Two weeks of teaching done! Two weeks of filling young minds with knowledge. Two weeks of standing in front of 20-30 sharp Chinese youngsters, spouting wisdom in my mother tongue. Two weeks of earnestly hoping that I’m not being a complete failure at my new job.
So here’s how the training process was when I showed up in late August. “This is your schedule, and these are a couple of textbooks. OK have fun!” The finer points of teaching (where my classes were, how many students would be in each class, whether I had to take attendance, how to grade performance, and basically every other aspect of being a teacher) were left to my imagination.
Luckily, when nobody gives you directions, you get to do whatever you want. Smiley faces mean they completed their homework 🙂 Take note of some of the more… creative names. Snowflake? Arethusa?! LOVE IT.
So, without any clear guidance, I did what any other red-blooded American would do. I winged it. Winged it hard. In my first class, Intercultural Communication, we played a getting-to-know-you game called “Guess the Lie.” In it, I wrote two facts and one lie about myself on the board (I’ve flown upside down in an airplane; my favorite music genres are metal and classical; I can squat 200 pounds), and the students had to guess which was which… Oddly enough, the one they thought was completely inconceivable was my favorite music genres. Silly kids, AS IF these legs could squat 200 pounds! Then we went around the room and everyone told a truth and a lie about themselves. My favorite was one girl saying that her hair was naturally curly… I’m sorry, dear, but we all know that’s not true. Then we plunged into the textbook. Until I realized how truly terrible the textbook was and resolved never to use it again. However, if anyone needs some light reading to help them fall asleep at night, I have just the thing!
My second class was basically a disaster. My only plan going in was to get to know the students a bit, then read a few articles from the textbook. It would have been great, except the students had a different textbook than me. While mine was somewhat informative, theirs opened with mini biographies on “famous” economists, to include what’s-his-name, his friend whosit, and my personal favorite, Karl Marx. I quickly discovered that reading from that book might possibly destroy my faith in humanity, so we played Pictionary for about an hour instead. Yes kiddies, you’re paying the big university bucks to play Pictionary with your clueless “foreign expert” (nbd, but I have the certificate to prove it.)
Annnnd I just killed a mosquito that squirted blood all over my hand. Great. The mosquitoes here are RAVENOUS MONSTERS. I have no fewer than 7 mosquito bites right now, and probably an 8th thanks to this recently-deceased mosquito bastard. My friend keeps telling me to spray my apartment to get rid of them… but I’m afraid I just don’t trust Chinese pesticides enough to not kill the mosquitoes AND me.
Back to classes. You know that stereotype of Asian students sitting in a classroom staring at their books and not answering the teacher’s questions? OK, I don’t know about the rest of Asia, but I can totally vouch for China. It’s true. They will ignore the shit out of teachers. Unless you point at a specific student to answer a question, they would rather sit in a silent classroom until the bell rings than speak up. Even when the question is simple, like “What did you do last weekend?” (nothing) or “Did you do your homework?” (silence). Most classes have at least a couple of people who will say something when the silence gets painful, but one of them (yes, non-English major post-grads, I’m talking about you,) they leave me hanging all the time. Also, they didn’t know what “awesome” means. They do now, don’t worry.
Another cultural difference: cheating. Take my class earlier today, for example. I gave my class a short quiz on American culture, which I had told them about last week. Before we began, I gave a speech like this: “While you’re doing your quiz, remember that there’s no cheating. That means you don’t talk to your classmate, you don’t look at their quiz, and you certainly don’t use your notes. Everyone understand? NO CHEATING. ” Of course, as soon as I start writing the quiz questions on chalkboard, I hear all kinds of chatter behind me. Later, as I was walking between rows, I noticed several students blatantly copying answers off of another quiz. And another student, using his notes. Insanity. I gave them a mini-lecture on how cheating is generally frowned upon (punishable by death) in America, and how I won’t tolerate it, but something tells me a 5 minute speech won’t change 20+ years of habit.
Past that, things are fine. Most of my classes are in stone age-era classrooms, with cute little wooden desks, a chalkboard, and no air conditioning. But who needs technology to teach language and culture, right? That’s why they pay us foreigners the big buckssss.
Best class so far: playing ultimate frisbee with my post-graduates. I think them learning a new game (and throwing a frisbee for the first time, can you believe it?!) was far more useful than trying to teach them a language that they will never use the rest of their lives. While most of the girls just stood around the entire game (I told them to at least stand in the end zone to help their teams out), there were a few girls getting really into the game. Break that cultural stranglehold, ladies! Show em that you’re more than a pretty face–you’re a pretty face that can throw and sometimes catch a frisbee!
So am I destined to became a teacher later in life? Absolutely not. But for the next nine months minus holidays, I will try to be the best damn teacher I can. Especially if it means spending a lot of class time playing sports.