- Though bingo was a bit rough at first, and it took students a while to catch on, once we got going and those who understood were playing the competition really started to build. In a few classes, I had 8 jump up at once and shout "BINGO"! I think it's just a really fun word for the students because they repeated it every time I said it while explaining the game.
- Volunteer teaching this week: It's always fun to do this. When you're no longer special or the novelty to your students that you once were, it can be really refreshing to walk into a classroom, be a new face, play games or teach idioms for a day, answer questions, and be the special guest. Maybe I should have just used one of my old lessons. Last year I played charades with a few classes but since we got the same verbs over and over again I wasn't sure that we were really having fun. This time, I taught a lesson about color idioms but it seemed a bit much for the first class (who also needed a bit of time to warm up to me, and were probably pretty self-conscious since their school sort students out into high and low performing classes and they had already been identified as weak in English). The second class ran with it more, but they were also 9th graders and a year ahead of the others. And of course, I left time for questions. We took a photo together, a student asked for a hug and I said "Sure, why not?" and they got me to sing the alphabet so they'd know about some of the differences between how they sing and how we sing it.
- Running around with other foreign teachers for a day. I'm not super social, I tend to move around a lot on my own on a whim. For better or worse, some don't think highly of me skipping out on going out for drinks at night or other stuff but I know from experience that for as much as I love seeing everyone, I eventually hit my limit and start thinking about going home, reading a book, watching a movie, or writing another lesson plan. Volunteer teaching allows me a space where I can meet others in Zhuzhou on some common ground and know that even if it's an all day thing, there is a set end where I can recover alone with a notebook, pen, and some music. I feel like I'm finally at a point where I've learned to manage my introverted tendencies with everyone else's need to see me come out more. The company is great, but I don't always have something to say. It kind of weirds people out when I'm quiet for too long.
- I met the mom of one of my students. She says he talks about my class. She didn't know I was his teacher last year too. She said he never talked about oral English. But that may also be that last year, I had a lot to learn and unfortunately, his class was one I didn't see much because I always seemed to have things come up on Thursdays. It's cool to know that he talks about class at home, but now I wonder what other students say to their parents.
- We made "pumpkin pie" on Friday too. Though it turned out to be pumpkin batter that we pressed into cakes with our hands, rolled in sesame seeds, and fried. I actually ate all of them before dinner, and still had room for dinner. I guess mine looked especially good. I soon found myself among hungry people and one woman was excited when I said she could eat one.
Here we go again. This past week, the Foreigners in Zhuzhou group held their first volunteer teaching day. As always, it's interesting to go to new places (often very lovely places) in Zhuzhou that I likely would not have seen otherwise and catch up with others who teach or work in Zhuzhou. though foreign teachers in China isn't all that new (I even read once that "my year teaching English in China" is a cliched genre), I still consider it kind of a strange and unique time that there are so many who come to China to do so. And the people that come here often have interesting histories or talents that they bring with them.
When I wrote my last post I was angry, but I’ve recovered now. I invited students to come and speak in my office when they have the time, even if they did not get into English club. I really want to keep a space open for anyone who wants to practice English. I tried something new this past week too. Writing letters has crossed my mind before and I really wanted to drive home the message that I need my students to work with me. I wrote letters to two head teachers. Though I knew where their office was (they shared one), I chose to pass them on through my liaison. I wouldn’t be able to translate as well if my intention wasn’t clear to them. One letter outlined one class’s poor grade and my growing frustrations. I conceded that I had made mistakes, but needed them to work with me. The other letter I wrote because I also had a very good day with another class. They probably deserved to know what made me happy as much as what frustrated me. I have focused on handling misbehavior but neglected to address its opposite. My students were in this vacuum where they knew I was frustrated, but didn’t see much in return for their other admirable efforts and behaviors. I was happy when I heard the head teacher was extremely proud and made a point of reading my letter to all his students. They earned it.
But I’m also a little embarrassed. My liaison brought my letters into her classes to talk about how students should behave themselves. While I appreciate the learning experience derived from these two letters, I never meant to send them around school. I didn’t want to broadcast my kids’ day. I wanted them to know what wasn’t right, I wanted their head teacher to know what happened, and I wanted us all to move on. That class was the only one who needed to know and change themselves. I imagine that hearing that another class earned themselves a glowing letter would do its own work through word of mouth. Otherwise, it frankly wasn’t the business of other students to know that I was struggling with another class.
I made sure to tell my liaison that I was a little embarrassed because those letters were never meant for anyone else (though I am happy that she had a well-behaved class after going over those letters with them). She said she hadn’t really considered that part of it. And maybe it’s natural to just take something that catches your eye and make it public in a time of social media and lose sight of certain privacies. I myself am guilty of writing about my students and I’m not sure how they’d feel if they saw some of the things I wrote (though it’s those things that keep me going). I do try to keep them relatively anonymous. I’m looking forward to a better week this upcoming week.
I'm afraid that for as much I enjoyed teaching last year (and still do, I'm here because I wanted to see my students grow and express themselves) I'm already all used up. This past week was pretty awful. My lesson plan went to pieces because it was a little complex and no one was listening. I wound up writing a letter to a head teacher about one class's behavior and my own rather unprofessional response. I also just felt overwhelmed for English club interviews. They threw in so much stuff at the last minute, that even though it shouldn't have been a big deal I didn't take the notes I should and struggled to figure out how to sort out students for English club. Ideally, I'd take them all because students who come to English Corner or club tend to be somewhat self-selecting anyway but that's not how things work this year. I didn't have to actually interview everyone, only about 15 students but I was just told to score the students out of 10. No specifics on what to look out for, just "out of 10" and they needed to read a dialogue so I actually had to interview two at a time, then one, then two again, then one. And in the end, the teachers looked at me and said "You don't have detailed notes?" NO! WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO BE DETAILING AND TAKING NOTES ON? I feel awful. I'm angry. I screamed and cried the first time I had a chance to be alone and felt awful about who may and may not be in English club because I did this wrong. And I designed the interview questions! I bet I look so silly to everyone else who works here. I can't even do something simple like an interview with 15 students, but then again, others can't do something as simple as tell me what it is I'm supposed to do. We didn't even know where the interviews were going to happen! Last minute is part of life in China, but for some reason it really threw me one today. And they were all so good, I didn't know how to mark down scores or anything for students.
I've decided that rather than rolling my thoughts up together with my weekly review, I'll just give a different post for weekly recaps.
I’ve finally done the rules talk with everyone. I need to adjust some of my lessons since not everyone is doing the same thing each week. I found and downloaded the ebook “The Reluctant Disciplinarian”. I really want to make this the year when I’m in control of my classroom. Teaching really shouldn’t feel like going into battle. Obviously, I’ll need to adjust some of the advice given that I am not fluent in Chinese nor are my students fluent in English but I did come away with some key thoughts.
In particular, I’ve thought about the need to be in charge. Teachers need to have high expectations and this book reminded me that students in turn have expectations of me. Students will test you and want you to pass the test. In light of this, some behaviors I’ve observed make complete sense. That’s why a student who quietly motions for me to count down or to take class points one week is pumping air into a water bottle with a bicycle pump on another day. I used to think “They have their days because they’re kids” but that’s only part of it. They need me to be that authoritative presence. They know that discipline is part of the job. They expect it. I’ve also tried to do a little more of what “real teachers” do to set those expectations better than I did last year. I gave my students homework. A small assignment, but I wanted to set that precedent now. Everyone who had their nametags and brought a notebook received a stamp, which in turn encouraged everyone to bring notebooks. I’m not sure everyone actually bought one, but things definitely changed when I and checked in to see who was taking notes. Things were more focused, quieter, more like what I expected from students. I suppose there is truth to the idea that while I am free to be the fun teacher, I still need to make it clear that I have the same expectations other teachers do. Students don’t openly say it’s for the better, but I sense a change. Maybe I’ve finally earned some respect. One of my classes got a C, then a D. They weren’t happy, but no one argued with me. I asked their other English teacher if I could watch her at work she mentioned that they’re tough for her too. She frequently walks away mad because of the noise. I’ll take notes on how she handles discipline. It would be good to identify a head teacher and observe his/her class too. Even if they are not an English teacher, head teachers are responsible for class discipline.
“The Reluctant Disciplinarian” gave me no miracles but it reminded me of what I can do and need to do. I do not have the fresh start now that Rubinstein did, but I do get the pleasure of seeing how both my students and myself change over two years.
I had quite a bit to do this past week. Though school started last week, this was my first full week of teaching. I still didn’t get to everyone because we had a half day on Thursday for Teachers Day. We’ve been trying to solidify commitments and English extra-curriculars. I asked about leading English corner like last year, but they said they want an English club instead. It will not be a time open to anyone who wants to come. They want to set objectives and have the club produce something the school can enjoy. Now it’s a kind of English drama/dubbing club. We also need to interview and accept about 25 students into these clubs (there will be one club for grade 8 and one club for grade 7). I’m not entirely sure what questions to ask someone who wants to be part of the club, but I’ll solidify some of it this weekend.
We’ve also been asked to lead sessions for the other English teachers. We (the foreign teachers) are going to take turns leading classes. We don’t completely know what they want, the most concrete answers I’ve gotten are “words for encouraging students” and things related to our strengths. I’m at a bit of a loss though on what to do about language learning. It’s one of my strengths so I haven’t had to spent as much time on it as some. The other teachers know I studied a number of languages, but the rumors have grown from me being comfortably fluent in Spanish and Italian and having a bare proficiency in Chinese and Japanese, and a very limited memory of Latin. People say I know 8 languages and a student keeps asking me to help him with French and the words in “Lady Marmalade”. I think he likes musicals. He asked about Moulin Rouge and Broadway.
I’m hoping I don’t burn out from being overworked. I get paid for taking on the extra work, but 17 regular classes and running an English club, working on my TEFL, creating lessons for other English teachers all sounds exhausting. The school also wants us to turn in all our powerpoints at the end of the year. I already had to turn in my semester objectives and my lesson plans for the first two weeks. I’m always impressed by the ambitions and the accomplishments of the school I work at, but at times it feels like too much.
I suppose I’ll be addressing some of it as time goes on and I get a sense of what I can do and keep up with. In the meantime, I had a great teacher’s day, sore red hands from tug of war, a few treasures from students, and time to catch up with some of the other teachers about their summers. Sadly, the prizes did not include live chickens or vegetables. I don’t know what the winning team got on Teachers Day, but I won a sizeable supply of napkins.
I started classes today in what is a strange and very short week. Our contract says we don't begin teaching until September 1st and I guess all the teachers needed Monday to really go over things with the students before the oral English teachers started. We also have Thursday and Friday off as part of commemorating the 70-year anniversary of WW2. These two days are kind of a test run and the real week begins next week. I have the same kids and another four classes each week. I'm teaching the entire eighth grade.
In some ways, it's wonderful to walk in knowing who is responsible, who needs an extra push, and who understands just about everything I'm saying. In other ways, it's more stressful because I need to show that I'm not going to be pushed around like last year.
Chicken Teacher doesn't give a cluck this time. They know I like reading, they know I'm too nice and I need to make up for last year's discipline issues. I've changed my rules and spent more time testing students on what the rules are. I've also started stamping name tags. I was only able to tell one class about the prize given to the student with the most stamps. My first class was right after announcements/morning exercises and started about 10 minutes late. I'd like to think I'm getting better at putting my foot down. They know one of my rules is "Do your best" so I've quieted some classes by asking if this is their best.
Though it's going to be a bit of work this year to keep up with the demands of earning my TEFL certification and the new assessment requirements that WorldTeach has started this year, I'm feeling pretty good. China has not always been nice, but as I took on this huge learning curve I also feel like I've been thriving. The difference between my first day last year as I anxiously reviewed my skeleton of a lesson plan and my first day today is startling. Today I was a little nervous, but I also knew my students knew last year's rules. The key thing this time would be to make sure they understood the consequences. I woke up early and then slept some more as I realized that I had a 42 slide PowerPoint that covered everything in my outline and that things would straighten themselves out as the year went on. I knew how I would reward individual students, I knew how I was going to do class points, and I knew that instead of my 4 teams I would just use the groups the students use in all their other classes. I probably should have done a full run of my slides since I had a few mistakes, but I saw the lights come on as they answered questions. More importantly, since stamping their nametags is a new procedure I've introduced, they were all curious and ready to participate before I explained how the stamps work because they just wanted to see my name seal.
Not all my students seemed too enthused to see me again. My classes definitely tried to get away with things like last year and flat out didn't listen until I put on the brakes. A few asked why they couldn't have the new teacher. They really wanted him. Another student gave me a hug and said she missed me. It was sweet. She's not my most advanced student, so I have to be careful to speak in simple words but I've always liked how she will talk to me a little or communicate in other ways. One of my students is already asking about English Corner. For as mixed as reactions have been, I’d like to think I did something right along the way and I’m hoping to do more of those this time too. Happy anniversary, Zhuzhou. Here's to a second first day and a second chance to be that better teacher!
I'm a 3rd year WorldTeach volunteer.