After a two hour delay, two hour flight to Los Angeles International airport, another three hour layover, thirteen and a half hour flight to Shanghai, one hour flight to Nanjing, thirty minuet bus ride out of the airport and 15 minuet taxi ride we finally arrived to our hostel at 1 am Tuesday morning. Our first few days in China from Tuesday (6/4) until Sunday (6/9) were spent setting up cell phones, exchanging money, getting to know Nanjing, and learning about the Amity foundation which we are working for. During these five days we explored the city we went to many historical places including the Rape of Nanjing Memorial. During these first few days we lived as tourist, being guided by co-workers or a volunteer to show us around. But on Sunday we moved to Fengxian, a county in rural Jiangsu, China. This is where we will be for the next two weeks teaching English to high school students.
My teaching experience has not been what I expected so far. There is much less structure as to what I am expected to teach and what there is time to teach. I am teaching four classes of ranging Chinese levels a day. Each day I teach a different class and won’t rotate back to the same class until after three days. This leaves little time to evaluate the students’ English level and choose a method best for them to learn English. I was expecting to evaluate language levels and teach students how to better speak English; instead, I give lectures on different topics in English. I use as much English as possible but am limited by the level of the students, which the teacher gave me a general idea of. While the written grammar and reading skills of the students are high, their speaking and listening skills are weak and in a class of forty (or more) students it is difficult to ensure that everyone understands my lecture. It is even harder to engage them in a class discussion or ask questions. While most students are curious to meet foreigners and stare at me as if I was a famous person, in class they tend to shy away from practicing English.
Thus, these past two days of teaching have been learning experiences of what strategies work to “break the ice’’ and engage students. Without guidance from teachers, the content of my lessons/lectures, includes family, American pop culture, geography, history, sport and questions. I repeat my self a lot, talk very slowly and even translate or use Chinese to help explain a concept. This is one aspect that surprised me most about English language classes in China: Chinese is used to teach English. This means that while grammar and writing might be strong the students (sometimes even the teachers) cannot speak English very well and often don’t understand. I leaned that this is because the main focus of Chinese education it to pass the “Gaokao” (college entrance exam) which has English reading and writing section but listening and speaking are not focused on. If it is not going to benefit their Gaokao score then it will be ignored. They are taught to the test. Thus, speaking and listening are ignored when learning English. Many students thus, forget or lose their English language ability after high school. These first few days has given me a deeper look into the Chinese education system. As for the students I am excited to interact with them more outside of class and I hope that I can make a difference.