I was told I start teaching right after the National Holiday.
The school promised me teaching materials for all my classes. Since my schedule is packed for 18 classes per week, they don’t expect me to plan everything all by myself. The school has about 42 classes total. I’m expected to teach all of them by the end of the year. For the first semester I was set to teach grade 1 (7 classes), grade 5 (6 classes), and grade 6 (5 classes). Each classes has around 40 students—this means I have class with approximately 720 students per week!! Towards the end of the holiday week, the pressure started to build, and I still haven’t received the materials they promised. I was expecting to receive the materials the Friday before the holiday started, which ended up being the sports festival, and everyone was too busy to care. I couldn’t find anyone who’d give me a straight answer. They only tell me, every time I’ve asked about teaching, was to calm down and no need to be serious. In other words, nobody ever really responded to my questions or concerns.
As Monday crept close, I decided to play it safe and prepare lessons for all 3 grades. I used their regular English class textbooks as reference to see what my students might know. Besides my own home photos, it was challenging to get any kind of visuals for lessons since my housing internet pretty much ran on 1 kilobyte per HOUR most of the time, and the lack of a properly running Google. The most reliable internet I can get was from my 3G data service via my American iPhone 5. Drawing my visuals was the fastest way to get things done on time. It was a lot of work, but I enjoyed drawing and coloring the flashcards very much.
I had no idea what level my students would be at. I knew as a fact that the first graders just started learning English. Having been in an ESL class before, back when I was schooling in Thailand, I expected the 5th and 6th graders to understand very little when I’m talking regardless of their knowledge. I started the first week easy by doing a detailed self-introduction. It took the whole lesson. My favorite part was closing with a Q&A session. My favorite question was by a sixth grader asking, “what’s the matter with you?!” I found out much later that they got it from their ‘going to the doctor’ unit.
It was impossible to know all of their real names. I only get class lists if I ask for it. Even so, I don’t think it would help. I took notes of anything to grasp the class personality. Eventually I was starting to remember their English names.
Most of the time I have their main English teacher in the class. Some classes, the teacher only showed up once—later I realized that one teacher didn’t have good English, and probably didn’t want to lose face in front of her students. The classes don’t often work well with the Chinese teachers joining in with the lesson. Some try to change my plans. Some teachers always mistranslate (and I have to go with it to save their face). Some teachers translate everything and ruin the purpose of the activity. Some are of course, a great relief to be in class with. They are best in class for their Chinese teacher presence, but I don’t want to completely lose authority to the students. How can you teach a class without authority or respect?
I never got the materials they promised. I prepared all my classes from scratch with their English textbooks. Somehow they seemed to have forgotten all about it. They told me I can prepare 5th and 6th grade with the same lesson. That advice was a big failure though. 5th graders were no where as competent as the 6th graders. I also made alternative lessons for each classes that needed easier activities. The school seemed to be pleased of my investment with lessons. I continued doing lessons this way.
I got a hang of the older kids almost right away. Teaching 1st grade was a completely different problem though. Overall I enjoy running classes very much. After the first week, I almost lost my voice.