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.
So my field director finally made it out to observe both me and my site mate this past week. I've been trying to be tough and enforce my rules strongly so that I wouldn't have too many problems but that was all a crazy dream I guess...long story short, even if I am very good at breaking down difficult things, testing for comprehension, guiding students through practice exercises and finally bringing them to an independent activity where they can be creative, my classroom management is lousy. I need to be consistent with my rules and truly demand respect as I ask for in my class rules. I need to not only say "follow my rules" but provide a means of immediate feedback and show them that I am willing to follow through on what I say. Unfortunately, my red and yellow cards somehow went missing so I was unable to card students who were misbehaving later in the week. I guess that one class must still have them so I need to make new ones or something. It was awful. People are saying I shouldn't be so hard on myself, but I've found I need to stop listening to that. I was right before when I said I did not have the classroom I needed and now I've paid for it both in failing to keep an orderly and safe classroom and in embarrassing myself in front of my field director who proceeded to ask me questions about the noise level of all my classes (they are all noisy, but they are nothing like what I saw when he observed me) and I am all too aware that he could have really dug into me but I think his professionalism restrained him from doing so. Other teachers have assigned me assistants to do the points themselves because I'm terrible at rewarding students properly, being consistent, and working hard to keep students in line. It really really hurts but I got what I deserved for not being that authoritative figure (authoritative is not the same as authoritarian by the way, authoritative figures are demanding, but they give reasons for being demanding and are warm while authoritarian figures demand obedience without warmth). I NEED to be that teacher and right now I am not. This is an urgent thing that I must take care of and it surprises me that so many tell me to relax about it. But my field director was right: I need to be assertive and demand the respect that is mine and my students'. I am a teacher and should be treated as any other teacher here, and my students need to not only learn but have somewhere safe and orderly to learn, not the madness I witnessed on Wednesday and failed to properly address. There are no excuses for this. These are supposed to be the things that I am trained to address and I have not done so as I was trained to do.
While others think this is forgiveable for a new teacher, I do not find this forgiveable. When my students do not respect me and do not respect each other, I am not respecting their potential and their ability to do what they do for every other teacher. In the grand scheme of things, what I ask for is small and I refuse to spend anymore time listening to people who say I am too anxious and I need to just "chill out". If this is about my confidence issues, then starting now I will tell you that I've learned that I have clearer vision than I gave myself credit for and a much better understanding of where I should be than others have given me credit for. Call it intense and crazy, but I read once that lying about your strengths is still lying. I can see what I need to do and who I need to be, it's part of the job and self-awareness has always been one of my strengths. It's what allows me to see and admit that I have work to do here instead of feeling like it's "close enough". My job is to put as many things in place as I can to discourage disrespectful behavior though inevitably students will have bad days for all kinds of reasons. I am angry, but not at them and not at my field director. I am angry with myself but I also know that barb inside of me is what will push me to demand what they are capable of. They know I am kind and willing to share what I know already. Someone talked before about how my students love me, but though love and respect go hand in hand they are not the same thing and I can probably say some students have lost a lot of respect for me because I have not been the person I need to be. No more. I am laying it down clearly next class and asking for the same treatment they give their other teachers.
So I get paid tomorrow and I'm really excited. I didn't save as much as I meant too, but I did manage to hold onto a little over 20% of what I earned. I already have a sheet of paper with some projected expenses for food, an air filter for winter, and a remote for powerpoint presentations. As of right now, I have a pretty sizeable sum left that has not been allotted to any expense or saving (unless I go to Changsha for Thanksgiving which I've heard is pretty expensive) so I'm feeling pretty good about possibly saving even more this next month.
The hard times have continued too. On Thursday, I didn't have any classes due to an exam that the 9th graders had to take this past week. So I was sleeping in pretty late (around 11:00AM) when I heard a clicking sound coming from my door. Thinking that the door should not be clicking unless I was unlocking it, I walked over in my pajamas and arrived in time to see my door open and a pair of big eyes (whether they were actually big or seeing someone not really dressed and standing in the dark and reaching for the door handle was a complete shock that made his eyes big, I'm not sure) looking in. I responded pretty quickly: I shut the door in his face, pulled the handle up to lock the door again, found that I hadn't used the second lock and turned that too since he had clearly gotten past the first lock, and went to get changed so that I could walk outside and inspect the lock for any scratches or something that could tell me if I had been careless the night before and simply forgot to lock it (and if someone happened to think my room was someone else's and accidentally let themselves in). However, when I came back I found that I couldn't get the door open. No matter how many different ways I played with the lock, I wasn't able to move it. So I messaged my liaison and sent an email to the field director so that they knew about the situation. My liaison got help right away. I wasn't locked into my apartment anymore than an hour when the locksmith got through and spoke to me with the help of another teacher from my school. Then I had to stick around so that I could give the police a report a little while later. I was given a demonstration of how to lock my door, which was well-intentioned but still kind of stung after going through that incident.
I've played through that day a few times in my head since. I keep asking myself if the door was actually locked, but since the I got up as a result of hearing something at the door my guess is that it was locked and the guy was working away at the lock. My guess is also that when I shut the door, whatever he used to work through the lock got stuck in there and made it hard to for the mechanisms to work properly. I can also say that making sure I had used the second lock falls on me, though even if the door didn't open I'd probably have to report an attempted entry. From what I understand, this kind of thing is relatively rare but since we had a previous incident that was very similar to mine about a month ago, there are a lot of questions about whether the foreign teachers should be moved, if the school can get double doors and security cameras installed in addition to the newly installed gate we got after the last incident. I hate the idea of moving, but I might not have a choice if it's for our safety.
Adding to all this, I tried to find one of the English teachers to ask for Chinese lessons but either he changed his schedule for the day or he's caught up in something I don't know about. I'm sure he's busy and has a load of things to take care of, so I didn't push too hard. But then he passed by my classroom during a particularly noisy moment and looked at me. So I feel really embarrassed about what a colleague I respect a lot must think of how well I do my job, and how that might affect my asking for Chinese lessons from someone who already has a teaching job and a lot of work to do. One of the head teachers offered an assistant in one of my other classes too, which was actually ironic given that the class she was talking about is really well behaved.
Anyway, I've been stressed but I have to be ready for my classes tomorrow especially since it's Saturday. Students are usually a little wilder when they've only had one day for their weekend. Which is pretty understandable for a bunch of 13-year olds.
This past week has been hard for me. My students are feeling frustrated about not having their name cards and have instead asked me to keep track of points in the same way their other teachers do, except that I can't read Chinese and I'm not wholly sure how the different groups work in class. I also seem to be having problems asking students to write me a sentence using a preposition. It all seemed so clear when I was working on that lesson plan in Sichuan. I keep wondering what the other teachers must think of me and my loud classrooms, what they think of me writing 10 on the board at the beginning of every class and a chart for tracking team points. I keep thinking about what a terrible job I've done as a teacher this week, especially since I wound up playing hangman for 20 minutes everyday so far. And trying to model what I want them to do by writing a sentence has been tough. They just copy the sentence I have up there so I need to have a fill in the blanks thing instead.
I feel really incompetent and wonder if I'm actually doing my job. My students said it's OK because my class is usually really fun, but it's not their job to reassure me, it's my job to be ready to go everyday. I also found out that while I prepared this week's activity to go along with unit 4 in their textbook, they started unit 3 just yesterday. So I am too far ahead and out of sync with the other teachers. I plan on doing a better job of checking in with them by asking one of the English teachers for Chinese lessons. That way, I not only gain a little more independence by learning more Chinese but I'd have a set time when I was meeting with someone who teaches the same grade as I do. On the other hand, it's not like my prepositions lesson was without a purpose. I planned to have my students listen to the song, "This is Halloween" from The Nightmare Before Christmas (and possibly play the opening scene so that they could both listen and watch for fuller comprehension). The reason they're learning about monsters and prepositions now is so that I have enough time to go over other new words for their comprehension. Each class is only about 40 minutes long, I usually take 5 minutes to wrap up at the end with class points and performance,a review of the day's lesson, and a preview of next week's lesson. That leaves me another 35 minutes but I usually start with 5 minutes to review class rules and expectations, review last week's lesson, and give a quick preview of that day's material. So then I have 30 minutes to teach and ask my students to complete a speaking activity in class. The song is already 3 minutes long, I will need time to go over things they might not know, to ask questions and do other pre-listening activities, give them something to do while listening, and then follow it up with comprehension questions afterwards. And I don't want to overload them with new words. And I'm not paying for copies of this song for every student in my classes since I have over 500 students. That's a lot of paper. I want to share these things with them badly, but I feel that I may be asking too much of them if they're just starting the unit "Is this your pencil?". I'm also beginning to question my song and movie choice here.
I'm not so sure that I'm the teacher these kids deserve. I'll keep plugging away at my lesson plans to do all I can to be closer to that ideal, but I always feel so insecure especially when compared to the other teachers here. I realize this may just be a low point and that in many ways my position is very particular and faces a lot of challenges, one of which is that there are only two foreign teachers in charge of both the 7th and 8th grade oral English classes. I actually have it relatively easy teaching 13 classes and seeing them once a week. My site mate has to alternate schedules every week so she only sees them once every other week and she's taken on a total of 22 classes, she just doesn't see all of them in one week. I have a greater chance of building relationships with my students since I see them more frequently and can better pace their workload to more or less cover the same material in one week. So there's really nothing for me to cry about, I just feel really incompetent.
So my plan for working more closely with the 7th grade English teachers is as follows:
It's not much for now, but I think just these two things would help immensely. I already have been developing relations with my students by eating lunch with them and listening to music together after class. Though since we watched Spongebob in one of my classes last week they wanted to do it again. Sorry, kids. That was a fun day but I can't do that everyday. I want to be better because I really enjoy seeing my students grow and speak a little more each week, but in my enthusiasm I sometimes forget what level they're at...
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