Experience of a not so experienced teacher…
“Life as a teacher begins the day you realize that you are always a learner.” -unknown
I have never looked at teachers or teaching and thought it was an easy job, but now actually being a teacher, I have gained a whole new perspective and level of respect for those that educate as a profession. Especially for those that teach children. Teaching was a job that played out as a possible career throughout my youth, but obviously something I did not pursue until now. Still I am questioning if it would ever be the right job for me long term. As I have said previously, I believe we all have the ability to educate others. The best thing you can give them is encouragement and anyone has that to give if they are willing.
I may not understand what it is like to be a typical teacher back home but I now get to experience the many complexities of teaching firsthand. Obviously, being an english as a foreign language teacher in a training school, is a very different scenario and it comes with its own unique set of challenges, frustrations and rewards. I work at an english learning center for a very large company. They have hundreds of schools throughout china, as well as other Asian countries and around the world. The school is located in a mall and is quite small itself but there are eight (and growing) other schools throughout the city. The hours are opposite of the normal nine to five work week I have been accustomed to. Typically I come in, in the afternoon, for office hours and then teach classes in the evenings and weekends. Two days off during the week are my weekends, but just one day during these summer months we are in now. The ages of the kids range from 3 to about 10 years old for the particular classes I teach. The children go to their normal schools during the day and may have classes a couple evenings a week or on the weekends.
I did a lot of research before coming and truthfully mostly found a lot of negatives about any english training school in china, especially ones for children. Many of the comments were negative on the topics of an untrustworthy work environment, other company issues, and many explaining they felt like a “glorified babysitter.” Despite this I decided to take my chances anyway and risk deciding myself. I do not regret that decision one bit. That doesn’t mean I love everything about it, that I haven’t been disappointed with the company, that sometimes I just feel like I am not serving any purpose and am horrible at teaching children. However, when I have had those situations it has allowed me to also take a step back and look at the positives I am gaining in return which outweigh the disappointments. Every good lesson in life comes from a challenge and pushing outside your comfort zone which is exactly what this whole experience entails for me. Plus when you see those little faces that are so happy and making progress it touches the heart.
When it comes to teaching I have days I feel like I have no idea what I am doing and still have so much to learn and I learn every single day. The lessons I gain are not just about being a teacher but about children, Chinese culture, patience, life and about myself. There are too many lessons and ongoing challenges to list them all but there are a few that really stick out for me.
1. Classroom Management
“Remeber: everyone in the classroom has a story that leads to misbehavior or defiance. 9 times out of 10, the story behind the misbehavior won’t make you angry. It will break your heart.” -Annette Breaux
Management of the class is an ongoing learning process and many days I come out feeling like I have failed. I ,of course, don’t have the experience to know how managing a typical class back home compares but these come with one big challenge in communication. We are fortunate enough to have lovely local managers (who we call a PA) for each class we teach and at times have TA to help during class time as well. But they are not always able to be in the classroom or maybe won’t be able to be there the whole time. These kids may be learning english but obviously you are not able to fully talk to them. This imposes a big challenge in itself when trying to maintain order during classes. The class sometimes truly turns into a zoo where nothing is accomplished but running around and trying to get the little minions to sit and listen. When you do have those good classes or good days that you have accomplished successful management it sure feels good. I have also learned that its not just me, we all have difficult classes and days that are just bad but that doesn’t mean you are bad with kids or a bad teacher.
“Open minded people do not impose their beliefs on others. They accept that we all have different perspectives on life and do their own thing in peace without judgement.” -Steven Aitchison
I have experienced a lot of ignorance with the people of China. This is not to talk down or make me think less of the Chinese, I have just come to realize how much the rigid government and non-exposure to the rest of the world and other cultures that many have been influenced by. This of course is not the case for every Chinese person and hopefully is lessoning but it is still ever present. For example, there are some that see only white skinned people as being able to be fluent in english or teach english and some that the male is the best teacher. Outside the classroom, as I have talked about before, people taking pictures of you or wanting pictures with you just because of the color of your skin. The people knowing very little about any religion but ever so curious about it. At times it just feels as if they are cut off from the rest of the world. Coming from a country that has has every culture/color/race living in the same neighborhood and the freedom we have, it is hard to wrap your head around always seeing one race. Above all, it has given me a new perspective and appreciation of my country.
3. Parents know best
“Don’t struggle to be a better teacher than anybody else. Simply be a better teacher than you ever thought you could be.” Robert John Meehan
Parents can be amazing and also brutal. Not being able to communicate with the parents, or grandparents in many cases, when they pick up their child is also an odd feeling. I do have a few parents that speak english very well and it is refreshing to be able to have conversations with them, but its rare. We do have the wonderful women in place that I mentioned above to help translate those things, but it still just doesn’t always feel right or imposes more of a challange. On the other hand, I do have to remember that parents really pay a very large amount of money for their child to attend these schools and so coming with high demands is somewhat understandable. However, there are many occasions that their requests/thoughts are truly unrealistic and frustrating in my eyes. I have learned that being yourself and being professional is what you need to stick to, you are never going to please them all. In life, you can never please everyone. One parent may think your too this and the other too that. Then luckily you have the parents that also give you the best complements, my favorite so far is when the parents told me that ever since I have been teaching their daughter she has been excited about english and will talk to them at home when before she wouldn’t. If thats the only child I make a difference with I can still leave happy, but my hope and focus is many more than just one. Those are the compliments to hold on to and let drive you. As long as you are doing your job and loving the children thats all that matters.
These past five months have truly flown by and I know the next ten will as well. I have moments I just want to go home and quit, but I won’t. Its the times like these I get to sit down and reflect and really see the greatness, the wonderful people from all around the world I have met and get to share this with and the little people that are the future of this world that I get to be a small moment in their lives. The the impact may be small, but its something.
“All kids need is a little help, a little hope, and somebody who believes in them.” -Magic Johnson