Tag Archives: teaching

14 days of 14 months

In 14 days I will be leaving China, just 14 months after arriving in Shanghai. Bittersweet. It is hard to believe that it was fourteen months ago that I wrote about the bittersweet day I left the Casey Eye Institute in my post Here we go: 2011. In some ways, it feels like it was a lifetime ago, in other ways, it feels like only yesterday I began this adventure. Yesterday, was my last day of teaching at Kid Castle. No more of all the crazy little kids.  All the times I couldn’t stand them, they drove me crazy, they drove me to tears.  All the times I came to the realization that my sister is absolutely insane for choosing to be a teacher as a lifetime career and that I could never cut it!  (Love you sis – insane but I am eternally grateful for you and other people who have a passion to teach children.)

All the ups and downs of teaching.  The spoiled children, the crying, the yelling, the playing and not paying attention, the dear child that vomited all over the floor of my classroom on Wednesday, the parents that drove me mad, my lack of creativity that sometimes made me feel incapable of planning a lesson to hold the attention of 18-20 small children.

But there were the hugs, the sweet words, the children that GOT it and were so bright and amaze me everyday with their abilities to learn English. There were the screams of JULIA! JULIA! JULIA! when my students saw me.  The high fives, the laughter, the amazing bonding and friendships built with my co-workers.

This week it came to an end.  This week, I saw the emotion in the faces of my children.  I saw tears from a class-clown, the funny boy, the tough boy, the little bit naughty, but very smart so I loved him anyway boy, he drove me up the wall… but I really liked having him in class.  As I said goodbye, his eyes filled with tears, he was quiet, not yelling and shouting, not acting out… he was silent tearful and sad because I was leaving.

My little student, Michael, who hangs on me, never letting go.  Always coming into the office to sit with me, giving me the biggest hugs each time he sees me. At six years old, he told me (in Chinese), that he was going to study English really hard so that he can come to America and visit me.

I had some of my older students asking me for my phone number in America, since I don’t know what my number will be and I don’t think they would actually be calling, I wrote down my email address on the board for them instead.  My students scrambled to jot down my email address, as my co-worker and I stood there saying to each other that we didn’t think any of them would actually ever write.  Thirty minutes after getting home last night, I received this email:

Julia,I like you.Don’t go away.

My students may have driven me crazy.  But they love me, and for the most part, I love them back.  My coworkers surprised me with a wonderful going away present and almost brought me to tears with the messages they all wrote for me.  They have made me feel so welcome, they have helped me out so much, they were such a part of my life for just over a year and they definitely sent me off feeling the love.

I have a feeling there will be more bittersweet days to come in the next two weeks, as I move on in life, from one adventure to another…


A Kid Castle Halloween

Every time a holiday rolls around, my school always has a little activity for the students to celebrate and learn a bit more about western (and some Chinese) holidays.  As this past Monday was Halloween, we had celebrations in all of our classes on Saturday and Sunday.  Since all the students were told in advance that they were allowed to wear costumes to class that day, I decided it would be fun to dress up as well.

So last Friday, I went with Yumi to a costume store she knew about.  The store is actually called the Holiday House, and despite not being in a highly visited area for expats and being quite small, it was packed with foreigners.  Everyone getting stocked up on Halloween costumes, accessories and decorations for a holiday that the Chinese don’t even celebrate.  Some of the stuff they had looked a bit like it was left over from the 1990’s and just never made it out of the Chinese factories in time to get to the US.  A few things were grossly over priced, but most stuff was pretty cheap.  I walked away with fake nails, a feather boa, a green nose and a witch hat for a total of less than $6.  Four simple accessories to make a costume my kids loved!

My rockin' $6 costume... and yes, I did already happen to have a t-shirt with the witch from Snow White on it.

Most of the classes at the Royal branch (my school) had lessons in the first half of class and an activity in the second half of class.  All of our new classes (classes which have been started up in the past year, so the younger kids) got a little something extra.  They had the activity in the first half of class and in the second half of class they got to go trick or treating!

The activity for all the classes was making paper masks.  With thick paper, colorful pipe-cleaners, glitter and feathers, the kids were encouraged to make themselves masks.  Parents were allowed in the classroom to help out and then of course everyone posed for pictures and got candy when they were done.

Mad rush for candy!

We also taught some Halloween vocabulary to the students, for example: bats, witch, vampire, pumpkin, jack-o-lantern, skeleton; and taught them to say, “Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat.  Not to big, not too small, just the size of a basketball.”

(Part of) my first class Saturday mornings, and my oldest/highest level students

The kids who went trick-or-treating, made masks during the first half of class so they could wear them trick or treating.  We lined them up in the school with their parents explain what they were doing and some rules (I’m assuming, it was too much Chinese for me to follow).

Lining up listening to instructions...

Then we packed the elevators for several minutes until everyone was lined up downstairs.  A couple of the administrative staff would go with us and walk ahead with bags full of candy.  They would stop at the three locations we had scouted out, give the candy to the workers there and as all the kids walked by the workers would give them the candy.

Outside trick or treating. This is Candy out looking for candy!

Susan and Albert getting candy from a security guard.

Along the way (we just walked about 3 blocks and ended at the grocery store near my apartment), we would practice our Halloween chant, sing Kid Castle songs and review our ABC chants.  I was able to go twice on Saturday, as I have two classes that day which started since I have been working at Kid Castle.  Sunday, however, I have all older classes.  One of my favorite classes was going trick or treating on Sunday though, as they have their lesson with the Chinese teacher that day.  Since the class I had at that time was doing masks during the same time frame, I convinced a Chinese teacher to do the masks on her own so I could go trick or treating with my little K1Y cuties!

My favorite little ones (ages 3-5)! K1Y standing in front of the grocery store singing Kid Castle songs!

It is always good to get outside for a bit during a long day of teaching, and it happened to be gorgeous weather.  Plus my little students loved seeing me dressed up as a witch.  This is one of my classes that makes me feel like a celebrity because when they are all in the classroom I just have to walk into the doorway and as soon as one kid catches sight of me the class erupts in shouts of “JULIA! JULIA!” and I’m immediately swarmed and given at least 10 hugs.  I have to say, it makes a girl smile to be so loved by adorable kids!

Even after skipping out on these girls to go Trick or Treating, I still made it back in time to get pictures of them in their masks!

One of the cutest kids ever - Hank.

Hank is a teeny little guy, about 3 years old.  Every time I teach his class, (my favorite K1Y) I make an Old School (Will Ferrell movie) reference that none of the students get.  Will Ferrell played Frank in the movie and in one scene they have him chugging beer with everyone chanting “Frank the tank, Frank the tank!”  Well, my students all chant, “Hank the tank, Hank the tank!” with me in class.  None of them understand the humor or irony I see in it, but it is pretty cute.

Just Another Day

I normally teach twelve classes a week; although, my thirteenth class will be starting in a couple weeks. This weekend one of the other foreign teachers in my school was out, so I taught two of her classes on Saturday in addition to mine.  Meaning, I taught 8 classes over the course of Saturday and Sunday – surprisingly, I survived with much less time for preparation than I’m accustom and my voiced survived.

My Sunday is always a busy day – as I teach 4 classes every Sunday.  So what does a typical Sunday look like for teacher Julia?  Here are some events of my day today:

I had a conversation with a 5 year old about his little sister, how she goes to a different school and has a green backpack but he has a red backpack.

Another 5 year old told my coworker that I have a knife on my back.  (I believe the translation was actually a knife in my back…) When I asked where the knife was she lifted up my shirt and pointed to my tattoo (which apparently looks like a knife to her).

I listened to two students argue in class (in Chinese) over who was speaking Chinese in class.

I was scolded by my students for speaking Chinese in class. (I referred to Chinese currency as kuai.)

I was told (in response to the question, “Does Julia have blond hair?”) “No, she doesn’t. She has gray hair.”

When a coworker was commenting on the very long braided rat-tail of one of the students at the school, I learned that it is customary for some Chinese boys to never cut this strand of hair until they turn ten years old at which time it is cut off.  No one was sure exactly which people this was customary among, although “a region around Shanghai” was speculated; nor did anyone know the reasoning or tradition behind it.  When the boy was asked why his hair wasn’t cut, he responded, “我不知道.” (I don’t know.)

I listened to one of my 4 year old students reading English and brought another teacher over to show off how good his pronunciation was. I also met his father who, when I expressed my delight in his son’s English, told me when the boy was two he taught him how to speak with both Japanese and French accents.

I finally went an entire class period without calling a set of twins by the wrong name; however, I did mix up the twins in another class for the millionth time.

I was told how to order yet another type of delicious dumplings from the small restaurant next to my school and went and bought dumplings for a co-worker and myself.  Spending 12 kuai (less than 2 dollars) for the two of us.

I relayed orders for milk tea (or bubble tea) from one teacher to another – in Chinese.  Because if I know anything in Chinese, I know how to order 珍珠奶茶.

I taught the sentence: “I am pooping.” And when one student left for the bathroom, I asked the class, “What is James doing?” The entire class responded, “He is pooping.”  If my male students are so obsessed with talking about poop, I at least ensure they do so in a grammatically correct manner.

I explained the difference between the English words chili and chilly, and their uses to four of my Chinese co-workers, one of whom has the English name Chilly.

I sighed a breathe of relief and announced at 3:40pm that I finally had 20 minutes to relax before my last class at 4pm, then immediately sat down at my desk and saw the stack of 55 reports waiting to be filled out.

And, lastly, to top of my day – I, for the first time, had a student spit in my face.  I took him by his t-shirt, pulled him out of the class, through the lobby where his grandmother was sitting and into the teachers office where I sat him down and told the Chinese teacher to please instruct him not to ever spit in his teacher’s face again. He was later brought back to class and apologized. The Chinese teacher explained, as he stood there about to cry, that he merely wanted to let me know what another student had done to him; yet, he didn’t know how to say it in English.

I did get a chuckle after class when I learned that when the Chinese teacher told him an apology might not calm my anger and asked him what he should do about it, he responded, “She can spit in my face.”

And after almost ten long hours at the school, I came home with a sore throat, exhausted, but smiling.  If nothing else, every day is certainly an adventure.

Teaching in China

Part II: Classes & Kids

My first two weeks on the job were spent observing Benji’s classes. Benji is another foreign teacher from the States. After 9 days of observation, it was time for Chinese New Year and I had 11 days vacation. During this time, Benji was headed back to the US and I would be taking over his classes for the month of February. Benji’s schedule consists of 12 classes which I took over (with 15-20 students each that equates to over 200 Chinese kids).

For the past two weeks, I have been teaching these classes: two on Wednesday, two on Thursday, one on Friday, four on Saturday and three on Sunday. This last weekend was my first time teaching (without an assistant) SEVEN classes in two days. By the time 6pm Sunday evening rolled around, I was beyond exhaustion.

The classes vary in level and age (my highest level is J5 and my lowest K1); and even those that are in the same level (J1 for instance) are not in the same place in the curriculum. Meaning, for each class I have to make a separate lesson plan.

The Kid Castle method of lesson planning consists of Warm-up, Presentation, Practice, Production, & Wrap-up. I should (theoretically) have each of these steps in each 40 minute class segment. My 3 P’s generally run together mixing up a little presentation of new material, having the kids repeat after me as the whole class and then in groups and as individuals. Games are thrown in to keep their attention and mix it up. The littler kids need a lot more games; I’m learning that no matter what I plan for the little ones I seem to run out of material. The simple games go quickly and I need more creativity and variety in planning.

The lessons are very brief and the content of each lesson very simple (especially for the little ones) which I find quite tedious and hard to focus on for an hour and 30 minutes. I have to remember though this is not their first language. Regardless, I get a little sick of saying, “What’s wrong? My knee hurts.” (Or head, foot, leg, arm or tummy) for hours. The J classes also focus on reading and writing – not only conversation, so there is more flexibility in what I can do.

Not using the children’s first language also makes explanations incredibly difficult. I never really thought about how to explain in English to a group of four year old Chinese kids how to play a game. I am not supposed to speak any Chinese to the kids (not that I know enough to do so anyways…) as of course immersion is the best method for learning. The kids, likewise, shouldn’t be speaking Chinese in the classroom.

Of course, this is difficult to enforce – any successful amount of enforcement does, however, cut down of the gossip and chattering that goes on in any class. Still, on a daily basis I find myself just staring at children, nodding my head and smiling as they go on and on in Chinese about something they feel strongly about. Luckily, the class is sometimes of help when they all point to the child talking and say, “Go pee-pee!”

Oh, you want to use the restroom? Why didn’t you say so?

In another class, I had girls fighting over a ruler. One was completely in tears, telling me a sob story about the other girl who took her ruler. The other girl insisted, however, that the ruler was given to her by Benji. “Benji gei wo” (Benji gave me) – was all I understood in the whole conversation).

While the little ones are absolutely adorable and my love for children makes me want to scoop them up and love on them; and laugh when they do cute little things to misbehave instead of correcting them. I much, much prefer teaching the older ones. One of my favorite classes is the highest level class I have right now – level J5. They are probably around 10 years old and it is great to be able to have a conversation with them. Class is more fun and entertaining when I can joke around and my jokes actually make sense (on occasion). I also learned that after some time little ones become less adorable. When they kick you in the knees, refuse to do anything you say, or you are desperately try to get 15 of them on task – even for 5 minutes.

Each class varies though, and while I cannot wait for next week when Benji is back and can take some of these crazy children away from me, parts of me selfishly want to keep some of his classes. Favoritism is alive and well in China.

Where will I be when Benji gets back? Teaching the other 200 students in the school who aren’t in Benji’s classes. One of the other foreign teachers, Roger from England, is leaving the school. Starting the first week March, I will be teaching about half of his classes and then gradually taking on the rest of them throughout the month.  I might also be getting a brand new K1 class of little, teeny, brand new, don’t know a word of English kids. Oh, that will be exhausting.

The good thing about Roger’s schedule is he doesn’t have four back to back classes on Saturday, but I’m sure I will come to the end of each weekend just as exhausted as he does have four classes on Sunday.

Teaching in China

Part I: School & Structure

I know there are many questions about what exactly I’m doing in Shanghai, who I’m teaching, the ages, the structure and why exactly any teacher would have to work Sundays.  Therefore, these next two posts are my explanation of my job (after 2 weeks of observation & training and beginning my second week of actually teaching).

First, how did I get the job? I found the organization Reach to Teach online and after researching and having Skype interviews with them and other recruitment organizations I decided to use them to find a job in China.  Reach to Teach is one of many recruitment organizations that recruit native English speakers to teach English abroad.  R2T places teachers in Taiwan, China and South Korea. They have hundreds of reputable schools they work with in these countries in order to find the right fit for each teacher.

Because of my (lack of) experience, my geographical preferences and the openings which were available, R2T connected me with Kid Castle Educational Corporation in Shanghai.  Kid Castle is a Taiwanese based company, but they have numerous branches in China. Kid Castle operates kindergartens as well as English training programs throughout the country.  I work at an English training center, one of about 12 or 15 Kid Castle locations in Shanghai.  The center offers classes for children pre-kindergarten through primary school ages.  Classes are held after school on weekdays (Wednesday – Friday from 4:30 – 8:10pm) and all day Saturday and Sunday (9am – 5:30pm).

The students are broken out into three groups, K (for Kinder), J (for Junior) and S (for Senior).  Within each group there are several different levels, (K1, K2…).  The K group only goes up to level 3 or sometimes 4, as many students are then switched into the J group because of their age.  The J group goes up to level 7 (J1 – J7).  There are only a couple senior level classes at our school and currently I am not teaching any of them; regardless, there is a set curriculum for seven levels of Senior classes.  However, at that age (around 12-13, I believe) students are involved in many other extra-curricular activities and tend to leave Kid Castle.

Apart from the senior level classes, all classes are one and a half hours in length (two 40 minute sections with a 10 minute break) and classes meet two times per week.  Every other class is instructed by a “foreign teacher” who speaks English as a first language.  The second class of the week is taught by a Chinese teacher.  Each class ranges in size from 15 to about 20 students.  I think my largest class has about 21 students and they are a handful!  For the K level classes taught by a foreign teacher, a Chinese teacher is provided as a teacher’s assistant (TA) to help keep the little ones under control on task.  Keeping 15 three to four year olds on track is a lot to handle when you speak the same language; when you don’t – a second person is certainly helpful!

My school shares a building with a "7 Days Inn" and a foot massage parlor

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