and flew to Shanghai, China on the March 13, 2015. After two and a half years of working for Disney English, I was ready for a new change and moved from Shanghai to Hong Kong to teach in a Secondary School, which is where I am still located today.

During my tenure at Disney English I was promoted to Senior Foreign Trainer where I was partially responsible for the academic standard of the teaching team. I also helped contribute and design new Disney English content. I became a Disney Trainer, and also led trainings in my center, including during Onboarding which is the two week training that every new recruit undertakes. Also, I was a “Mushu” (Meaning that I guided new trainers at my DE center) and a Disney Ambassador, the first point of contact for offer accepts (candidates that have accepted the position, but haven’t arrived in China yet).

Safe to say, I tried to get as much experience as I could during my time at DE. I wanted to experience everything and see every side of the company, and I really believe I did.

What was my experience like working for Disney English?

Like every job there, were aspects of Disney English I really liked and there are aspects of the company that I would change if I was in charge. It is certainly not a job that for everyone. The hours are long and a little unsociable at times, and cultural differences and challenges working for a big company can get in the way. DE is a business after all. If you are on the fence about applying for a position at DE, Glassdoor.com is a great tool. DE has been reviewed plenty of times on that website. Read the reviews and that might be able to help you decide whether DE is for you.

At the end of my tenure, I decided that the company wasn’t for me, and I left for new pastures. But, working for DE was definitely life-changing. It was an experience I don’t regret and will never forget. While for working for DE, I got to witness and experience a multitude of special things.

One of the really special things that happened during my tenure, was the opportunity I was afforded to see Shanghai Disney Resort grow. As Cast Members, we were invited to trial operations months before the park was opened to the public.

Not only that, because we lived so close, I was fortunate enough to experience the park on opening day. What’s more, I visited SDR a lot in 2016 and 2017. Experiencing the attractions was cool, but what was really cool was seeing how much the park grew and found its footing in that first year. This was a very special experience to witness and one that I wouldn’t have had if it wasn’t for Disney English.

So, that’s a brief introduction to Disney English. If you’d like to find out more, please don’t hesitate to ask me any questions on the WDW Radio Box People Facebook group or check out my book: Teaching with Disney, available for Kindle and in print over at Amazon.

(All pictures from the personal collection of Daniel Morris)

To learn more about Daniel and read his recent posts for the WDW Radio Blog, visit his author page by clicking the link on his name at the top of this post.