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Published: October 11th 2010
I is an English teacher now.
Today will be my third day of teaching, and I am starting to get the hang of it.
(OK, not really.) Putting the kids at ease, making them laugh and helping them with their pronunciation is not a problem; I seem to have natural teaching ability. After all, I was severely reprimanded in the fifth grade for being the "class buffoon".
There are, of course, obstacles that are a challenge. For example, cultural habits that inhibit individuality and independent thought are one of the roadblocks for the Western teachers here. These kids have always learned by rote; they have always recited as a group. In Berkeley "schools", it was the exact opposite. I am drawing a lot from my history as a bored pupil, my general distrust of teachers and I am trying my hardest to be empathetic. Putting myself in their shoes, as it were (And by the way, these kids wear awfully small shoes!).
One of the nice things about working with these kids is that they are, for the most part, average and normal. Whereas in the big city, I would be faced with the spoiled children of rich people
(who can afford to pay big bucks for lessons), our lessons are subsidized by the government and intended for those in small towns who would normally not have the chance. This is also the first opportunity that these kids have ever had a genuine, white-faced foreigner speaking directly to to them, and a very large one, at that. This town doesn't have any other lao wai
(foreigners) residing here. Here in Yutai, the locals speak a very regional dialect in addition to Mandarin
, so these kids are actually learning a third
language. Imagine that!
I have been teaching a variety different ages. Little kids, approximately aged six to eight.
We do a lot of learning the names of colors, animals and sports. Helping kids properly pronounce "volleyball" is a hoot. Most of the time is spent playing games, games with a purpose. To teach the names of animals, I get to utilize my hidden talent at animal imitation. I do a great donkey. My dog impression is without par. My pig sounds could win awards.
The little kids have unlimited energy and are downright wiggly, so a lot of stuff is physical. I am now quite familiar with "Head, shoulders, knees and toes, (knees and toes)"
. The kids love it. And being young and spry, it is easy for them. At my ripe old age, however, this becomes actual exercise
and anyone who knows me knows that I don't do exercise
. For that matter, I don't think that I have even seen
my toes since 1965. To make matters worse, the song is an earworm
. I can't get it out of my head, knees and toes. My favorite classes are with the intermediates, their age being equivalent of Junior High schoolers.
These kids, for the most part, have been taking English for years. They just need a lot of help with their pronunciation. We can have actual conversations. From these conversations, I now know that they like Justin Beiber, Michael Jackson, the Backstreet Boys and Lady Gaga, whoever the hell that is. I just may have to introduce them to the music of Tom Lehrer.
I now know that their favorite school subjects are Chinese and Physics (WTF?) and there is a universal dislike for Mathematics. We have a lot in common.
Oh, and by the way: their first period (a sort of study hall) starts every morning at 7:30 am. They are pretty serious about education.
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