Published: September 25th 2011September 19th 2011
I started teaching Sept 5 this year, the latest I've ever started a fall term in China. I'm teaching ten classes again, 2 hours each; I do not have an English corner and I'm quite happy about that. Nine of my ten classes are Business English classes, and one is a class of art students. All of them have pretty good English and good attitudes and senses of humor.
This year we're doing things a little differently. Because we're getting evaluated by some important people from Beijing later this year we're trying to make the classes a bit more uniform from one teacher to the next. I do think this is a good idea so that our students can have the ability to improve as much as the students in the next room. Of course, it all depends what the student puts into it. But at least this way we're covering similar material and vocabulary. I'm not a fan of the book I'm supposed to use, but it does have some good vocabulary in it that I can use for other activities.
The first week is always the hardest even though you'd think it should be the easiest. On one hand it's the standard introductions lesson plan so they get to know you and you get to know them. On the other hand, you've got two hours to built and establish rapport with 20+ students to last for the rest of the term. You need to show that you're in charge but friendly, compassionate but fair. And you need to be running at 110% for each class, even though the heat and humidity make you want to go home, hide in the air conditioning, and take a nap. (The heat index was over 100 degrees each day.)
My first week was spent introducing myself and asking them for good and bad questions to ask a foreigner. While it is perfectly acceptable to ask a Chinese person how old they are, how much money they make, or their phone number upon meeting, these aren't usually good questions to ask a foreigner you've just met. I'm always sure to explain why these are not good questions in American culture.
To help build rapport I also take my students' photos with their names on the chalkboard behind them. Three students to a photo make it easy to study the photos and learn most of the names by the second week if combined with taking attendance out loud. When I took photos in my art class (art classes are notorious for having unmotivated students or students whose English is weaker) my students started working on something in the corner of the room. I wasn't sure what they were up to, but at the time my only concerns were taking the photos and making sure my skirt didn't fly up with the fans on high.
When I called the names of three students they walked up, turned and faced me, stopped smiling, and held up papers with their student numbers on them. Then they turned 90 degrees and held the position. Mug shots. The next group also went up with papers, but one student drew a height chart on the board. Finally, one shorter girl drew an arrow up to her name so that it would be obvious that her
name was June.
It was at about that time that the three fans got the better of me (most classrooms only have two... and different air currents) and I had my own Marilyn Monroe moment. After the whooping died down and my face returned to its normal shade, I was relieved to see that the students did get up and turn down the fans. I've been wearing capris ever since.
The second week of classes was Mid-Autumn Festival so Monday there were no classes and Tuesday only half the students were in attendance. (Knowing your lesson will reach only half your students is demotivating.) The third week was the first normal week and the first real chance to get a sense of my students' abilities; the first week everyone is too nervous except the extra-confident students and the second week the vibe was off. So we just finished up week three of our term, week four of the students' term, and in one more week it will be another holiday for Oct 1 (National Day, the equivalent of Chinese Independence Day).
For National Day break there's no school Oct 1-7, but then to make sure we don't have too much fun, er, get too far behind, we "make up" the 6th and 7th on the 8th and 9th. And then on Monday things go back to normal. Luckily for me, I only have one class on Thursdays and none on Fridays. I greatly prefer this to last fall when we made up Monday and Tuesday, when I had 4 classes (a 12 hour day) and 3 classes, respectively.
I'm doing exams this next week. The topic is to introduce yourself and have a three minute conversation with me. I hate that the exam time is so short. Some students have a lot to say and I use this time to get to know them (it helps me remember their names, too). But since class sizes jumped from 12-20 to 20-25, shortening the speaking time is the only way to fit them all in in the time allotted. I hate cutting my students off--it feels counter productive.
In other exciting news, my blog has won two awards in two weeks! Last week one of my Macao Senado Square photos won the Photo of the Week award on TravelBlog. This week I won Blogger of the Week! Both of these awards were quite a surprise and I'm thrilled. I know my regular readers enjoy my blog, but it's really nice to receive recognition from a group of unbiased people.