Head & Shoulders

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October 6th 2010
Published: October 11th 2010
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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.


7th October 2010

Joe! Sounds like you're enjoying, so glad to hear that. You look right at home in the pictures and I'll bet the kids love you!
7th October 2010

Ahhh - so all the teaching jobs have moved to China
At least it's not because we are outsourcing. I guess I just need to be a little more geographically flexible. I love your post though, it sounds like fun. Keep 'em coming.
7th October 2010

There are tons of "real" teaching jobs available too that actually pay real money. Those ones are in the more desirable big cities, but you have to have the qualifications that you have and that I do not.
7th October 2010
Story time

Rapt Attention
I can't tell who is having more fun - you or the kids? You are definitely in the Zone.
8th October 2010

I loved reading this, Joe! I'm glad you're getting to share your self with these lucky kids.
8th October 2010

This sounds like a pretty good gig, actually. Be glad you get the normal kids--I've taught the rich ones for six or so months, and it is indeed a burden. Discipline is hard coming, behavior is often just on this side of outrageous, and the parents are often complete nightmares. And this is the main impression I will have of China!! Also glad to see you can reach out to them naturally, using humor. I'm the opposite, and it makes the job painful. Good for you!
8th October 2010

Ni hao
Hi Joe, I'm thoroughly enjoying your blog entries - have you really only been gone a week? The back porch here is empty and getting colder. We sit out there for lunch but we miss the internet cafe. I'm sure being the resourceful type that butter is in your future. Let us know when you find it and how it compares to ours. hui tou jian! Betsy
9th October 2010

Hi Joe! Wow! You jumped in to the teaching quickly! Did you take the TOEFL class? I love the photos with you and the kids. Your photos brought me back to my teaching days in Italy. I have a lot of good lesson plans if you need them. XO Laura
12th October 2010
My Intermediate class

Tall kids?
Gee Joe, those kids look tall or is it an illusion? Interesting the way the students are backed up against a wall for their lessons. Is it because the room is long and not very wide? I have so many questions...
13th October 2010

These are Junior High School kids, and yes, they are tall. I am in the north where people are almost as tall as I am. The Chinese that we grew up with are all from the south, where people are downright short. This classroom is in our private school; it is not a public school. The public schools look just like Garfield.
13th October 2010

You are a teaching natural, pig sounds and all.
8th November 2010

yesh yoo bee a teechur now
Joe, it is apparent that you are a natural at this...

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