Well, the first day of teaching went by without a hitch! Though I will teach grades 5-8 plus international students, today all of my classes were different sections of grade 5. Some are definitely more advanced than others, but all of them have almost exactly 50 students each. Fortunately, for the fifth grade (and the sixth grade) classes, I have a Chinese teacher in the room to translate my instructions to the students when comprehension clearly is not happening. Unfortunately, even the Chinese English teachers, whose job it is to teach English to the students, have very poor and limited English abilities, frequently mispronounce English words like “shirt” (one teacher kept saying “shir-ta”) and even have difficulties communicating with us.
Today, seeing as it was my first day with these students, I kept it pretty easy. I introduced myself by teaching them my name and how to properly say it, I told I’m from the United States and that this is my first time in China, and I shared that I have a cat and a thirteen year old sister back at home in the States. I was trying to pick basic things they could latch on to. Then, I taught them the rules of my classroom (I’m trying to be a strict teacher in the beginning of the year hopefully to reduce future chaos and misbehavior), we played a role playing game with the rules, I taught them a greeting routine I will use at the beginning of every single class, and we played an ice breaker name game (because these students don’t know each others names). Overall, I think it went very smoothly. One student asked me where I live and I stupidly responded with “on campus” (like the kids) and another kid, once he found out I have a boyfriend, asked in front of the whole class if I have sex (that situation was quickly dealt with by my Chinese assistant teacher), but other than that the students were happy to see me and I enjoyed interacting with them and giving them all stamps on their hands or in their notebooks.
Duncan’s classes, however, seemed to be a little more frustrating and challenging than mine. Whereas I had all 5 sections of fifth graders today, he had only one or two sections of grades 1-4. The main frustration came from a fact that both of us have already noticed – that for a school claiming to be a bilingual school requiring students in grades K-8 to have English class once a day and to have oral English class (taught by foreigners) once a week all year every year they are here, the students have tremendously poor English skills. Even Duncan’s third and fourth grade classes had difficulty saying “Hello” and “My name is…” – things Duncan is expected to be teaching first graders this year. Because of this low level of comprehension and an even lower, if nonexistent, level of oral English skills, all of Duncan’s class plans had to be thrown out the window and he had to improvise several forty-minute classes.
From our experiences today, though, we have found that forty minute classes with fifty students goes by extremely quickly and we even found ourselves going over time in a couple of our classes. Once we get a better grasp of where all of our students are at and we all become more comfortable with each other, I do believe teaching will become more and more enjoyable.
The Hebei Baoding Eastern Bilingual School is a full-time, private boarding school on the outskirts of East Baoding. With about 2000 students, the school official teaches grades K-12, though only grades K-8 receive oral English classes and any other English classes are taught by Chinese teachers with the sole aim of making a good score on the GaoKao (the Chinese SAT or ACT on mega-steroids because your score will ultimately decide what school you go to and what job you will eventually have). With about 50 students per class and about five sections within each grade, Duncan and I both teach about 250 students in each grade level. Thus, we are ultimately teaching around 1000 students each week. On the plus side, most of the teachers and very friendly and will say “Nihao” or “Hello” to you whenever they see you. All of the teachers who have assisted us in direct tasks have been very helpful and I’m glad that we weren’t left to fend (more) for ourselves. The students, too, are very friendly and they just seem to want to come up to us foreign teachers, practice their English, wave, and tell each of us shyly that we are very handsome or beautiful, respectfully.
We have only been teaching for one day, but we have already been mentally stimulated by the comparisons between American schools and this (which seems to be very typical) Chinese school.
Despite our initial resistance, this is already proving to be a very eye-opening and rewarding (and definitely interesting) experience and I am very much looking forward to getting settled into a teaching routine where I can feel I am actually teaching these students something.
To end this post, I would like to say a very warm thank you to everyone who is supporting and encouraging us on this adventure. We could not do it without you!