I thought it would be a good idea to describe teaching by describing each school I teach at and since I worked at Rongzhi School today (kindergarten and middle school), why not begin there? When you picture teaching abroad, you imagine one class who adores you or at least one school where you teach where most of the kids know who you are. This is not the case whatsoever in Harbin. You see, I do not work for a school, but for what I can only can an “outfitter.” My employer, which I still don’t really know the name of yet (I have narrowed it down to either Nangang District Culture Palace or Global Communicative Center). Anyways, the name isn’t matter, because I never teach at this “school.” Instead, the company applies for me to teach in Harbin and then contacts other schools in Harbin and gets me to teach classes, whether it be one every two weeks, three times a week, or one time period (which is often the case). Although when I arrived, I found this to be extremely misleading and frustrating, and I was not used to taking Chinese buses all over the place. At this point, I have adjusted to this reality pretty well, and I feel I am actually thriving in it (not teaching at the same place keeps it interesting and it allows me to repeat some lessons, giving me some much needed down time). Every Thursday, I teach at Rongzhi School, a K-12 public (I assume) school about twenty minutes from my place by bus and by foot. I begin work at 9AM teaching….Kindergarten. Yes, I am teaching Chinese Kindergarteners and it is the longest and probably most difficult hour of my week.
Stats: 2 classes of around 25-30 kindergarteners, 30 minutes each, every Thursday, 9-10 AM
1. These kids are too cute for words. Seriously, I cannot begin to describe how adorable these kids are and how easily they are entertained by me singing and (extremely) simple games. There is one girl with a shephard’s boy haircut who is especially cute and I purposefully pick her for games over other more annoying kids…Whoops! haha
2. Nobody can speak English in the classroom, including the English teacher. Meaning I can say, “Okay, this is not working. Let’s just sing again” and nobody is the wiser. It also means that nobody interrupts my class to critique my teaching in front of the students, because they would have no way to do so.
3. It wakes me up. Kindergarten chaos is better than the best cup of coffee out there.
4. It is only an hour, and it is split between two classes. My first class they neglected to tell me this (as they always do), so I planned a whole hour of material. Much to my surprise (and delight), I could just repeat everything I just taught in the next class. So prep time is pretty minimal.
5. It is extremely funny to hear 30 4-year old scream “fork” at the top of the lungs at you repeatedly.
1. It is extremely stressful because nobody understands a word I am saying, besides Hello, Good Morning, and Bye Bye. I am not exaggerating. Of course, I am teaching them simple vocabulary words, but it is really difficult to get them to understand, because I have no flashcards, no materials and I am not very good at drawing. Anything more than teaching words is impossible. Thusly, I have resorted to mostly teaching through song and dance. If only someone was witness to this.
2. It is absolute CHAOS. Usually about half the class is listening at the beginning of the class, and usually about 3 kids are listening at the end. I began the class trying to play games, but games are too complicated because games have rules. And kindergarteners hate rules and order and anything else that we adults take for granted. Teaching is also out of the question. So, I usually spend about 20 minutes of each class singing and dancing and having them repeat after me, highlighting key vocabulary words. This is the best way to keep them engaged, but usually about half the class is still talking or fighting or running across the room. It is nuts. Whether they are learning English, I have no idea, but they are at least having fun, something Chinese kids rarely experience.
3. Their teachers are mean. Despite never peeping in during my class or helping me out when the class is going nuts, nearly every day after class, the teacher will snap at the kids saying things like, “Do you know or not? Do you know or not?” “Is this Waijiao (Foreign Teacher) class? Is this Waijiao (Foreign Teacher) class?” They are terrified of her and that seems to be the only reason they keep quiet and listen. I can’t get them to be quiet for more than two seconds, because I will never yell at these kids and they wouldn’t understand me anyways.
4. I don’t feel that I am being put to use very well. Perhaps these kids are picking up some things in terms of pronunciation, but it is really hard to see and track progress when they are still learning the ins and outs of their own language. They say the younger you start, the better, but I think that is when you have an opportunity for immersion. In Holland, they don’t begin learning English until about 5th grade I believe, and their English is always so much better there. Of course, they have an advantage because English is closely related to Dutch, but still I have the feeling that Waijiao’s across Chinese kindergartens are not really making much of a difference.
Although the negatives seem to outweigh the positives, I am starting to enjoy this class more and more. I think at first it was a shock because they supplied me with no guidance and no materials. However, now I understand that these classes are less about teaching actual English and are more about getting students comfortable in the sounds of the English language (often through song), and I can deal with that. And plus, it’s only an hour. I can do an hour of kindergarten a week. 🙂