The eighth graders are still my worst students. Despite my planning and my mistaken belief that I had figured them out, my class activities for the eighth graders yesterday did not keep them engaged and their behaviour was worse than before. It seemed that there were students continually throwing chalk at one another and then feigning stupidity when I confronted them about it and told them to go pick it up. When I was going around the room helping students to understand what they were supposed to be doing, a group of boys called me over just so they could try to stare down my shirt. Several other students threw books at each other from across the classroom.
Afterwards, I tried to ask some other teachers at the school for advice and they just thought the students didn’t understand me, which is why they were acting out. I thought that last time I taught them but well-behaved students in the classes this week taught me otherwise. Some students understood everything I was saying and were actively translating it into Chinese for the other students. Those who weren’t too busy acting out because they believe they can get away with it because I’m the foreign teacher, did a really great job and I was very impressed. This time, I tried more actively to positively reinforce the good behavior by thanking the good students.
My eighth grade classes in the afternoon were so bad I completely forgot about the great seventh grade classes I had in the morning. I returned to our rooms completely broken down, exhausted, and dreading today’s classes. I had planned to just go out and stay out in a quiet place until curfew.
But then we were invited to a “party” at the school to celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival so we decided to go check it out. We went to the soccer fields at 6:20, as the “invitations” (weird pink slips of paper) stated, and found 20-30 mini-bonfires surrounded by chairs and all of the students in grade 6 and below scattered around the fields. As Duncan and I walked by the different classes we were greeted by children screaming “HELLO!” and waving as hard as they could to get our attention.
We wandered around for about half an hour just saying “hello” back and greeting all of our students before one of the Chinese English teachers found us and told us “you can come over here so you can see everything better”. By this, it turned out, she meant, “come sit at the table next to the headmaster during speeches so a billion pictures can be taken of you”, which we did. After the hoards of pictures, we were told we were allowed to wander around the field and so we left our picture booths and joined the children at their bonfires.
As we joined different classes of students we were bombarded by the children, feeling free to interact with us in a non-classroom environment and we spent another hour just giving kids high-fives, playing and dancing with them, and getting Duncan’s very little kids to show me what they have already learned from him (“Hello”, “How are you?” and “I’m fine, thank you. And you?”). All of the girls wanted to touch my hair and the boys kept asking Duncan if I was his girlfriend. One little kid came up to Duncan and I, poked our cheeks, and told us, in Chinese, something about big noses. We think he was asking why our noses are big compared to his. Some kindergarteners, after I said hello and sat next to them, would just start rattling off in Chinese to me to which I could only respond “bu zhi dao” (I don’t know), which made them giggle even more.
The excitement from the kids really turned my whole mood around and made us feel really good about our involvement here at this school. I know we made the kids’ night, but I wish they could know they made our night too.
Today, I had four classes of eighth graders again. The two classes in the morning were no worse than the classes yesterday but the two afternoon classes, which were my worst Friday classes last time, were my best eighth grade classes this week. I changed the games around slightly for the two afternoon classes and that seemed to make a lot of difference. There still was a lot of chalk throwing and ill-disguised misbehavior, but I ended up having a good time in my afternoon classes. I rewarded one kid in my second morning class for being amazing by handing him my iPhone and letting him listen to an American song (Dog Days are Over) at the end of class and I had another kid in one of my afternoon classes convinced his task in life is to teach me Chinese but other than that nothing notable happened.
I’ve been amazed by how much Duncan has already taught his little kids (most of them started the semester without any spoken English ability) and I want to start seeing evidence of teaching new material to my kids. This weekend I will be focusing on creating lesson plans that teach the kids useful everyday English rather than textbook English. I’ve considered using American music in my seventh and eighth grade classes to keep them engaged and excited about English class.
For dinner we decided to try Mai Dang Lao (McDonald’s) and it’s just as bad here as it is in the States. It might be worse here because at least when you eat it at home, you don’t expect it to fill some American food void in your belly. We managed to find the only streets in Baoding that are still crazy busy (most of the traffic is gone for the holiday weekend) but we eventually made it to the coffee shop to begin our weekend quietly.
We ended our evening practicing the violin and eating moon pies. We don’t have any plans for this weekend so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens!
Zai jian! (Good bye!)