Since I last posted, we have had three more days of teaching and we are now back in the routine. The thrill and excitement of having a packed day every day in Beijing was a stark contrast to the quiet routine we have here in Baoding and, as a result, we have been bored and a little homesick; the past couple of days. We pushed through the slump, however, and today we had a good day.
Monday, I taught all of my sixth graders and spent the lessons reviewing prepositions and teaching the song “Octopus Garden” by The Beatles. That song has a lot of repetitive prepositions in it and allowed me to teach vocabulary in a more organic manner. Though a simple song, I realized the kids did not know a lot of the vocabulary related to “under the sea” so I spent a good portion of class just drawing an underwater scene on the board and labeling everything. They really enjoyed my drawing of a little fish being chased by a bigger fish with sharp teeth and a pointy dorsal fin like a shark. The kids enjoyed singing with me in class and now they definitely know the phrase, “I’d like to be under the sea in an octopus’ garden in the shade”.
My schedule this week and next is a little unusual because of a request by three of my seventh grade classes to have me more. Due to communication difficulties I’m not 100% clear on the whole situation but I believe, from what I have gathered, that these three seventh grade classes were going to have to miss my English class at some point in the future because of exams, but they requested to have my class at a different time this week rather than miss it in the future. Regardless of what the situation actually is, this means my students enjoy my class enough to make sure they don’t miss it! Despite their teenage eye rolling and their angsty teen expressions, I must be teaching them something or at least be enough of an amusement to them to not want to skip. I’m quite touched and very encouraged by this quiet success!
Because of this schedule change, however, Tuesday I taught from 8:00 – 6:00, easily making it the longest teaching day I’ve had. In my seventh grade classes, my lesson used the song “The Reason” by Hoobastank to teach different ways to apologize, ways of expressing regret, and the concept of “I wish”. Though somewhat difficult for them to understand at times, I think it was a great success and I am actually going to use the same lesson on my eighth graders tomorrow and on Friday.
Today, I had all of my fifth graders and they were absolutely delightful. We talked about what they did over the National Day Holiday and went on to learn and sing along together to the song “Hello, Goodbye” by The Beatles. Super easy to hear the English and with an upbeat tune, the kids had a blast singing along and doing outrageous pantomiming with me. I bet The Beatles never imagined that their music would ever be used to teach English to kids in China!
I’ve been encouraged this week by the realization that my kids are enjoying my classes and that I am, in fact, teaching them new English. All of my kids, aged 10+, are now coming up to me in the hallways and attempting to have conversations with me. And I’ve also now realized that any misbehavior from the students’ was an expression of boredom and disinterest in what I was doing and that it is my task, as the teacher, to find ways to engage all of the students as well as to teach them. These students have drills and facts hammered into them all day, every day, all year and they don’t (nor do I) want my class to be the same. It is my task and my responsibility to conduct my class in a way that makes them want to learn English regardless of a grade or other coercion. So if, by the end of this year, I have managed to make one originally disinterested kid somewhat more interested in learning English, even if it’s solely in the context of my class, then I will have been successful.
On that note, I hope that my eighth graders tomorrow will find the use of American pop culture interesting enough to learn the lesson; it definitely worked well on my seventh graders (even on the students who had been disruptive in every prior class).
Other than teaching, Duncan and I have just been getting back into our daily routine. Violin is coming slower to me than I’d like (mainly because I have no dexterity in my left hand) but my Chinese is coming along swimmingly. I got my hands on a workbook used by the international students here learning English and I am going to do some of it every night so I can start learning characters along with my oral language skills.
One final note about cultural differences that I noticed in one of my classes today – bodily noises are not nearly as humorous here as they are in the States. For example, today in one of my classes, a kid burped really loudly and I kind of started laughing but none of the other kids in the least. Whereas bodily noises like sneezing, yawning, burping, and farting are considered impolite social breaches in the US, not much attention is paid to them here. This made it pretty clear that the reason we laugh, especially middle school students in the States, laugh when someone burps or farts in class, is not because the noise is particularly interesting, but rather because someone of breaking a social norm. This tiny moment in one class had me thinking about the social construction of humor the rest of the day. I wonder what other situations are similar that I just haven’t noticed yet…
I’ll let you know how the rest of the week goes in a couple of days. Have a good rest of your week and thank you for reading!