Reflections on teaching this week

Trip Start Aug 13, 2010
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Flag of China  , Hunan,
Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I've just returned from English Corner, which began this week and is on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 1-2. Both yesterday and today, I really enjoyed doing it. Lots of kids want to play games but a few want to just talk, which I really like. It's a great way to find out more about the kids and about China and also for them to practice speaking English. At the same time, they get a chance to ask me questions about myself or America. It's a lot more personal than the large classes and it involves kids who really want to be there. I would be perfectly happy to have conversations like this with interested students without getting paid-- but we get 100 yuan for each English Corner session that we attend. That's about $14 an hour, which isn't too shabby. I really think foreign teachers are treated way too well here. I definitely like that many things are provided for us, but it just makes me feel too privilaged. I feel like we're all very spoiled in America and when we come to China to live, we're still very spoiled. True, there are many things that are not quite up to American standards-- but the treatment that we've received so far is just so much better than many Chinese teachers get. I have no talent or skill that I offer except the language that I did not work hard to attain.
     Anyway. The last few days have been alright. I've had some good classes and some bad classes. This morning I had a really terrible class--but it was terrible because I was terrible. I was tired and not prepared for class and I think the students could tell. It was a first period class-- 8am and I had some technology issues. The 70 students is difficult enough to handle-- but when there is a lack of energy, it's really quite hard. I feel kind of bad that the students did not get a quality lesson because of my own personal feelings. I think it's tough being a teacher-- having enough energy and enthusiasm everyday for the students. Also, I was not really quite prepared for this lesson. I had it outlined but I wasn't quite prepared with the details. I think this week, I've been doing a little bit too much lecture and not getting the students involved enough. 
    My lessons this week have been about music--music genres and the parts of a song. For the special classes, I've given them new vocabulary to talk about "how often" they do things. In their book, they have "always, sometimes, hardly ever, often, never, and usually" so I gave them some new words. I think they ignored my new words and when talking about what genres of music they often listen to, used the old words. They're very mechanical in their responses, I think. I don't know how to make them talk without making it mechanical. For a lot of kids, they need the guidance of a modal sentence, which makes speaking rather mechanical. This week, I tried partner work-- which I think is a bad idea. It's just a time for kids to talk in Chinese. Some kids do the activity but I don't think many do. It's so difficult with a big class. 
    I had one of my better classes today-- the second day of the special classes. I had a contest between the Michael Jackson fans (all the boys), Justin Bieber fans (most of the girls), and Taylor Swift (few girls) fans. I played bits of songs and had them guess the genre. The first person to say it would get a point for their team. I think most of the boys were very uninterested in the game but a lot of the girls were interested-- as the reward was to listen to a song by that artist. The Justin Bieber group won-- so then, we discussed the different parts of a song-- chorus, verse, repetition, line, etc. Then we listened to the song and I blanked out a few words-- to give them something to really listen for. I think I definitely had the attention of a lot of girls in this class. I played "Eenie Meenie Miny Mo Lover" by Justin Bieber and then explained some bits of the song, which I think went over well. 
    I'm still trying to think of ways to get the boys more interested. My biggest problem is definitely rowdy boys. There are some that are alright but many boys are terrible at English and don't even understand me. Some girls don't understand me either but at least they are quiet. 
    One interesting thing that happened today.. One boy came up to me before class and asked what the meaning of "fuck" was. I remember he had said it last week and I got a little bit upset when he said it and told him not to say it. I tried to explain that it was a word people used when they were angry and that it was not a good word to use. I kept thinking about all of its different uses but I didn't think I should explain to him all of the different uses.. 
    In other news... on Monday night, a bunch of us went to Vicki's (a Chinese English teacher) apartment and surprised her with a cake for her birthday. We ended up staying for a couple of hours, which was fun. In my free time, I've been trying to learn more Chinese (with Pimsleur) and I'm always thinking about my classes and activities that I can do with them. I'm still not sure what I think about teaching. I like planning for classes but sometimes my plans are poorly executed. I think a lot about activities that I would like-- and how to appeal to students like myself (kind of quiet, female, interested in learning) and it's very difficult to put myself in the minds of ADD- teenage boys who like video games and sports. At times I do not put up much of a fight to control the class and other times, I do. I wonder if my inconsistency contributes to rowdyness. I think I'm quite harsh on myself as a teacher. It's hard to know if I'm doing a good job.
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