1st of December – 7th December
Posting this a day late from my phone as my VPN refuses to work on my computer!
In China, more often than not, events that must take weeks of organising are something that foreign teachers find out about as they are happening. This means that it is very likely that at least once a month you will arrive at your scheduled class only to find it empty with no idea what is going on. This has happened to me so many times and I am completely used to it by now, so it was a great surprise to receive a message on Sunday night informing me that my Monday classes would be cancelled because the students had other places to be.
The place they had to be was the gymnasium and when I arrived for a nosy it was all action. Around the hall were small booths set up with activities to test the students on their skills in each subject; Maths, Music, Art, Chinese, English, Sports and Life Skills. For each test the students could earn one, two or three stamps depending on their performance and once they had completed all the tests they could exchange their stamps for a prize. The night before the head of English had asked me if I would like to judge and I said I would just come and look this time but I ended up sitting at the English booth “Happy Singer” and was soon encouraged get involved. I went a bit stamp happy… I think just about every child got three stamps from me but they’re so cute! How could I not?
This wasn’t the official test of course, grade one have an exam in January that will give them their mid-year grade but it was such a fun way for the teachers to assess where the students are in their studies. Chinese schools can have a reputation of being quite strict and boring but Sanxin really proved itself to be ahead of the game this week. Only downside… the students completed the tests quicker than expected so it was back to class for everyone in the afternoon!
I think this week is the perfect summary of the highs and lows of teaching in China. After a good two days with my lesson plan going smoothly and the students warming up to me, getting excited about matching water bottles and how fuzzy my jumper was, I arrived at my final class on Tuesday to find the Chinese teacher missing. Now this is not always an issue, some classes are very well behaved without an extra pair of hands in the room but this class was not one of those classes. I got through my warmer with some minor distractions but it took about double the time, it was clear I was losing them and fast. I hastily sent a message to the head of English asking;
“Where is my Chinese teacher?!”
There was no reply, I was on my own and I still had 25 minutes of class left. It felt like an impossible amount of time. Children were climbing on top of desks, two boys had started kicking each other, some were running the length of the class room and even out the door! I tried my usual classroom management techniques; clapping, sending the worst to the back of the classroom, when that failed making them hold a piece of paper between their head and the wall. None of it was working!
Then I started taking names.
The students have a point system controlled by their teachers on the computer, of course it’s all in Chinese so I don’t use it myself but they don’t know that. At first I just wrote their name on the board, but then I started putting numbers up and the mood changed instantly! I followed that by giving all the students who had actually behaved stickers and suddenly everyone was sitting down… By this point class was pretty much over so I asked them to recite one of their speeches, the bell rang and I was out of there faster than you could say “baby shark”.
I felt completely and utterly defeated after that class. Everything had been going so well then BAM a total disaster. It was one of those moments where you just want to go and hide under your duvet with some chocolate and finally I had a reply;
“Sorry the teacher forgot about your class.”
Fair. I’ve definitely forgotten about a class before, or gone to the wrong one or turned up at the wrong time. I asked her to let the Chinese teachers know that without them in the class the students just don’t feel like they need to listen to me, I mean they don’t understand half of what I’m saying so I don’t blame them. She promised me it won’t happen again but also said that I need to control the class on my own too. I’ll keep trying, I’ve got a few more tricks up my sleeve.
As much as that class was a complete disaster I have to remember that these kids are only 6 or 7 years old, in a boarding school, sitting in front of a teacher who doesn’t speak their language. So of course there are going to be a few settling in issues and now they know I have stickers maybe they’ll be a bit more willing to cooperate. All I’m saying is thank god for stickers!
Now I know how troublesome that class can be I can go in prepared on Tuesday; there will be stickers and point systems and Peppa Pig and the Chinese teacher and everything will be fine…
I’ll let you know…
For more of my adventures in China click on one of these: