Wednesday, November 23, 2005

My Classes

On Saturday, I will have been in China for two months. There is so much to tell that I think I will start with the reason, I decided to come here in the first place; teaching English! The number of students in the school has grown considerably in the last few months; we now have approximately three hundred students. I have four classes with an average of thirty-five students; my largest and most challenging class has sixty students. About 90% of the students who attend Ming Quiao are planning to work in a relative’s restaurant, in the USA. The majority of them will be living in New York. Initially, I was surprised at the level of English, the students possess. For the most part they have a rich vocabulary, but don’t know how to structure sentences or construct their own. It is my job to teach them how to use English to express themselves; we work together on pronunciation and conversation exercises. It has taken some time for my students to get used to my teaching methods. They have been conditioned to learn English by repeating, the same sentence over and over again. My big challenge is teaching them how to think about the words they are familiar with. They seem to share a similar attitude where they don’t want to attempt to use words for themselves. They impose unreasonable expectations upon themselves by wanting the finished product to be right. It has to be perfect or they won’t > do it at all. They find a lot of my exercises difficult because I keep pushing them to figure out how to use the words they already know. This is a problem for them, because they are liable to make mistakes. They are even uncomfortable with some of the games we play because they are not as orderly or will not get the results they want. I tried the create a story game, where each student says one word to create a story together Many of my better students didn’t like it because they couldn’t control what was happened in the story. They also like to work independently (trying to get them to worth together in groups is like pulling teeth). I have finally found ways to overcome this, but it has been a very slow process. In time, they are growing accustomed to my western ways.
The other challenges that I have are typical for a teacher to face: noisy students, sleeping students, shy students and disinterested students. Of course, these students pay to come to school, so traditional disciplinary methods are ineffective. Like every other challenge, I am finding ways to handle the problem students but sadly, I have to ignore some of them. Another challenge, I am faced with is learning my students names, they are all in another language, and not easy to pronounce them.


One of the biggest things that concern me is my ability to effectively evaluate my students. When I first started teaching, I was taking attendance and monitoring each student’s progress, but because my class receives about three or four new students a day, I have abandoned all evaluation methods. I am just focusing on my immediate concern; teaching them how to think in English. Most days, I tend to constantly remind them about the importance of learning English if they want to live abroad. I fear that some of my students will end up in isolation and not be able to adjust to western life (if they don’t start taking language classes more seriously). I guess this is what being a teacher is about: being concerned about my student’s ability to fend for themselves in the ‘real world’ and encourage them to follow their dreams. I hope that they will not want to be waiters their entire life.

I have also had my battles with the administration. The head teacher is concerned that the students need to be entertained, and if for some reason they are bored, I hear about it. Since, when is learning as fun as an amusement park ride? As, I live in the school, I have been woken up from my peaceful sleep twice, to hear that some of the students were not happy. Of course, these are the one or two students in my class that don’t pay attention in the first place. The disadvantage of living in the school is that work is home for me.

As this is a developing country, computers are a limited resource. The teachers prepare their lessons the old-fashioned way, on paper. As this is the case, I have had troubles using the computer to create my lesson plans. It took them one month to finally get a printer, another two weeks to get printer paper and then another week to get the right paper. And the chalk that we use makes this horrible screeching sound. I feel like a teacher back in the pioneer days, the only difference is that students are using notebooks and not slates.

Complaints aside, I am happy teaching, the students like me as a teacher, and they have improved quite a bit in their conversation skills I know I have had good teaching day, when we can laugh together and still make progress learning.

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