Published: March 13th 2011March 13th 2011
''Johan Lao shi, you are ugly!'' Something I had to hear often during my two years and three months teaching English in the north of China. This phrase was very popular with my young students, kids aged 6 to 10. It didn't bother me the slightest though, in fact, I liked it! Grammatically correct, and it proved they had remembered at least one of the adjectives I had taught them. The fact that the unit which included this particular adjective was about pet animals and not about people proved they were able to use the learned vocabulary in a broader spectrum of language than I had taught them.
Other adjectives or nouns popular with the kids to describe me were 'fat', 'monster', 'gorilla' and the less frequent 'Johan is a girl!'.
Teaching in China really is fun (most of the times). Partly due to the fact I think that these kids that come to private language schools have such a hard (and boring) time at their local schools. Especially middle school students have a difficult time, amplified by the pressure coming from their parents being a (most often) single child. During weekends and holidays they get huge quantities of homework,
requiring most of their free time to finish. Even worse, I have heard that much of that homework is never checked, neither returned by the teacher due to the volume of work that teacher would have then. Moreover, in the evenings and weekends these kids are sent to extra classes, like our school to learn English, learn to play a music instrument or just general 'make up classes'. Sometimes Chinese teachers will bring down the score of a student so the parent will decide to send it to that same particular teacher who offers make up classes at their home (for cash, of course)!
Therefore, I have always tried my best to make my classes interesting, and more importantly, FUN! It's got to be fun when you've just been to school all day, been taken to a quick dinner by a parent (or sometimes that part is skipped) and then taken to English class before going home and finish all the work given by their local teachers.
Amazingly, most of them still not only had the energy to join in the class, but the drive and motivation as well!
Chinese students are very motivated, ambitious and driven!
Slightly more challenging was teaching the middle school kids,
who sometimes are not compliant with what they've been told to do by their parents, who would much rather be home and spend the little free time they have playing computer games. Which really are a problem by the way. That's my opinion anyway, I mean when asked ''what do you like doing'' to practice the present continuous tense for instance, the answer will most frequently be ''I like playing computer games''. And that's not because that's all they know how to say coz they are taught a variety of verbs, it's because that's what Chinese kids do a lot of the time. And fair play, when you're from a large city, and most Chinese kids are, and you live in the north of China where temperatures are too low to even think about being outside for 7 months of the year, what else is there to do? And so many are pushed to their limits by their families to succeed, be successful and mostly, to become rich, a novelty it seems most Chinese are focused on.
For the first few months in Baotou I also taught at a local kindergarten, kids aged 2-5 or 6.
One day when
I arrived I noticed the decoration on the inner walls of the schools compound. Upon looking closer, I saw photos hanging between the pictures made by the kids. Leaning in to get a better look, I recognized myself in some of the pictures! Apparently, upon asking around, the school was advertising the fact that they had a foreign teacher... A very good example of how incredibly popular everything foreign is, attracting students with having a foreign teacher. I have to say, some of the local teachers, mainly the younger girls were very interested and tried really hard. When singing songs and doing rhymes with the kids, I would see them standing in the back and mimic the things I did or say to improve their pronunciation and what not.
A few times a year we had to go to local schools to do demo classes. Mayhem! OMG, signing autographs,screaming, pulling!! Like being a bloody movie star, walking around these massive schoolyards followed by dozens of kids... Crazy, but a good experience!
What's most amazing: Imagine a middle school somewhere in Europe, Canada, USA, Britain, Ozzie or NZ with a 1000 kids and 0 teachers on the playground
....!!! NEVER! Well,
it's possible in China! When the bell rings, or in fact the song starts playing to mark the end of their break time, all kids gather in lines, according to class. Each class has an assigned leader (teachers' favorite I guess, or the kids with the highest paying parents;) who guides the class back into the building, starting with the row / class nearest to the doors, finishing with the farthest... All without any visible teacher present. Incredible! Something you'd want to see for yourself actually, too bad I never got good photo's or video's of it....
I really enjoyed teaching all these great kids (and adults) and maybe they'll remember me one day when they're all business people and the likes, in the time that China is the worlds' largest economy and dominates the stage...
There are more photos below