I wake up feeling groggy at 6am as my alarm goes off. Sometimes, if my hair doesn’t need a wash, I give myself the luxury of staying in bed until 6.30. I leave Mitch in bed asleep and feel envious. I enjoy a hot shower to wake me up and put on some ‘teacher’ clothes. A lot of the Chinese teachers dress casually, in jeans for example, but I can’t bring myself to do that. I check that I have everything in my backpack, eat a banana for some energy before my cycle to work. My school is split between two campuses, one is a private school and the other public. I cycle two days a week to the public school.
The roads are busy at 7am. There is a divide between bikes and cars which is great. I cycle along next to E-bikes, which overtake me but I’m content with my cycling and thankfully my route is simple. Although the cycle only takes 30 minutes, sometimes it can feel so long. Cycling that much each day is still sometimes a shock to my fatty thighs. I’ve divided the route into thirds, each one approximately 10 minutes. The second third is the longest and involves a hill, but when I’m finished I know I’m on the final third and nearly there.
When I arrive at school I greet the security guard by the gate (‘nihao’), park my bike, and make my way to breakfast. I’m all hot and sweaty, and although it took some getting use to, I now enjoy having noodles or dumplings for breakfast, and after the cycle I really need it!
Food consumed, I make my way to my communal office. It’s on the second floor which my legs don’t appreciate after cycling. I greet the other teachers and get prepared for my lesson, printing things out if needs be, collecting my memory stick and the all important stickers. The children love to be rewarded with stickers. I think they love going home to their parents and saying, “I got 5 stickers today!” …Maybe. Either way, they love them.
Firstly, I must say, this western or English presumption we have that all Chinese children are disciplined and well behaved is a lie. Mitch wrote an excellent blog about this and other Chinese culture myths. My experience has been that six year olds are six year olds. They never have a long attention span and will always get bored/chatty/naughty. There is a woman standing in their classroom from another side of the world and, sometimes, they have no idea what I’m saying.
I teach Grade one and two, I’ll start with Grade One. They are cute and adorable. However, 35 of them in a classroom is challenging. You need games, pictures, and activities to keep them interested. Some of them look bored out their minds and I try to entice them with things to make them laugh and smile, but one little thing can make them easily distracted. They can now say their English names and know their numbers very well. I hope that by the end of the year their English vocabulary will blossom and they wont’ look at me so bewildered.
Lunchtime at school is great. At the public school the teachers and children all eat in the canteen together. Lunch consists of rice, meat, and some form of vegetable or tofu. The portions are hearty and always followed by a piece of fruit and sometimes something sweet (only for the teachers). I enjoy watching all the children eat, laugh, talk. They wave at me and say “Hello Helen” which is heart warming.
Grade Two are easier to teach as they have slightly more discipline and a better grasp for English. Activities are easier to explain, words are learnt more quickly, and enthusiasm is slightly increased. Some of them are super bright and I worry they want to go at a quicker pace. Games, activities and pictures are still crucial at this age but I feel more relaxed with grade two and have learnt the tricks which send their arms whizzing into the air to answer questions, and which games make them excited.
Although the lessons are only 40 minutes, they are tiring. I am always on my feet and don’t get two minutes to relax as I’m teaching speaking and listening skills. I, or they, always need to be talking. No time to sit down and write.
By the end of the day, my cycle home seems quicker. I have a shower, relax and drink some green tea. Days can be stressful; some days are good and others are bad. I’m new to this kind of teaching, so it’s all a big learning curve. I hope that by the end of the year I am a better teacher and the children have enjoyed having me here, because I’m enjoying being here.