I can’t believe we’ve already been here for 78 days and have completed our tenth week of teaching.
This week’s classes were a lot of fun! We had fewer classes than usual because morning classes on Wednesday for primary school students and Friday morning classes for middle school students were cancelled because the students had exams. This meant that I saw only one fifth grade class on Wednesday and only taught five eighth grade classes this week.
My lesson for the sixth graders covered months, seasons, weather, appropriate clothing, and seasonal things to do outside. Though most of the vocab was review, they seemed to enjoy learning “swim suit” (which they would not stop calling a “swimmy suit”), “umbrella” (aka “umbreller”), “rain boots” and “rain coat” (which they called “rainy boots” and “rainy coat”).
The past several weeks I have been teaching two or three different lessons to my seventh grade because cancelled classes have made it so that all of the classes have not had my class the same number of times. For some classes this week I combined two lessons and for other seventh grade classes I just played games all of class to try to get everyone on the same page. All of my seventh grade classes have now had the same material, but because of the class cancellations this week (and last), now I have one fifth grade class ahead of all the other fifth grade classes and another class two weeks behind the others (on top of them already being the class of transfer students that have a lower English level than the rest of the grade).
I played the same game with all of my classes this week just at varying levels of difficulty appropriate to the most recent lesson material and grade level. It proved to be a very successful game that I will definitely play again in the future. I divided the class into three or four teams depending on size and divided the chalkboard into sections according to the number of teams. I then wrote down some words that the students had to unscramble into a grammatically correct sentence in order for their team to get a point.
Before I played the game I was doubtful that they would see the game as fun and would see it more as a classroom exercise, but their enthusiasm (in all classes) astounded and encouraged me. My most advanced seventh grade class played it almost the entire class period because they were enjoying it so much. It really seems to be a great game because the entire class gets engaged and really into telling their teammate at the board how to write the sentence correctly and they all end up speaking in English without even realizing what they are doing. For this reason, I used more practical sentences for my eighth grade (such as “I would like a ticket to Beijing, please” and “I am learning English”) to give them practice saying phrases they are likely to use in real-life rather than the lesson-appropriate sentences I used with my sixth graders (“Fall is cool” and “I like to go swimming in the Summer”). One of my favorite moments from this week’s game was when I had the students unscramble words to form the sentence “Alyssa is my favorite English teacher”. As I went through checking each team’s sentence I said, “thank you!” as if they had done it on their own and they all thought it was very funny.
On Wednesday when I had my one fifth grade class, the Chinese teaching assistant never showed up so I taught the entire class by myself. I was very proud of my students for how well they did understanding what I was saying and participating in the class without relying on a Chinese translation. When I started the class with my usual routine of asking them what they did over the weekend, one girl told me that it was her birthday. After she sat down, another girl stood up and said in front of the class that she went to her friend’s birthday party. It seems like a simple situation but keep in mind that these are 10 and 11 year olds telling me in correct English about their weekends. They really do astound me.
I’ve started hanging out with my students in their classrooms in the breaks between classes rather than reading in the hallway or in the teacher’s offices and this has proved to be very valuable and a lot of fun. During this time, I always have some girls messing with my hair, some boys pointing at different things either around the room or in books asking me for the English words, and other students just trying to tell me different things in English and Chinese. I get so encouraged by my students’ attempt to speak in English with me about normal everyday things rather than just following a memorized script or only talking in English when they have to in class. The more relaxed interactions with me in between classes rather than just with me as the English teacher at the front of the class is probably more valuable than anything I could teach them as a class.
My eighth grade classes, usually a source of much worrying and anxiety for me, were hugely successful this week and I couldn’t be happier with how they went. Some of the students are still troublemakers and seem to spend the entire class talking, throwing things, or messing with people, but as a whole they were all great. Because of the game I played with them, even the kids that normally sit in the back scowling at me with teenage angst came to the front, participated, and did really well.
I had a lot of funny moments happen in classes this week too. One eighth grader kept trying to flatter me however he could in English so that I would give his team more points and another kid’s voice cracked so loud and high that it scared me and I jumped. One boy, rushing back to his seat after writing on the board, slipped and fell on his back in the middle of the aisle in between desks as if he had slipped on a banana peel. And in another class, in the middle of the game I heard a loud pop like a mini explosion from the back of the room and I couldn’t figure out what it was. There were a group of students (where I suspect the noise originated) that kept looking at me and telling me “don’t worry about it” while all the kids around them were staring and pointing at them. I asked what the noise was (assuming a stool had broken, but no one seemed to be missing a stool) but I still have no idea what happened. It was pretty funny though.
I am so excited about this week because it seems I finally learned how to connect with my older students and play with them at the level they want to play at while (sneakily) forcing them to use English. Next class I am going to take my eighth graders outside – an option I gave them at the end of class that immediately made their eyes bug out of their heads and get super excited and become well-behaved.
For non-teaching news, it’s really cold here. I clearly wasn’t using my brain when I packed because I left my smurf suit (a blue wool body suit), leather gloves, and long underwear in the States. It seems that I forgot I was moving to the North of the globe when I was packing and, for a reason I cannot explain, decided it was better to pack a couple of sundresses rather than my winter coat. I’ve always thought I was a good and practical packer but after this oversight, I’ve decided I’m never allowed to pack by myself again.
But, we do now have heat in the room and it is the most amazing thing I think I’ve ever experienced. We were getting so cold at night before our heat was working that we were genuinely concerned for our safety come winter. Our washer was also fixed this week and now we can do a load of laundry in half the time and without the bathroom flooding because there is no longer a missing pipe on the underside of the sink (you have to turn the faucet on to get water in the washer). We discovered how to dry our clothes fast when we moved the drying rack by the window in our living room and turned on a fan that sucks air out of the room (like bathrooms in the States).
And though happy baozi man still hasn’t returned, as we’ve seen more and more street vendors disappear with the changing weather, we have become more confident that we will see him again in the Spring.
We’re spending the weekend in Baoding again just resting and staying warm. Soon, I am going to make another post about cultural differences I’ve noticed and more about what it’s like living in China as a meiguoren (American).
Have a good weekend and thank you for reading!