Monday, 3 November 2008

Teaching Children....Again

On Saturday morning I started my first private tutoring job. A prospective student had visited one of my English Corners at Web, and recommended me to her friend, Crystal, an English teacher. She emailed me asking if I would be interested in helping a group of eight primary school children practise what she has been teaching them in class. It would be one hour a week on Saturdays at 10:15 am.

I thought about how much I really didn't want to work on my days off as we are sometimes worked to the bone at Web. I was considering turning down the offer when I thought about the experience, the possibility of getting my name out there for more work, and the fact it was only one hour. I sent a reply to her email telling her I'd give it a go.

On the day, I arrived at the meeting place -- outside a restaurant -- a little tired from the Halloween party the night before. I received a call from Crystal telling me that "she had sent two girls to get me". This sounded a bit ominous, I thought we might be going inside the restaurant. Seconds later two young girls came running up to me shouting hello. "This could be them" I thought.

We walked away from the restaurant, turned a corner, and entered an apartment building. After climbing a few floors we came to Crystals home. She welcomed us in with a big smile, and even said I could keep my shoes on -- usually they're off at the door in China.  I was directed to a chair positioned in front of a whiteboard in her living room. As she had mentioned there were eight children (5 girls and 3 boys). Also, a few of the parents had decided to stay for the class. I was a little nervous by this point, everything was new and nobody knew me.

I sat down and she told me, "you can just pretend it is like an English corner". At that very moment I realised I had not planned a thing to say to these students. I panicked for about a second, but then somehow my autopilot kicked in. I introduced myself, and started talking and writing on the board. Then I had a shock, they started talking back to me too.

I have become so accustomed to students of a certain age who are not willing to speak English, that to be sitting in a room with 10-14 year olds who actually want to speak English was quite refreshing. All of them answered questions and understood the vocabulary and grammar I was using. I was impressed, these children were better than half of my fully grown students at Web. It was genuinely a joy to be with them for an hour, and in no time the class was over. I didn't look at the clock once.

Crystal invited me, with the children, to go to a Sichuan restaurant, this was a good sign, they didn't want to say goodbye and good riddance. As we were walking out she told me that I was just the teacher they had been looking for. I felt very flattered and relieved that they thought the class was a success. I could not have done a class like that a year ago with such comfort and ease.  I feel that I really have learnt a set of important skills in my time here in China, none of it has been a waste.

The last time I taught children was in Hangzhou (from August 2007 to January 2008). They were a few years younger than the children I am teaching now -- and much more difficult to handle. When I worked in the kindergarten it was quite exhausting, and I could never agree with teaching 5 year old children up to 7 o'clock at night. The kids were mainly brilliant, but very often me and Bobby -- an American anaesthesiologist who came to China with his wife and three children -- had no idea what we should be doing for classes. There was no guidance or help from anybody, we were just thrown in at the deep end.

I remember going on an outing with my classes to pick oranges in a farm just outside of Hangzhou. I am in complete disbelief that this was almost one year ago to the day (I remember being incredibly ill a couple of days right after this).

Don't forget the peace signs


大眼睛熊 said...

I remember that picture and how exhausting the classes were back in hangzhou,you used to complain about it all the time.. :D
Im glad u enjoyed your time with these new students of yours,guess they'll never need to go to Web when they grow up!!

Anonymous said...

More power to you. But I found teaching kids in China, even the ones in mid teens draining and frustrating.

Adults can also be mind numbingly jarring as well. I have just received a suggestion, well more like a demand, from a 17 year old Omani girl on how I should be teaching MY fucking listening class. Honestly! Sorry for the bad language, but they can really be trying here at times, just as they can be at China. There are always some classes who are better than others. I think a good teacher finds this intuitively over time, it's not something that can be picked up overnight. I feel like my previous 3 years in China means nothing here. It's a totally new ballgame and learning curve teaching gulf arab students, especially the boys, who can test the patience of a saint!!

Chin up, china isnt all bad

Chris said...

I hate the "know-it-all" students that like to tell others how it is done. I've had someone like that before -- very frustrating.

I would have presumed that the behaviour in the Gulf would be much better than most other countries, they seem to be so strict with laws and religion. What a surprise that they are actually so difficult to handle. Good luck Alex!

Did I really complain about the classes all the time?

Anonymous said...

The problem is the little emperor syndrome is more prevalent here. The girls are by and large great, although there is always the odd know it all with a 'suggestion' waiting in the wings.

The boys simply have no interest in learning English here, and many of them are forced to attend classes by their father for business reasons, or by their employer which is normally some ministry of the government. Thus they dont want to be educated, but spoon fed. Teachers who have decided to educate them have been fired, enough said.

I've found the best way is just to ignore it, and think towards the weekend, otherwise it can drive you nuts.

Hows WZ otherwise?

wayne said...

Once i was a tutor in a family,the kid who i taught is around nine years old,and it kills me!!now look back on it ,that's a total disaster,everytime when i try to teach him something,he just keeps jumping up and down,then i swear i'll never teach a kid under 12!!that's the way to go..

Mabel Poon said...

Wow Chris! It seems u're a very popular teacher in China now! Go ahead!

I'm doing the Postgradute course at University of Hong Kong now which is related to Special Education now. And it has been covering many Educational Psychology stuffs. The researches indicate that more and more students in Mainstream, inclusive or SEN schools have the learning disabilities like Dyslexia, ADHD, Autism, EBD and others...

Yes, I think the young kids are not easy to be taught compared with the kids in the past. I hope the students with learning disabilities would have improvements!!

Chris said...

Good point Alex, I think it always helps to look towards the weekend! Everything in Wenzhou is still going great, I'm really happy here at the moment. Just low on money right now (after I exchanged as much as I could into £'s).

I kind of agree with you Wayne, teaching children that are too young can be a disaster. I had a few too many naughty students at my kindergarten. It could be physically hard work sometimes.

I've read a few things about children with learning disabilities in schools too. It sounds like a really interesting course you're doing Mabel.

Thanks for your comments again guys. It's great to see that you are taking the time out to read my blog :)