As my month in Baoding draws to a close, it is important that I take some time to reflect on my experiences, both professional and extracurricular. Here are some things that I learned:
1. Good rapport with students encourages them to learn.
Especially with my fourth graders, who were corralled in groups of 80 into an auditorium-like classroom for 40 minutes of English instruction, it was difficult to develop relationships with each and every student. It was really all I could do at times to keep their attention.
However, my students greatly appreciated when I would go out of my way to talk with them after class or include them in classroom activities. I greeted my students every morning with a chipper, “Good morning, class!” and always tried to end things on a high note.
When my elementary schoolers were boisterous, I would not yell, but simply count down from five, giving them some time to refocus and get back on track.
One particular student expressed his appreciation for my patience with a lovely drawing(SEE FEATURED IMAGE)
This artistic masterpiece was painstakingly conceived by one of my more rowdy students, who sat on the second row and constantly kicked the back of his classmate’s chair.
I have seen Chinese teachers handle this problem in the “Chinese way.” These small, strict women simply either let the classmates deliver vigilante justice and turn their heads or, more shockingly, take retribution into their own hands. I have seen multiple teachers issue swift kicks to troublemakers’ chairs many a time, realizing that a teacher would be fired in America for even thinking about such behavior.
I chose, instead, to calmly ask this student to stop, first in English and then in Chinese.
Not only did he stop kicking his classmate’s chair, but later that class period, he also raised his hand to participate in a telling time activity on the board. I never had a problem with him again.
Although it may not seem like much, students appreciate being treated with respect, even if they are sometimes slow to show respect themselves. This student was reminded of what good behavior looks like and was rewarded by class participation when he was following set protocol. This way, there was no question in what was expected of him. He decided to respond positively and show his progress in English with only the sweetest of intentions. Which brings me to the second lesson.
2. As long as students make progress, you have succeeded as a teacher.
My middle school students have worked very diligently to improve their English speaking and listening skills. This is somewhat of a foreign concept to them, not only because the language is literally foreign, but also because Chinese classrooms generally focus on the retention of vocabulary and written English skills. My students have been applying what they have learned in previous English classes in a classroom environment dedicated to authentic verbal communication, which can be very challenging.
One of the best ways to improve authentic language is through practice. From this concept, “My English, My Stage” was born.
“My English, My Stage” is an English speaking competition in which each of the classes performs skits, songs, and dances with one common denominator: the use of the English language. Students work for weeks in advance to prepare their act and perform them in front of their peers and a panel of judges. It just so happened that Ashley and I were to be guest judges for this month’s competition.
We sat through 19 of the sweetest renditions of familiar English songs and fairy tales, anything ranging from “Snow White” to Frozen’s “Let it Go,” judging based on the quality of their English skills and not necessarily on the performance itself.
This is a vital distinction.
Earlier in the week , some of my sweet seventh graders had approached me about some English pronunciations they were unsure of. They pulled out the lyrics to “Big, big world” (a seemingly popular song in China sung in English by a Chinese music star) and asked if I could go over the words at the end of class. I obliged and saved some time for their questions.
After clearing up some of their pronunciations, I then encouraged them to sing their song for me. A few of the students then ushered me to a student desk as they stood up and sang their little song.
Male and female students alike crooned:
“I’m a big, big girl in a big, big world;
It’s not a big, big thing if you leave me.
But I do, do feel,
That I too, too will,
Miss you much, miss you much.”
Every last one of them may have been tone-deaf, but what they lacked in musical quality they made up in spirit. And even though their “th” sounds come out as “s” and “skating” sounds more like “skeeting,” I was proud of their dedication and enthusiasm in learning. They got a 10/10 from me.
3. We all have different expectations of “normal.”
Sometimes, little babies wear split bottom pants so that they can pee in the streets. Sometimes, people have goats as pets in the middle of the city. Sometimes, Chinese people take pictures with you because you are the only foreigner they have ever seen in real life.
4. But, at the end of the day, we all live on the same planet. We are all human.
Even though our perceptions of the world may be different, we are all people. We enjoy similar things, like good food, good friends, and the ability to learn and grow. And even though I now have a new definition of the word “cold,” I’d say it has been a pretty sweet ride.