Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Joys of Primary School

So, I have been outsourced (sort-of) by my employer to teach at a primary school once a week. I alternate first grade one week and then second grade the next. There are three classes per grade and I teach each class for about 40 minutes. There are about 40 first graders per class and 35-40 second graders. I guess the guy who was in my role last year did a poor job in controlling behavior because the principal of the school wasn’t keen on taking in an English teacher who only spoke English. That’s when I first learned I would be teaching the class WITHOUT a Chinese teacher in the room. I wasn’t too keen on the idea either.

The first couple weeks were hard. I was told to teach anything and then when I taught something it wasn’t right. For example, I taught letters to the second graders and after the class the regular Chinese-English teacher said that the students don’t learn the letters until grade 3. I was observed by lots of people in those first couple of weeks too. One man (who I had not seen before then nor since then) even mentioned that I needed to write more formally. What? What does that mean? Cheny, the girl who was married a month ago, was with me those first couple of weeks. These people who were constructively I’m sure, criticizing me only did so by talking to her. After Cheny told me what he had said, I asked her how to write more formally than I already did. She said after a pause and a laugh that she didn’t know. She thought I wrote very well and very neat. Who was that guy, anyway?” I thought, “Didn’t he know I was kind of a big deal?”

It’s fortunately gotten a lot better. After the third week I was told, “They like how you teach; they like your style.” That was encouraging. My “style” was / is to make sure the students all have pictures to use as manipulatives. Last year the guy would teach a new word by going around one-by-one to each student to listen to that student say the word. (What??? A first grader is a first grader. They still go crraaazzzyyyy if they’re not actively engaged, even in China.) So, depending on what lesson the students are doing (the Chinese-English teacher now informs me what to teach each class) I find pictures from the internet, etc., to go along with the lesson. I make 40 copies of all the pictures and then put them in Ziploc baggies for each student to easily access. In class I first teach the words and then let the students say the words and show me the pictures at the same time. I also, whenever I can, try to think of some kind of song to teach with the words in them. I have rocked out, The Wheels on the Bus with the 2nd graders, and Window– Door – Ceiling – Floor (to the tunes of Head, Shoulders, Knees, and

Toes) with the 1st graders, just to list a couple. I have also taught them a clap rhythm that I use in order to get them quiet. Shout out to Chanda on that one! Thanks also to GOD for helping me think of these things to do!

I did have one worst-case scenario. Most of the classroom teachers leave the room when I’m there. In fact, there is a 10-minute break between classes when students are allowed to freely leave the classroom, so sometimes it is up to me to settle them back down. That was hardest to do with the first graders. The last of my three 1st grade classes is my crrraaazzziiieeessstttt group. There are a few kids in there that need more help than the average student, I guess I could say. One would definitely be labeled, “special needs” in the U.S. Of course, they put these students all together with the one super young teacher. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is her first year. She leaves when I’m there, well she used to at least, and I don’t blame her. I’m sure she needs a break.

This one day the class was NUTS. Two boys whose desks were together (well, used to be together) kept hitting each other in one row and wouldn’t stop. The boy who obviously has some kind of ‘special need’ kept turning around and slapping the boy behind him. Now with this boy I usually give him extra attention. I stand by his desk, give him lots of eye contact, give him high-fives (the kids love that), make sure that he has the right answers, etc., etc. He usually is fine and even fun, but there was NOTHING I could do to make him act correctly on this day. He turned about and kept hitting, again…and…again… and then started making loud noises and laughing! There was another boy in the back who tried to sneak to a friend’s seat by ducking behind the kids in the last row, and on top of that there were little conversations going on everywhere. I kept trying to gather them together with my special clap, but the boy in front kept yelling out noises and turning around to hit the boy behind him. Seriously??? I finally moved his entire desk, which was the first one in a row closest to the wall, so that it was up against and facing the wall. I also moved his bag over to his new spot. He refused to move. He just stood where his seat originally was and wailed. At the TOP OF HIS LUNGS, in the front of the classroom mind you, he was crying. I just kept on teaching. Hahaha - it was a mess! After a few minutes of ignoring him and the students thinking I was crazy, or he was crazy, I really don’t know, I moved his chair back and he sat down. I collected the baggies of pictures early since they were misbehaving and we practiced words back and forth until it was time for me to go. There are windows at the very top of the wall that separates the classroom from the hallway. They’re always open. Why someone didn’t run into the room during that time, I will never know.

The Chinese-English teacher came to meet me at the end of the class to show me what to teach the following week and to have me sign a time chart. I told her about some of the scenarios that were going on and asked if maybe the classroom teacher could sit in with me the next time. I’ve had two 1st grade weeks since then. Both the Chinese-English teacher and the classroom teacher have stayed in the room and it has been a world of difference. And the students have really been able to learn and remember a lot being focused, which is the fun part too.

This brings me to today. I leave our dorm around 7:30 to walk to the front of campus and get a taxi. I usually am able to get one rather quickly, but today it took me 10 minutes. That was about 5 minutes too long, but I was still okay. My driver decided to go a different way than other drivers have gone, but I had to have faith that

things would be okay. That is not always an easy thing to do regarding taxi drivers. I was sure that God was in control and that this driver was going to take me on a quicker route since I was short on time. God must have told him,” I thought. Haha – not exactly. This road ended up being bumper-to-bumper, stop and go traffic. At one point my driver put down his window, turned off his ignition, and got out a cigarette. He offered one to me; I politely declined.

At first I was fine with being late. “I’m always on time,” I thought, “this happens sometimes.” But then the time got later, and later, and then I finally started freaking out a little. I didn’t have a cell phone – Brad and I haven’t gotten them yet. I was disappointed I couldn’t call anyone and let them know I was sorry, but on my way. Not like I know anyone’s phone number anyway, but if I did… I was also worried about the poor teacher who was stuck in her classroom with no idea what was going on. What if the kids were going crazy? And how would I explain what happened? None of them speak enough English to understand! … We got out of traffic, but then my driver had to pull over to the side of the road and stop someone on the sidewalk and ask for directions. REALLY???

By the time we finally got to the school, I was at least 20 minutes late for class. I walked towards the room, wondering what I was about to find, hearing a sound in the hall of children being crazy. I felt so badly for the teacher who probably didn’t know what to do with her students. I timidly opened the door and walked in. I found 40, 2nd graders all sitting down at their seats doing different things. N o t e a c h e r i n s i g h t. Seriously? That would surely spell out l – a – w – s – u – i – t in America. They were sitting and basically working. They all greeted me, “Hello teacher!!!” I started teaching like everything was as it was supposed to be. Aww, these kids are sooo good and soo cute! ...Then, a boy in the front turned around and threw something at another boy behind him. hahaha - and yet they’re still 7.

Tip to remember: Throwing paper is only fun if the possibility of getting in trouble for it exists.


  1. Love your blog :) Love you guys :)

    p.s. I think I only have 30 students total. God never gives you more than you can handle. You must be a saint!

  2. oh my goodness. i cannot believe how many kids you have! i can't believe the hitting kid! i can't believe the screaming/not at the desk incident. i can't believe the 20 minutes with no teacher incident. wow!! the cab driver offering you a cigarette kills me. i love all the fun exercises/songs you do/sing with them. they are all so lucky to have you as their teacher!

  3. PS this really made me laugh: Didn’t he know I was kind of a big deal?”