Wednesday, August 31, 2011

My first day as "Miss Mary"

Today was my first day teaching. My classes are split between 6th and 7th grade. In China, they split classes between "Junior" and "Senior". So the grades are like this:

Junior 1 - 6th grade
Junior 2 - 7th grade
Junior 3 - 8th grade

Senior 1 - 9th grade
Senior 2 - 10th grade
Senior 3 - 11th grade
Senior 4 - 12th grade

So, my classes are on my schedule as Junior 1 and Junior 2. I also have two "advanced" Junior 1 classes. The way Mr. Dong explained these classes to me is that the students in them "learn more quickly than other students". So, I have those classes two times a week each, while my other classes I only have once a week. It's interesting to me that they've "tracked" these advanced students already, when they're only in 6th grade. The way classes are in China is that the students are grouped into one class, and they remain in their classroom. The teachers travel between rooms. The students are with their class for (I believe) their entire time as  Junior or Senior. It builds a sense of community amongst the students, and I think it's an interesting concept, since in the US, we take classes that fit our own schedules, with different people in each class. 

The school's full schedule is extremely interesting. I hated going to high school for eight periods.. I can't even imagine having to go all day like these kids do. Here's the school's schedule:

6:20 AM -- Rise
6:30-7:10 AM -- Breakfast
7:10-7:40AM -- Early morning class

7:40 AM -- To the post
7:45-8:25 AM -- 1st period
8:35-9:15 AM -- 2nd period (PE for all Juniors)
9:25-10:05 AM -- 3rd period (PE for all Seniors)
10:15-10:55 AM -- 4th period
11:05-11:45 AM -- 5th period

12:00 PM -- Lunch
12:30-2:10 PM - Break/study time

2:30 PM -- Getting ready
2:40-3:20 PM -- 6th period
3:30-4:10 PM -- 7th period
4:10-4:25 PM -- Eye exercises
4:25-5:05 PM -- 8th period
5:15-5:55 PM -- 9th period

6:00 PM -- Dinner

7:00-7:45 PM -- 1st period night class
7:55-8:40 PM -- 2nd period night class
8:50-9:30 PM -- 3rd period night class

I'm exhausted just typing it. My schedule isn't the same as that, though. I only teach about 3 classes per day.

Mondays, I teach: 5th period and 6th period, both to 7th grade.
Tuesdays, I teach: 5th period to 7th grade, and 6th and 7th periods to 6th graders.
Wednesday, I teach: 3rd and 4th period to 7th grade, and 6th period to advanced 6th grade.
Thursday, I teach: 3rd, 4th, and 6th period, all to 6th grade.
Friday, I teach: 3rd and 4th to advanced 6th grade, and 5th period to 7th grade.

The schedule itself isn't too taxing, but I was surprised by how little English my 6th grade classes knew today. I just assumed that, if they were taking an English teacher who spoke no Chinese, the kids would know at least basic English. Well, you know what they say about assuming.

I am happy to report that they are regular kids. As frustrating as it can be for me, they talk in class. They whisper to each other in Chinese and English. They make fun of me for not knowing Chinese. They're not robots.

My first class had 47 students and my second had 46. It actually didn't seem too big once I was in there. My first class knew a lot more English than my second one. I already know that there are a few girls in each class that are going to be a BIG help, because they seem to know some English already. Their parents probably either taught them when they were younger or they've had personal tutors. There are, of course, quite a few boys who are already troublemakers. There's one boy who is super sweet and wrote me a note that said "you are beautiful" after asking me how to spell the word. There's one girl who refuses to do anything other than rest her chin on her desk and glare at me. There's one boy who doesn't know a single word of English. He doesn't know numbers, colors, or the alphabet. He's in my second class on Thursdays -- the one that I know is already going to be the one I have to work the hardest in.

My day started with a thunderstorm, and the Thai students thundering just as loudly down the stairs at 6 something in the morning. I guess it was alright that I was up earlier than I expected, because I had time to try on multiple outfits and talk on Facebook for a while. I chose not to see it as foreshadowing, even though Lauren and I had to walk to school in a total downpour.

My first class was alright. It wasn't as intimidating as I thought. I've never been nervous with public speaking -- it gives me a kind of adrenaline rush that makes my mind focus extremely clearly on what I want to say. I can almost picture the words I wrote down in my mind, and it's almost like I'm reading from a mental picture everything I wanted to do in class. I had no problem fitting everything into the 40 minutes I was given. Plus, after being recruitment chair, I'm used to talking to the sound of crickets sometimes. (Haha).

I started each class with a very brief introduction of myself, since I knew they wouldn't know very much English. I'd say maybe half the class understood what I was saying. They all loved repeating "Mary", though. Oh, well. At least they're speaking. Then, I wrote down my rules. I know none of them really understood those. In the second class, one boy actually said, "We don't understand. You speak Chinese?" My response that I didn't made the entire class gasp. Haha. It's gonna be a fun year!

After the rules, I tried to break them into groups, unsuccessfully. They did understand that they were supposed to make lists of 10 English words that they knew, so I told them to stand up and move around. After about 5 minutes of blank looks, there were finally small groups of students making lists together. I had them turn them in so I could see exactly what level they're on. They're mostly numbers, colors, sports, etc. Some of them have other words like him, her, he, she, you, which, that, etc., so that gives me a little hope for 3rd period on Thursdays. After that, I had everyone go around and stand up and introduce themselves. "My name is ___________". Most of the kids talk very quietly and quickly, so I didn't catch most of them the first time around.

After hearing their names, I asked them all to choose an English name to go by, and we folded name cards. It took me a very, very, very long time to explain that I wanted them to choose an English name. There were a handful of girls throughout the classroom who understood, and they volunteered to stand up and say, "My Chinese name is ________. My English name is __________." The most popular names seem to be Lily and Alice for girls. We went around the class again, with each student saying that little script. I understood most of the English names, but there were some that I just couldn't get, and I didn't want to make them repeat it more than 2 times. I was afraid it would embarrass them too much, or make them think their English was too bad to speak out loud in class. Some of them were just weird - one kid wants to go by "Flack", and one kid refused to choose an English name. Since I couldn't catch all of their English names, I had them each write their Chinese name, along with their English, on a sheet of paper to hand in at the end of class. I'm planning on handing them back out next week, and writing down where they sit on my seating chart as they come up to get their pieces of paper.

My initial impression of my second class was that I was going to like it better. I was wrong. They were extremely friendly when I first walked in, and crowded around my desk, pointing at my name tag. "Hello, Miss Mary!" They were very excited that I was there. There was one little boy who immediately introduced himself and told me he was 5 years old. Alright. So, we're going to need to work on some numbers there. He's the same boy who gave me the "beautiful" note. There's an adorable little girl right up front, and she is so soft-spoken that I can barely hear her when she speaks, and she's the closest student to me. It's too bad, because from what I can tell, she's one of the students who knows the most English in that class.

Oh! I also gave them all my e-mail and QQ numbers (QQ is like AIM). They all found it just hysterical that I had a QQ, and immediately wrote both down. I'm sure I'll get lots and lots of spam QQ messages from them, but I've heard from other teachers that a lot of students will ask you questions via QQ that they're too embarrassed to ask in class. I think this rule applies more to the university students, but I'm willing to take the risk of spam messages just in case some students do actually use it.

Okay. The second class did this adorable little thing when the bell rang. They all stood up and chanted something at me. God knows what it was, because it was in Chinese. I'm sure it was some way of greeting me. They did a same thing at the end of class, and I caught the word "laoshi", or teacher. So, I guess they were saying goodbye. It was cool.

They all repeated my name back to me, and I started to work on my rules. They didn't understand a single word of what I was saying. That's when I started to get a little nervous about that class. I went through the same thing with my QQ and rules with them, and asked for lists of words.

I gave them quite a bit more time with their lists, because their comprehension was so much lower than my earlier class. I wrote on the board "10 English Words", and that helped. I think their reading is much better than when I speak, which makes sense. Even when I speak slowly, it's always easier to actually see the words. I walked around the room and helped people. This class was much more willing to raise their hand for help. I had to hold up a piece of paper with an example list of words to show them. Most of the kids wrote the numbers 1 through 10. Some wrote the alphabet, because that was all they knew. Some copied words out of the book. There were may 7-10 who actually wrote words from memory. This exercise was when I figured out that there was one little boy who didn't know a single word. I wrote the English numbers 1-10 on his paper and the words next to them, but he didn't recognize them. I really don't know what to do about this little boy. I don't know what to teach during my next class. Do I start with numbers and risk the other students being bored? I should mention that this class NEVER STOPPED TALKING. I even yelled at them. They would stop briefly, but when I would go over to another section to work with them, they would start again. I don't want to leave this kid behind, though, and have him lost for the rest of the year. I'm guessing that some of the other students could benefit from a refresher.

After everyone gave me their lists, I just had them go around and introduce themselves with their Chinese name. I knew that there was absolutely no way they were going to understand picking an English name. The desks are arranged into three groups, so I went down each section, and had each student stand up and say their name to me, "My name is _________". I'm pretty sure one boy said something dirty or that wasn't his name, because everyone around him laughed when he said it.

After going one by one, I told them, "My name is Miss Mary. I am from America." Then, following my example, they went around and said it in front of the class, "My name is ________. I am from China." Again, they struggled with this. I ended up having to write it on the board and have them repeat it after me before we tried to go one-by-one again.

Those were my classes this morning. We'll see how my next section of 6th graders goes this afternoon!

1 comment:

  1. Meredith, I am so proud of you! You're a real teacher! ;) This sounds so great. What an enriching experience. Thanks for letting me live vicariously through you via your blog (even though I'm way behind, haha). Miss you bunches!

    XOXO, Jess