It’s only taken 30 years… I am FINALLY a teacher!

Teaching English is every bit as amazing as I anticipated it would be, with a few frustrations thrown in just to keep my feet on the ground. Some frustrations I expected, others caught me unaware. All of them teaching me something new along the way.

My first teaching job here in Nanjing was teaching five year olds English. Five year olds who speak pretty much no English. The pay was pretty good but it was only an hour on a Tuesday night teaching five or six kids. The school/centre where I was teaching was an hour from our apartment by subway, a pretty long way to travel for only an hour’s work. They were hoping to promote English classes for children and get more work for me. I figured it was a good place to start.
My first class was a nightmare and after class was over I cried as I walked away. I felt like a terrible person and a terrible teacher. I felt like I had nothing worthwhile to teach these kids. I went into that class expecting Western behaviours and Western structures for me to work with. And because they weren’t there, I felt like a giant failure.

I had to make some serious adjustments in my head after that first class. Mum gave me a good pep talk, and I decided I would go back and give it another shot. It slowly got better, and it seemed that each week the kids weren’t the only one learning new things. I learned lessons too. Prepare better. Don’t spend so much time and effort preparing. Learn classroom management with only facial expressions, hand gestures and tone, sans actual word communication! Learn how to communicate and manage the Chinese teacher they gave me to help me in class.

This is Alice and her fish
This is Shaun and his elephant

I learned that Chinese kids are very good at repeating words after you and mostly not so great at comprehension. I learned that it’s normal for the kids to talk during a lesson that I am trying to teach. I learned this because when their parents and grandparents were invited to see what they learned after class, the adults talked through it too!

The second job I got teaching English was casual hours at a language school called WEB. WEB was the company that Mum worked with when they first arrives in China. Dad now does casual work for them, when we first arrived in Nanjing Nick worked for them and when he went back to Aussie I took over Nicks hours. Teaching at WEB is mostly teaching adults and some teenagers and preteens. My classes can be anywhere between one and ten students. Aside from classes with us foreign teachers, WEB students also have classes with Chinese teachers and study their courseware using modules and computers provided on site by each WEB centre. Classes are normally great fun. I get bored sitting at a table talking theory so I bring a ziplock bag filled with post-it style sticky pads in fun shapes, a koosh ball, coloured white board pens, stickers and glue stick with me to every class.

We play name association games, I play games with the sticky notes on the board and sometimes when the courseware has a good subject, we have group competitions! Everyone knows that I am Michael’s daughter and Nick’s husband. Everyone knows that we are Kiwi’s. And I like most of my students! Which, if you know me, you will know is no mean feat. Some of my students are hard work. Like Jeffrey, who is 13, sullen and perpetually bored. Last class I had with him, I was sick of working so hard only to receive minimal responses. So I changed my approach. The lesson plan was on giving directions. Instead of sitting in a classroom, I said to Jeffrey, “I cannot see. I need you to give me directions from the classroom (on level 2) down to the tv” which was right inside the front door on street level. I didn’t even get a chance to see his reaction because I closed my eyes and waited for my first direction. We made it down two flights of stairs safe and sound, got to the tv where I gave him a couple of new sentance structures to use and we made our way back up two flights of stairs to the classroom. Being outside the classroom, he felt much less comfortable and so put more effort into the lesson. And he learned the new sentance structures! We practiced them on the board back in and he was much more engaged that when we began the lesson. I gave myself a pat on the back for that class!

Other students are easy and just plain fun to teach. Like Jacky and Iris. Jacky is Taiwanese and I think he and Iris are married. They’re both a little younger than me. She seems hesitant at first but is actually quite a headstrong, opinionated woman. I told her in our first class together that she is much better at English than she thinks she is. As I said it, I saw Jacky nodding his head emphatically behind her! The more Iris got to know me, the more she opened up to me. Now when I have them in a class, they are open, loud, enthusiastic and full of questions! They are also great at helping other shyer students in the class, encouraging them to participate too. I know that sometimes my naturally loud teaching style can be quite confronting to a polite, shy young Chinese student. And Jacky and Iris are great at putting the other students at ease. Iris even gave me tickets to a winter festival that is on during December and I am looking forward to meeting up with them to use the tickets when Nick is back in Nanjing.

One of my students at WEB, Eileen, approached me and asked me if I teach children ,and would I teach her daughter? I jumped at the chance! Anyone who knows me knows I LOVE children, and getting paid to teach them one on one in lessons that I have total autonomy over, sounds like a dream come true to me! So now I also teach Eileen’s 8 year old daughter Meya twice a week, a job I really love. Meya also learns English at school, and attends extra curricular English classes in addition to school. She showed me her books from these classes and I decided that I would go in a different direction to the mainly theory based English lessons. She clearly had a very good basis in English, with good writing skills, good grammar skills and the ability to sound words out for herself. So I bought a wrapping paper book (the closest thing I could find to a scrap book!) and used coloured paper to create a customised label on the front. I named it, “Meya’s English Scrapbook”. So far we have had lessons on Paris (last holidays Meya and her parents went on holiday to Paris), clothes and recently Eileen asked me to teach Meya about Christmas. I explained to Eileen that I do not celebrate Christmas myself but that I would be happy to teach Meya what I know about the Christmas celebrations that other people have. At the moment, we are making a book. I have printed out pictures and Meya is writing the words and colouring in the pictures. When we have finished, we will staple the pages together and Meya will have created her very first book!

Getting paid to talk about my favourite things, play games and stick things in scrap books is an amazing way to earn money. I find teaching English to be very fulfilling and satisfying. And I am meeting some really lovely people! What more could I ask for?!



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