Sunday, 4 October, 2015
My dear readers,
Where have I been?
I have been living in Guangzhou city, in Guangdong Provence, in southern China for over two weeks. I have been brought here via a program called Ameson Year in China (A.Y.C.), to teach English. The deal is, I teach English and act as a kind of cultural ambassador and in return I get training (though not very much), a teaching certificate, a place to live, a one year resident permit, and a few other perks, and, of course, a meager salary. Some English teachers here think the pay is terrible, and it’s true that it is relatively low, but the added bonuses may potentially make it just as good as higher pay. Supposedly participants are also supposed to receive some Chinese classes and, at the end of the year, a reimbursement stipend for plane tickets. I have not heard any word on either of these bonuses and do not entirely expect them to be honored.
Besides the pay, however, there is the opportunity for me to return to China, and to resume my linguistic studies and career. Unfortunately, however, I have discovered that the lack of training and experience in teaching has left me quite overwhelmed with my work, leaving little time for study. I am expected to teach an entire middle school (grades seven through nine), approximately eighteen classes in all (six classes for each grade). I teach each class once per week, forty-five minutes classes. Add some time for lesson planning, which can easily take longer than the class time, particularly for a beginner like myself, and you have a twenty to forty hour-a-week job. This cuts into my linguistic study time quite severely, so I have made a goal: to become expert at streamlining my class planning, so that I can spend more time on studies.
I have received very minimal training, and still have a week long teacher training course to attend sometime in the next month. Until then, and after then, I am essentially on my own. The school administration, though they are willing to help me to at least be competent at my job, do not want to influence me so as to teach like they do (or so they say). My function in the classroom is to, one: get the students to communicate in English; two: present a standard English accent with common words and phrases which may not be present in the students’ regular English classes (usually taught with British English text books); three: to be natural and both display and present my native culture to the students. These things I must hold in mind when preparing my work, so as not to be distracted by the more rigorous role of teaching complex grammar, or reading and writing, or arduous vocabulary lists.
My first classes were a complete failure. I attempted to engage the students in a discussion about rules. This was far too advanced, and the students had no incentive whatsoever to join the discussion. My second attempt involved making a slide show about myself to present to the students. I revised this by having the students tell me about themselves, which taught me a lot. I learned first, that it is much better to have the students talking both for their practice, and for my voice. Second I learned that students are more likely to participate under certain conditions: one, they understand the material; two, I make them participate; and three, everyone must participate. Of course, I also learned a little about them personally (limited by their ability to speak of course).
As week three began I needed some new ideas. My first was a failed attempt at engaging the students in a complex dialogue. The dialogue was too complex and required too much explanation. The students quickly lost interest, or felt not up to the task. I quickly ditched that for a more simple approach, by asking simple questions in a regular conversational manner, and having the students answer in full sentences. Finally, I had the students engage in these dialogues with each other. This worked reasonably well, if only to make me not feel like an idiot.
I now have a week break for the (guoqing-jie) 国庆节, the National Holiday, celebrating the founding of the People’s Republic of China, now sixty-six years. During this break I am trying to break down, in my own mind, what is in a conversation: how they can start simple, and how they become more complex, and the variety of topics which might be discussed, and how frequently they might be discussed.
I am also trying to build a kind of toolbox of simple games and scenarios I might be able to present in class to add some fun and color to the lessons. But, I must remember, the number one goal: communication. Communication comes first, then learning and then fun.
This is what is currently occupying my mind and time. I hope that as I master this teaching I may find more time for my linguistic studies, and perhaps find tutors or classes, and maybe even some work.
Until next time,
The Solitary Interpreter