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Published: October 14th 2009
First of all, I want to say thanks to everyone who sent me a birthday message, they really cheered me up this morning. Perhaps not making a big deal about your own birthday actually turns out to be more profitable, because as people find out they missed the date itself, they want to celebrate belatedly. For example, I didn't have to pay for food all day yesterday (day after I turned 21)-- a Chinese friend treated me to lunch, then two Korean classmates took me to a Hot Pot restaurant for dinner. 生日快乐！
Classes and weather are as normal, so I'll just talk about my experience teaching English here.
Two days ago, last monday, was my first day of "classes." Actually, first of all, let me explain my position: The students at Sichuan University's new campus are required to take English, and China's government requires university-level English to include instruction by a native speaker. So, their classes are two days a week (45 min each), once with a Chinese teacher to explain writing/reading/grammar, once with a "foreign teacher" (ex. me) to teach speaking and listening. We're paid 100RMB per class. Each class is different. We were given no syllabus to teach from and one (not so great) textbook that not every class is using. We're a requirement fulfilled, in some respects.
But then again, we're also necessary. These freshman have mostly taken English since the beginning of middle school, so 6 or so years now. So maybe their reading and writing is good. I don't know, I don't teach that. But because they've never heard, native (authentic?) English spoken at them, I'd say 10% of what I said in class Monday was understood. Some students, less. I am literally their first introduction to native-spoken American English, and I didn't realize how big a difference such an introduction makes until Monday. They're all very bright students (you pretty much have to be exceptionally intelligent to get into a top-10 Chinese university like Sichuan U.), so it's of no fault of their own abilities or efforts, but only the top few students in each class have adequate English at this point. After just 2+years of Chinese (with native Mandarin-speaking teachers), my pronunciation and listening comprehension is better then the vast majority of my English students.
So, yeah, this job will be hard. I will not have a large influence if I simply assign homework, have them listen to tapes and read dialogues out loud. That's what they have been doing, and it has not been working. Perhaps not being given a curriculum to teach from, which at first seemed a nuisance to me, may actually be a blessing. I can teach them some new ways. I plan to play games in class where they will have to be able to listen to me and talk to each other. My first day, I just split students into groups of 4 and had them introduce themselves to each other, then one person from each group introduced their "new friends" to the rest of the class. Some funny mishaps/admissions there: One guy introduced his two guy friends as "sexy," and another said he really liked American girls, but liked Chinese girls more.
But this is the type of thing I wanted. I teach mandatory English classes. The students are not English majors, and probably do not want to be there. They will not learn English if they don't like to learn English and don't like me. So I crack jokes, describe new words by acting them out in front of the class, and so forth. Next week, I told the classes to study up on the names of body parts, but not why. Next week, we will be playing "Simon Says" in class--it's honestly the best way I could think of to make them try to concentrate on listening, and to get them looking up practical, necessary words on their own.
Also, it's something the entire class can to together. It will be hard to engage an entire class of 40-50 for 45minutes, when the proficiency levels are so disparate. Their practical English skills have not been tested yet. As the first foreign instructor these students have ever had, I'm their litmus test as well as introduction to native English. Whew. I'll actually be earning this $$
Actually, I've also picked up an additional teaching gig for just this week. The son of a friend of my Chinese teacher is preparing to take the TOEFL test this Sunday, which tests a student's ability to speak English as a second language. It's hugely stressful and important in countries not names USA/England/Australia/New Zealand, and a huge determinant in acceptance of foreign students to overseas universities.
This in mind, I'm being paid by this 18-year-old robotics whiz to just have extended conversations in English, because he plans to apply to Florida U. and UC-Berkeley, but feels his current TOEFL mark is insufficient. So yesterday, tomorrow and Friday, I will meet with him for three hours each afternoon to help him practice speaking and listening. 300RMB per session. I made $40 USD yesterday to drink chysthanthemum(sp?) tea and talk about basketball.
I'm in the money, folks, and it's thanks to no special skill of mine. I'll end this post on that note.
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