“Draw a crazy picture, Write a nutty poem, Sing a mumble-gumble song, Whistle through your comb" -Shel Silverstein
Five months later, and each day of teaching in Asia still brings a brand new experience, exciting adventure, or hurdle to jump over.
This past weekend was parents' weekend at Aston School Hefei, the private English Language school that I teach for. This meant that the parents, who invest a lot of money (especially by Chinese standards) into insuring that their child is getting an English education in order to be more competitive against the millions of other children in China, get to observe classes to see where exactly their investment money is going.
Chinese parents, and grandparents for that matter, take the helicopter mom of middle-class, American suburbia to the next level. They are heavily involved in their child's schooling, spending their entire weekends in the lobby and hallways of Aston, peering through classroom windows, spying on us foreign teachers in our offices, waiting outside in every weather condition to pick their child up promptly at lunch time and after school on the weekdays, and spending hours harassing teachers and administrators, in order to emphasize the importance of little Changpu and Qiuyue excelling in class.
They also expect the foreign teacher to provide entertainment for their children in the classroom setting. The majority of my class periods are spent doing song-and-dance and playing fun 'Western' games with the Chinese children. A guardian will leave a parents' class much happier if they have just spent an hour watching their child play duck-duck-goose with the American, than they would be if their child spent the hour showing mastery of English through dialogue and pronunciation exercises.
On the weekdays I am loaned out by Aston for promotional purposes to public schools within Hefei City. It is from these classes that I have come to love what I do. The classes have approximately 45-40 students (compared to my private weekend classes at Aston which hold anywhere from 3 students to 18 students). and they are all bright and eager to learn. They worship me, and my blonde hair, greeting me every time I walk through the door with enthusiastic 'hello's and 'how are you's.
Each morning is the same routine. They tie red handkerchiefs around their necks representing themselves as part of the Communist Party of Young Pioneers, line up in four double lines, each led by a chosen line leader, and march outside for their daily exercise routine and saluting of the flag. They then come back inside and complete their pre-lesson eye exercises to directions elicited over an intercom system.
I then spend the remainder of the lesson period teaching them a new song or chant, reviewing the material learned in the preceding class, introducing new vocabulary and new concepts, and finally we play a game.
As far as songs go, I tend to write my own now. I have exhausted all of the common ones that are learned in elementary school such as, 'Old McDonald', 'Head-Shoulder-Knees-and-Toes' and 'Twinkle Twinkle', and I find it fun to make them more relevant to the lesson. Last week we learned about 'What we can do to help Grandma and Grandpa' so, using the new vocabulary I wrote:
"Grandma and Grandpa, what can we do?
We can run,
we can jump,
We can go to the zoo.
Grandma and Grandpa, what can we do?
We can sweep,
We can read,
We can feed the dog, too.
Grandma and Grandpa, what can we do?
We can laugh,
We can hug,
We can say, 'I love you'.
Each line comes with an appropriate action to match the vocab word. The kids are so adorable acting it out.
Typically, the review portion involves students playing 21 questions with me as I ask them to guess what I am thinking of. For example, if in the class before we discussed animals or going to the zoo, I would say, "I am thinking of an animal. Can you tell me what it is?" and the students would respond with "Is it a....?" Once they figure out the animal, I usually give the student who guessed correctly the chance to come up front and have the students ask him/her what animal they are thinking of. Students love to play teacher!
New concepts and vocabulary generally come from the class book. I tend to read through the dialogue with the students a few times, and elicit the new words to the blackboard, drawing (or at least attempting to draw) a picture to go with each word. I then draw a stick man being held up in the air by five balloons over an object of peril (the kids' favorites are a toilet/W.C. or a hungry crocodile with his mouth open). I then draw a bomb next to one of the words and begin to point at various words prompting the class to say them. If they say the 'bomb' word, however, Mr. Stick man loses a balloon. If he loses all five balloons, I draw him falling to his doom. This is my class's absolute favorite game.
After vocab practice, I have the students read to each other and begin one of the workbook exercises. We then go over the answers as a class, wrap up the lesson, and finish with a game.
The class ends with me packing up my things and heading out the door as my lovely, wonderful, adoring students sing, "Good-bye to you, good-bye to you. Good-bye dear, Elyse. Good-bye to you."
After class ends at the public school, my favorite thing to do is to take up refuge at Starbucks for a few hours. I enjoy a hot cup of coffee and a muffin, read a little for fun, and study Chinese. It is a warm, relaxing setting, which is a luxury in Hefei.