When I was looking for a job in China, I never thought I would be teaching elementary school. I was never one of those people that just loved children. I liked some kids and tolerated the rest. But teaching them turned out to be the most fun and rewarding job that I’ve ever had.
I taught at a public school in the suburbs of Dalian. I had about 14 classes a week and I taught grade 1, grade 2, and grade 6. I had about 40-60 kids for every class. Most of them were well behaved and eager to please and once I figured out the trick, it wasn’t too hard to control them. I’m really glad I paid attention in English class when we studied George Orwell though. I joke. (not really)
I had a lot of freedom with my classes. I wasn’t given a curriculum or a text book. When I started I had no experience with kids and very little time to prepare. I was offered the job on Sunday and asked if I could start on Monday. My first class was a mess. I went through what I thought was 40 minutes of material in 15 minutes. The children didn’t seem to understand anything thing I was saying. No one answered any of my questions. Half way through the class I was afraid they might boo me off the podium. Then I heard one boy whisper to his desk mate in Chinese “this foreigner is not funny”.
Thanks to the help of a Chinese teacher, I’m happy to say that my second class was better and by the end of the day I was tolerable. I quickly discovered that kids don’t seem to tire of repetition. They behave a lot better when I group them and made them compete with each other. I also made them police each other and rewarded them for snitching. Thanks for the tips Gorge Orwell.
I really didn’t need to worry about being horrible. The head of the English department and the principle weren’t very interested in what I was teaching. They were more interested in showing me off. I was their trophy “Spanish” teacher. As long as I looked and acted foreign, it was all good. On more than one occasion a herd of middle-aged men in suites would walk to the back of the class to watch me teach. They also put me in their school plays and introduced me to wealthy parents. Once I had to wait for around of more than an hour so the mayor of the city could get a glimpse of me as I pretended to guide the children to perform Mary had a Little Lamb. I didn’t even teach them that song or the dance moves. I hate that song. Then the principle introduced me as Spanish and from Australia. I have no idea where she got Australia.
For the most part, I didn’t really mind being their trophy. It was only a minor inconvenience. After all I was getting paid twice as much as a Chinese teacher and I could do whatever wanted in the classroom. I used my freedom to never give the kids any homework or tests. We also played a lot of games and watched a lot of cartoons. That doesn’t mean they didn’t learn anything. By the end of the semester most of them could answer my question in full sentences, sing a few English songs, greet me with “What’s up?” or “How’s it going?” and say “Guy! Stop it!” with no accent. Everything else I have taught them they pronounce with a Chinese accent. I used to snap my fingers and say “Guys! Stop it!” so much in class that all my students have learned to imitate me in uncanny perfection. Long after they have forgotten everything else I’ve taught them, surely this will be my legacy. This will be the one thing they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.