What It Feels Like to Be an English Teacher in China

What It Feels Like to Be an English Teacher in China

Being an American Kindergarten teacher in China can sometimes feel like being a rockstar. You enter the room and the kids start cheering. You end a song and they’re still screaming. Of course, as any rockstar, there is a downside to having crazy adoring fans. The children often “rush the stage” and will cling on you while you’re trying to teach. It’s impossible to quiet them down. And like any outdoor concert venue, there’s the faint but certain smell of urine.

But this is a Kindergarten gig, not Woodstock. Which means things like Open Houses, Picture Day, and lesson planning. I promised to eventually talk about how the actual teaching experience has been so far and I hope to do just that in this post. I’ll begin with Teacher Appreciation Day. Held in China on September 10th and recognized as a national holiday, Teacher’s Day is a day of gift-giving and recognition.  The traditional gift, as I understand it, used to be an egg, but nowadays, most kids bring flowers or cards. Now, this was only my second day of teaching so I wasn’t expecting or deserving of much yet, but lo and behold, I still received flowers from students and a gift bag filled with food from my principal. Needless to say, I was very grateful for the totally unmerited lavished attention.

How can they appreciate me this much already?

How can they appreciate me this much already?

Now let’s talk about the morning routine… because there’s actually a dance routine involved. Before the students get dropped off, the entire school staff do exercises along to Chinese nursery rhymes and children’s songs. Soon, the children and their parents start arriving, often accompanied by crying, even still, after a month. There was one child’s crying that you could set your watch to. In fact, the teachers started taking bets whether he would show up crying. I know because I finally had to ask what the money changing hands was about. It was also interesting to witness parents in their different capacities. Most arrive on bicycles or electric bikes. One parent I’ve come to realize is a taxi driver, drops his daughter off in his taxi. Another is a pedicab driver. Not entirely surprising, just something I hadn’t thought to expect.

Anyway, out of eight classes total (roughly 230 students), I teach four classes a day, four days a week, on a rotating class schedule. We usually start the class off with a song, an American nursery rhyme or children’s song. I then jump into teaching three or four new vocabulary words. After ambitiously trying to teach all 26 letters of the English Alphabet on the first day, I learned that three or four pieces of new information is just about all a Kindergartener can handle, if that. After we’ve run through the words several times, I ask for volunteers for the word games and activities. Jumping on the word, running around the room trying to find the word, throwing a ball at the word, saying the word first quiet then gradually louder, saying the word first long then short, etc. We finish up with a review of the words, when the children are hopefully better able to recall the word and bookend with another song. I do another morning class, and then, the entire school goes out into the courtyard for morning exercises and a short recess. As the children eat lunch and have their naptime, I head home for lunch and my own naptime, thank god. I come back in the afternoon, teach two more classes, and then lesson-plan for the next day with the respective teachers.

That was the custom for the past three weeks. And then, this week, the school held its Fall Open House, a four-day affair. We kicked it off on Wednesday evening after class ended with a song and dance workshop led by me. They asked me to select something fun and crazy that the kids would enjoy moving around to. My first thought was the Thriller dance, of course. I was actually seriously considering it, up to the point of watching a YouTube tutorial. I ended up going with something a little more age-appropriate and easy to learn, “If You’re Happy and You Know It” and “The Hokey Pokey.” Turns out, little kids go crazy for the Hokey Pokey! I thought, “Is this how The Wiggles feel all the time?!” That concert high continued over to the next day and the next, with parents coming back to sit in on their child’s class and even participate in some games at recess. I’ve now given the same concert three times and the reaction is still as frenzied and Beatlesmania-esque.

The Beatles were bigger than Jesus. Does that make me bigger than Confucius? ...No way.

The Beatles said, “We’re bigger than Jesus.” Does that make me bigger than Confucius?

Wednesday was also Picture Day for my school. I was called out of a class and asked to stand with all of the classes as their class photos were taken, quite an honor, having that kind of permanence at a foreign school. And this is the first school photo where I can say, “Probably should’ve shaved.” As classes were waiting to take their photos, I was asked to entertain the students. Making funny faces and pretending you’ve also got a camera can go a long way.

I don't think this one will make it into the yearbook.

I don’t think this one will make it into the yearbook.

After eight straight days of class and open house, I’ll finally get a week-long break, part of which I’m using to take a short trip to Hong Kong to renew my visa. I’m taking a train to Beijing; from there, I’ll fly to Hong Kong and stay in a hotel for two days before flying back to Beijing and taking another train home. I’ll get to see Hong Kong, the American consulate, Beijing again briefly, experience the bullet train, and fly on yet another Chinese airline. Should be quite the fodder for my next post, “Trains, Planes, and… Taxis, I Suppose.”

As always, thank you so very much for taking the time to read these posts. See you in a week! Zaijian!

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