On Teaching: 3rd Week In

With one of my classes who were very excited to take a picture
With one of my classes who were very excited to take a picture

Sept 25th – I’ve been teaching for 3 weeks now. I feel like I’m just starting to find my groove but definitely still learning/adjusting. My first week was a hot mess, I couldn’t find my classrooms (didn’t help that no one showed me) and then was late to classes (frustrating) and then I also realized halfway through my first couple of days that I was given the wrong class periods schedule so when I thought I was on time, I was actually 5 minutes late every class (more frustrations).

First Week

I wanted to make the lesson simple and get to know them and also gage what each classes’ english level was so I taught Introductions. Again, I teach 16 classes of over 50 students per class and each classes’ English level is different. I have students who’re outgoing and always raise their hands, students who are so shy and don’t even understand even when I ask “What’s your English name?” and of course, students who don’t ever participate and look like their about to fall asleep. My first day of school I had 5 classes (daunting) and I won’t lie, I think I couldn’t wait for that day to just be done. The next day, I had 5 more classes so by the end of my first 2 days, I had just taught 10 classes. You can say I was exhausted and I definitely lost my voice.
The first week was definitely challenging. I felt like I didn’t have myself under control since I myself was learning the schedule, classes, teaching, etc. I didn’t really have a chance to think about an effective tracking system (discipline/classroom management system) and was more focused on simply getting through my initial week so that I’d have time to stop, breath, and reflect on where my students were at, where I’m at, and what I could change.

Second Week

I taught students 20 vocab words on emotions/feelings and how to respond to the question, “How’re you feeling today? / How’re you doing?” This lesson was spurred by the fact that every single time I ask students (in and outside the classroom), “How’re you today?” they collectively and robotically respond “I’m fine, thank you! And you?”. If I had a yuan for every time I heard that….So, I wanted to break that mold by teaching them new responses. Although it wasn’t a very challenging lesson, I was still trying to gage students’ English levels and get to know them.

By this week, I was slowly starting to get things under control. I have 15 classes in one building but 1 class in a building way across campus (the first time I taught this class I was very late because no one told me it was in a completely different building). After being fed up with getting lost and wandering flights of stairs, I created my own building map and class period schedules. Even though I knew I was still learning the ropes of everything and trying to give myself grace, I hated/felt embarrassed for being late to my classes, for not knowing where things were, and for moments where I realized “Oh I should’ve done that instead…”

Third Week

I just finished teaching School Life in America. This teaching week was much better. I’m starting to get to know kids more and I feel some are getting a little more comfortable at speaking up. I’ve also tweaked my tracking system (classroom management system) and given them more incentives if they do well each week (watch a movie at the end of semester, have a little party, etc). They were interested in the generic school life of a typical high school student in the US. I showed them a picture of my high school and every single time, they all say “Whoaaaa!!!! So beautiful!!” and it makes me chuckle every time because the picture is really not that glamorous.

The Challenges of Teaching

When my classes are good, I feel confident and good but a bad class can crush my confidence easily. Most of my classes are great but one of my classes #516 makes me really frustrated. They don’t listen, they don’t understand, they participate, they don’t seem motivated for any kind of rewards and just sit in class shuffling around. I also have one student in that class who when they’re supposed to repeat after me, he just opens and closes his mouth pretending to speak. That really ticks me off and I want to shout at him “I see you pretending!” That class is also the one in a completely different building, so when I stay behind to tell talk about their behavior I end up being late to my next period and end up carrying the frustrations into my next class. My 516 class has made me feel miserable the most and like a horrible teacher. I often walk away doubting and asking myself, “What/why am I doing here? Is it me, am I a horrible teacher? Why do they do that? If they don’t want to be there, it makes me not want to be there, etc”  Yes, I know those are petty things said in the heat of the moment but they’re real thoughts I’ve had.

I am learning that teaching itself is very difficult, much less in a different language. Someone once said when you teach in China, you’re just as much an entertainer as you are a teacher. I definitely agree. I feel like my students keep me on my toes all the time by trying to think of a million ways I can make them participate, speak English, not be so shy, be engaged and simply have fun. I create one lesson plan a week, and initially I thought this meant teaching would be a breeze, but I’m quickly realizing I have to adapt lessons because what works for one class may not work for another. I try to be creative with activities and incentives/rewards for my students. They love competitions and getting points but I know if I give just points all year, they’ll easily get bored. So I want to randomly surprise them with small treats, maybe a movie clip, a music video, a fun game, etc. I already told my classes if they’re good each week, we’ll do something fun at the end of the semester (movie, sing songs, play games, eat snacks, etc). Their eyes get big when you mention those key words, my hope is they’ll remember they’ve got something to work towards.

Teaching is certainly harder than it looks. I’ve been thinking a lot about my high school French teacher a lot. I still have fond memories of that class and have asked myself, how did she keep us so engaged? It definitely makes me have more respect for my past teachers and teacher friends. When a class doesn’t go well, I often wonder things like, “Is it me? Is it the students? Is it my lesson plan? Is it how I communicated? Did they not understand or were they just bored?…” Although I never know the exact reason, I know it will get better (I hope) with time and experience.

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