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I was lucky, when I arrived in China we were given a week to familiarise ourselves with our surroundings and a second week of training before teaching. During our training, we gave and part took in demo classes, were given lists of games and activities that were suitable, and were thoroughly trained in the books we were to use in the classroom. Our trainer who is from Ireland gave demo classes in Irish, it was certainly interesting to see how those who had never heard Irish spoken reacted to the methods applied, and how, even now, they can still recall some of what they learned.
The extensive training received had not steadied my nerves. In one day I was to have 6 periods. I had no idea what to expect. Prepared as I could be without having taught English to children previously; a lesson plan and some flashcards my only weapons, I walked into the classroom thinking I would be met with complete mayhem. What I found was a smiling co-teacher, and 8 tiny students looking up at me expectantly, a mixture of wonder and excitement in their faces. I smiled, introduced myself, my panda, at whom they laughed hysterically, and they introduced themselves. The class flew. I forgot I was nervous. We played some games. I taught some English and they were excited to learn. I hadn’t been expecting such polite and eager students.
First day down, I was wrecked. All this running around like a child can be quite tiring, you are reminded that you are getting old amidst these sprightly young ones. I guess it is easier for the students to like you when you are not a teacher in the traditional sense. At my school we are reminded that we are an after-school English-school. These children have done their time and come to us for extra lessons. China is a competitive environment; you need to have as many skills as possible in order to get ahead. English is currently seen as important, it prospectively gives children the opportunity to work in an ever more international climate, but it is not the only one. Often you find that students might be joining you for class at six in the evening, after school and before extra math lessons, when maybe we think they should be out playing with friends. For a great many of them English class is their time to have fun. We combine learning with games, aimed at children, games that I enjoy as much as them. I have to say, if I had been taught a foreign language in this way, I would be much more proficient.
Being able to give the kids a period where they are learning and having fun simultaneously is very important. This is something that the school in which I teach English really prides itself on achieving. We receive training in which we are exposed to the philosophies of successfully teaching English to children. The atmosphere promoted in the school is a relaxed and happy one, where politeness and general manners are instilled from the outset. Walking down the corridors the words ‘hello teacher’ are echoed after you. If you stop and ask a child, ‘how are you?’ they will reply and ask you in turn. (I soon found myself having adopted the particular structures we teach, and I am becoming fluent in American English.)
I came to Beijing with an idea of what teaching English as a foreign language would be and in ways it is what I expected, but in more it contradicts everything I thought I could expect. Even if you have never considered yourself a teacher you can’t help but fall into it. Of course you have students that act up a bit, but the majority are so willing to learn. The students are interested in you; they love to catch a glimpse of the world you come from. It shows them a realistic image of something foreign.
Teaching in Beijing and being in contact with so many people here, in turn gives great insight into this culture. So far, my time in Beijing has been a learning experience, one I am not quite sure what to make of, but one that I am glad to be having and one I intend to continue building on.