If you have a dog or a cat, go blow in its face. When I used to do that to Molly, our black lab, she’d groan and cover her face with her paws; Jackson, our yellow lab, will snort, then sneeze before you have the chance to turn away. Sawyer, my cat, either ignores me, opens his eyes to stare at me with a, “Mom, really.” look, or gets a perturbed look on his face and bolts away from me.
Now, imagine those same looks and reactions from 3-5 year-old children as you’re trying to teach them English. They make noises that startle animals. They blow snot bubbles. They stare blankly at you. My favorite reaction: they come to a shocking halt to whatever they were previously doing, eyes growing wider and wider… and then run away, careening into desks, chairs and, eventually, the door, which they slam into with a cry. When the Chinese teacher and I witnessed this, we were both so taken aback that we burst into laughter, which made Vincent (formerly known as Robbie – his mom didn’t like my name choice.) cry even louder.
Last week I found a teaching method that kept the kids quieter, calmer, and helped them learn faster. Give them markers and paper, then have them write the ABCs. It was wonderful! They paid attention, I could finally see their skill levels and know what I needed to work on with them.
I was relieved, especially since this week the parents would be invited to come sit in on the classes. My stress over planning lessons and backup lessons alleviated, I went to school Monday morning with a spring in my step.
Jean, my boss, met me in my classroom. “Parents are here today,” she said, and I could tell she was worried. “It’s okay,” I replied, “We’re going to write!”
The woman couldn’t have hidden her panic if she were wearing a burka. “NO! You can’t write! You must talk and sing and play games! Writing is no good!”
I was shattered. I had mere minutes to plan what I would do with these kids in order to impress their parents. My mainstays wouldn’t suffice: Old McDonald is only good if you want to hear my impressive imitations of animals. London Bridge and Ring Around the Rosy are favorites, but there are always two or three kids per class that manage to fly into a shelf or wall, or they fall on top of each other, and tears are shed at great volume. Entertaining for the teachers, but horrifying for parents. I managed to teach the four classes, and the parents left beaming; I left deflated. Jean, before I left, had asked me to come in for a meeting before my afternoon classes.
The meeting was 45 minutes of Jean and Jake, my supervisor, telling me how I was supposed to be teaching my classes. Multiple times I told them how stressed I was from planning the classes and that I felt I had no more to give. If they wanted me to make a PowerPoint for the kids to watch, fine; that’s what I went to college to learn. In no way, shape or form am I trained to be a kindergarten teacher. Jean asked Jake and me to come Tuesday morning so I could teach a class in front of them, then Jean could show me what to do, and then we’d discuss.
Earlier, I was deflated; now, I was obliterated. I had to cancel a Skype date I was excited about, I had to come teach rowdy kids on my day off, and now I had to plan another lesson. Thankfully, my lesson went smoothly and I was able to keep the kids under control. Jake was pleased. Then Jean taught, and she was incredible. Of course, with her degree in elementary education, her decades of experience and her ability to speak Chinese, had she not been incredible, I would’ve eaten my shoe. After her showcase, we adults commenced business. This primarily consisted of statements like, “Use these flashcards.” My response: “I don’t have those flashcards.” “YOU DON’T? You need to use them!” This type of back-and-forth happened more than once. While this is typical when you teach abroad, at this particular moment, I was ready to shred all the flashcards Hulk-style and huff out of the school like a five-year-old throwing a temper tantrum. I should definitely know how to do that since I’ve seen quite a few five-year-old temper tantrums in the past few months.
Today I taught all four classes again, and it was miserable. I nearly lost control of each class at least once, especially when one class decided they wanted to hop around like frogs. Any other day I would’ve sat back on my heels and laughed, but there were parents in the room and an anxious Chinese teacher praying I’d make her look good. I later told Jake how frustrating the morning was, and he grimaced and said, “Well, just Thursday and Friday left!”
It’s now 11:41pm, and I’m still fairly clueless as to what I’m going to do with the kids tomorrow. Part of me doesn’t care – I have a lead on a job teaching adults. Adults won’t jump around the room like frogs or blow snot bubbles. The other part doesn’t want to leave on the verge of angry tears, as I did this morning, which means I need to plan. I can charm the parents and figure something out, but this week has been neverending and a struggle; I’ve considered quitting, but that would be unwise until I have another job lined up.
They say the first year or two of teaching, no matter where it is, will make or break you. To steal and re-purpose a line from a movie (the kind of movie that’s I-told-you-it-would-be-good good):
“How do I look?”
“Like a new teacher. Scared sh-tless.”
Every other aspect of life here has been good. I found a workout partner, and she and I have shaved time off my mile and I’m getting back into shape. I’m still just trying to find my footing as a teacher. Hopefully everything will settle down within a week. If not, at least it makes for interesting email fodder, right?