My time as a TEFL teacher…
Is coming to an end. It is coming up to the end of my 10-month contract working at ‘Wenzhou no.1 Private Peking Experimental School’, and gosh it has been one interesting ride – laughter, tears, stress, fun, loneliness, pride, just a few words that come to mind when I look back at my time with the school and with China. Let’s focus on my time with the school, the first few months, the make or break, the time to shine bright or fade away.
I remember my first time coming to the school – jetlagged – it was a Saturday, the morning after the night of arriving in China. Myself and the other English teachers were taken to the office of the vice principal, Curtis is his English name. There we were given our syllabus, our class timetables, our lanyards and of course, to refresh our memory, a copy of the job specifications. Then came the tour of the school, it was fascinating, I was a teacher, in a new school, in a new country, with a whole new group of friends. We walked and made small talk with our guide and with each other (we are a very different bunch of friends now that we know each other). We had our first school lunch and possibly the last time any of us enjoyed the food – I’m not fussy and will eat what is there, but some are not that easy going. Then the day was done and we all went to the local café for internet access so that we could plan our first lesson and possibly the hardest – our introduction to our students.
The first week was, in hindsight, a shocking week of lessons, where I put together a power point presentation introducing myself to the children. I tried to keep it fun, putting superheroes and cartoons in it along with my pets. At the end of this week I realised how old I actually am, but actually… no I’m not old, just from a different culture, they don’t know what they think they do. That’s my argument and I’m sticking to it.
It took me maybe two to three weeks to get into a good style of teaching, and by this time I had my first observation lesson. These are when you have several teachers from around the school come to observe, write notes, critique and give feedback. I still remember the stress from the day before, I did a practice lesson, it was shockingly bad, the kids did not learn much because I panicked and tried to do style over substance and the lesson was unfocused – this was my low point. I went into the evening with my mentor and co-teacher Lani as she helped me plan a new lesson, mixing elements from a biology lesson and incorporating them into an English lesson. I went home, got some Chow-Mein and a coffee, I spent the night making a new power point, a new game and a whole new lesson. I did it, the students were taught about animals and what they eat and then had to work in groups to complete a worksheet where they had to glue the pictures of animals into the correct food column and stick to their sentence structure: “The (animal) eats (meat, vegetables, fruit, fish, insects)”. After this everyone said they loved the lesson and would take elements of my teaching style for their classes including my reward and punishment system – nothing great just a simple star system for the class vs me, so instead of being deducted points the points would be awarded to myself and they just had to get more stars than me.
For the rest of this semester I went on with my lessons, getting positive feedback and continuing to focus on student centred lessons. As well as the students getting used to me and enjoying my lessons, I decided to continue trying to make some advancements in my position in the school. I worked with one of my co-teachers to create a weekly video series released through the schools WeChat channel. They consisted of a different topic each week, and the goal was to teach a more casual way of talking, useful for every day needs when going to an English-speaking country. We would get requests such as how to order food in restaurants vs. fast food, manners and mannerisms, candy and treats, to daily activities such as the cinema or looking for fun.
I also had my drama lessons where with a class of 20, we – I – wrote four short plays, adapted from fables centred around the big bad wolf, it was tough work and led into the
evenings with many one on one rehearsals, music cues, dance practice and stage directions. It was tough, it was fun, the children loved every second of it. We performed at the end of semester festival and the crowd LOVED it. Teachers from other schools were laughing, cheering and clapping along, it was great and I was so proud of the children… the curse of success was that we had to perform the play four more times for open days, teacher shows and visiting schools. Crazy, but fun.
I also had my drama lessons where with a class of 20, we – I – wrote four short plays, adapted from fables centred around the big bad wolf, it was tough work and led into the evenings with many one on one rehearsals, music cues, dance practice and stage directions. It was tough, it was fun, the children loved every second of it. We performed at the end of semester festival and the crowd LOVED it. Teachers from other schools were laughing, cheering and clapping along, it was great and I was so proud of the children… the curse of success was that we had to perform the play four more times for open days, teacher shows and visiting schools. Crazy, but fun.
Teaching the 2nd grade, this allowed me to give lessons in short bursts that could appeal to a wider audience. This has been a lot of fun and it also let me create some videos that I would edit, helped scratch the video maker itch.
This led into the month-long winter break in February, a whole month off, I could relax and to also try and get ahead of the game and plan some lessons. This led into the second semester, the home stretch as some of us called it. This for me flew by because at this time I had my girlfriend staying with me for three months. For the first time it felt like a comfortable job, I was going to work and coming home to her, the thought of staying for another year was in my mind but I knew that she would not want another year and deep down, neither did I. I just wanted a life with my girlfriend, a home.
SO! The second semester started off well, I went through my lessons I made them more activity and worksheet based as the students were at a good level especially for their age. We had another drama lesson where I decided to let the kids pick a song and dance and I taught them some magic tricks to perform for their show, a little Vegas show. (At this point I was obsessed with ‘The Greatest Showman’) The kids loved their magic tricks and performed them well, and their song and dance of choice was the Grant Gustin ‘Glee’ performance of ‘I want you back’, I was nervous at first thinking they could not learn the song and dance, but again the children surprised me.
I also got given a second extra-curricular class in teaching where I would be hosting a reading class for two of the top classes. Interesting, but I got into the groove of being a library teacher, the kids would read to me, do group reading. The hardest part? Being the
library/reading teacher without a library, it would not be finished until the next school year – way passed my time. Ordering in books would be my only resource, I came across the vocab books ‘Peter and Jane’ that increased in skill and the children loved the challenge with each lesson, always wanting to master the easier books and work their way up to a page full of words. They all passed on book 4a and some as high as 7b, again I was proud.
The lessons continued, and I created exams, listening tests, speaking exams and written papers for the children. The kids scored well above the pass rate, they’ve done well and I am proud of each of them.
Term is coming to an end now… and I am feeling in two minds. I will miss this place, miss the job, miss my colleagues and I will miss the children. Yet, I can’t stay in China I need to go home and find my career and my life, if I have made some small impact on their lives and made them enjoy their lessons with me, I think I have done well in my time here. If I could go back and change my mind and not come? No. I would always come here, rather than become an old man, filled with regret.