Thursday, 03 December, 2015
I have learned that I am probably not destined for any kind of career in journalism, as I find it difficult to keep up with my writing. It has been a month since my last letter, in which I described the training I went through for teaching English as a foreign language. While it has only been a month, considering my weekly schedule, a lot can happen in this short time.
Each week I teach each class in my school once – that is eighteen classes in total. At the beginning of my weekly cycle (which is on Wednesday), I have the quickest and most focused students. I use this day to test out my new lesson plan for the week. I can assume that anything these classes have difficulty with will be of greater difficulty to the others. On Tuesday (the last day in the cycle), I have the slowest and least focused students. By the time I teach my Tuesday classes the lesson plan has changed considerably. Six of the eighteen classes are of the highest grade, 初三 chu’san – approximately equivalent to American 9th grade – which I make a different lesson plan for, as they are of a significantly different maturity level and are also preparing for their high-school entrance exams, which are extremely important in China.
The weeks immediately following the training I focused primarily on classroom management practice. Such as, implementing rules to be repeated at the beginning of each class, moving around the classroom more, having the students make name cards, and teaching them how to quickly move all of their desks to the edge of the classroom and form a horseshoe out of their chairs. (This last task is very entertaining, because the first time can take ten to fifteen minutes to do, but with clear instructions and a single practice-run the students can rearrange the room in thirty seconds. All the while the other teachers watch in horror, and then later, when it’s done quickly, in amazement.)
I had one particularly disappointing week, in which I tried to implement, what students of Steiner schools call, a Main Lesson Book. If you are unfamiliar with this, you can perhaps imagine an unusually artistic textbook, but it’s made by the students themselves. This seemed to be going fairly well, and my instructions were growing more and more clear. Finally, however, on my last two days of the “experiment,” the classes failed almost entirely in understanding what they were doing (even with the help of their Chinese teachers). Or, perhaps I failed in relaying the idea. My final class of the week essentially spent forty minutes being totally confused and distracted, and getting in trouble for “breaking” the rules. I had to explain at the end of class, in Mandarin, that perhaps this was too new and confusing and that they do not need to worry about it (basically trying to pardon everyone).
However, as my comfort with the situation grew, and my drive to do well fatigued, I relaxed into a very loosely planned lesson about food. This lesson involved no media (which often fails due to technical problems), but relied on language and a little imagination. By the second lesson I had turned the whole thing into a game, and all of the sudden something happened, which I had never seen before: the students began raising their hands to answer questions! By the third lessons I had this sensation of seeing students I had never seen before, I think because they had never had their head up before.
So, I turned my lesson plan into a bit of fun and games, but not quite by intention. Rather, I tried to put the minimal amount of effort into the planning, while still ensuring a functional plan, and let creativity during the lesson take over. And, success!
Next week I am off to Nanjing for more training. This time the group of would-be teachers, myself included, get to observe some real lessons, and we will receive some teaching materials and curriculum guide. Perfect timing. What have I learned about teaching? First, try, then try again, then again, then again, then get some minimal training, then try again, then, after several failures watch some examples and receive some guidance. Yet, after talking to some experienced teachers, both here and in Seattle, it seems it never really gets easy; but knowing myself, it could get fun.
Holiday Greetings (Yeah, I’ve been studying American holiday culture, to teach my students. They think I’m American!)
The Solitary Interpreter
P.S. I want to add photographs to some of these letters, but the internet in my area is quite terrible. I will do what I can.