What do I say about teaching.... for the most part, it's great. Oftentimes I feel like I'm back in high school doing improv theater; it can be really fun. There are one or two kids who are constantly either sleeping or messing around with their phones all class.... I haven't really figured this out. I have been told that many of these students come from well-off families, and that coming to a program like this was their back-up plan in case they didn't do as well as they hoped on the college entrance exams. The pre-college system here is basically study your ass off until "the test," and then the university you go to depends on how well you performed on it. Wuhan University is a school which is very difficult to get into this way, but a program like the one I'm involved with offers the "brand name" of a degree from here, while providing the opportunity to study in an English speaking country. The only thing, though, is that in order to get into the program, you need to be able to pay. I have to believe, though, that the disappointment of not killing the college entrance exam is the reason for their disinterest. I mean, I keep things so interesting! I tell funny stories that everyone can understand, and we play a game at least once a week. Anyway other than that, the most difficult part about teaching them is the difference in each student's ability. I'll elaborate on that, but first I guess you should know that I only have two classes: a big one and a small one.
Big class: Very fun class to teach. This is a group of 44 students, all of whom will be leaving to study in Canada in two years. Thus, the pace is a little slower than the express class, and I usually spend most of the time trying to teach the correct way to say words (e.g. the difference between "th" and "s" sounds, or between "v" and "w" sounds), vocabulary, and practicing dialogue. Grammar and reading is taught by the other teacher, Ms. Tai.
What makes teaching this class so frickin difficult is that the difference in their levels is incredibly varied. My job is to make sure everyone is getting something out of each class, so it's tough to balance the needs of the advanced students and the beginners. For example, there are students who can write complicated essays with a good intro paragraph, body paragraphs, and conclusion, and there are students who incorrectly conjugate the verb "be" (I'm not kidding).
The dynamics of the class are pretty funny... the girls sit in the front middle of the class, and the guys form a "U" shape along the sides and back of the room, so they're totally isolated from the girls. There's even a buffer row of desks in between them. The girls are very adorable, fairly shy, and giggle every time one of their own has to answer a question from me. The guys for the most part are very studious and interested, but there are a few unmotivated emo types. Again, I do what I can! I think I handle the insult of students sleeping in class pretty well. I gently toss little pieces of chalk at them until they wake, or activate the speaker system and tell everyone to cover their ears, then play some dialogue really loud.
But, like I said, it's a really great job. The view from my classroom for the big class is nuts. I should be getting a camera soon, so I can show you what it's like.
Express Class: Again, another great class to teach with many characters. The class only has 17 students, all of whom will begin studying in Canada in January of '09. Because the class is smaller, a lot of the education and interaction is more personal. I'd say it's a little easier to teach them, too, since the difference in their levels isn't nearly as varied as the big class. But.... it's still varied. Here's one of my favorite quotes from the express class:
Me: OK, well before I talk about this paragraph, do we know what "atom" means?
4 students: Yes.
Me: (bracing to somehow describe what an atom is) Huh? Really? What does it mean?
Shirley: It means a very small thing, like of iron or of metal.
Me: Wow, very good... "atom"
Allen is a funny guy who can barely speak English, but the whole class likes him a lot, and he works as hard as anyone to learn. It's students like him why I spend so much time ensuring the fact that every student, not just the ones who can understand every word I say, are getting something out of a lesson. Though, Shirley is another reason why I spend just as much time addressing the other side of the spectrum. She is the best speaker of English in any of my classes, in fact one of the best I've met in China, and she knows a lot of words that many Americans don't. For example, she knew what ATM stood for, something that is just totally unnecessary. She baffles me on a regular basis.
Anyway so I guess it's pretty clear why this is such a challenging task. The other reason it's so time consuming is the... time it consumes. haha I mean, the number of classes I have is ridiculous, because three days out of the week, I have to come up with separate lesson plans for three different hour-and-a-half classes. Two days, (monday and friday), I only need to come up with two, but again, they have to be unique.
As you can see, Thursday morning is back-to-back classes with the Express class. This is what I refer to as "Face turn black Thursday," a reference to a joke that Allen made one day regarding a dissappointing lesson: I had come up with a lesson where I drew a character on the board, and gave him several features that the students needed to give recommendations to fix, but it failed miserably. I let the students break for a moment and pondered to myself for a minute, but the class was oddly silent during the break. Then Allen said "Face turn black!" which is Chinglish for "You look flustered." Thursday mornings are very difficult to teach even the most focused and energetic students and often causes an utterance of "Face turn black!" by students like Allen.
The classroom for the express class is in a different building than the one for the big class. The window has been open all year so far, which has honestly been paradise. The window is on the 3rd floor, overlooking some of the campus while brushing the canopy of the trees on the ground. Just one of many reasons I need a camera. I should be getting one any day now. Expect an avalanche of photos.