Teaching continues to be a series of satisfying successes outnumbered by failures, and most of them surprises.

My strengths seem to be and my satisfactions continue to come from teaching the young children. I’d like to share one little easy, successful thing I did with any other beginning EFL pre-k teachers who like me, often flounder with how to entertain and instruct the little ones. Again and again, it always seems to be the simplest things that are the most effective. This week, I focused on “Apple — a, Banana– b, Cookie– c”…. and without any real intention behind it, threw in “all done!” to supplement the whole eating theme. Much to my surprise, “all done” turned out to be the catchiest part! Here’s how I did it:

all doneall done

It was SUPER easy to make these little flippable pages, which were given rave reviews by my 3 year olds. I would have a child come up and “eat ____” then open the page saying, “all done!” at which they would all laugh their butts off. Even though it wasn’t my target vocabulary, “all done” became the phrase of the week, and much to my glowing pride I heard them using it during playtime with each other and to the other teachers. Since they got such a kick out of it, it was a piece of cake to provide them with their own flip book thingy.
all done
They colored it, folded it (with some assistance) and got a lot of entertainment out of showing them off and shouting “all done!” Also, the coloring activity was good because I was able to apply “all done” to something other than food. When a child finished drawing and raised his or her hand, I could say “all done?” I guess I’m pretty lucky that I can draw a little bit because they don’t provide a lot of teaching aids. If you can’t draw and you want to try this, I’m sure there’s plenty of clip art and stuff online that you can use!

With my slightly older, more advanced kindergartners, we made our own books for the last two days. This was both a success and a failure. Day one was a complete success, and here are some pictures of my class operating like an adorable, well-oiled machine:
book making (thanks for the materials, mom!)
book making (thanks for the materials, mom!)
book making (thanks for the materials, mom!)
book making (thanks for the materials, mom!)
book making (thanks for the materials, mom!)
The success was that they understood the book and enjoyed making it and “reading” it with me. The failure (completely on my part, obviously), was that on day 2, a lot of kids were missing their unfinished books I was planning to use the period by working on. It was a complete idiotic oversight on my part not to make sure I collected ALL of the books the day before, because turns out a lot of kids took them home and left them or just plain misplaced them. Also, I didn’t write names on the unfinished ones (it can get tricky with the kids without English names so sometimes I’m too lazy–big mistake this time!) and they had a hard time recognizing their own work. Luckily I had brought some other picture books, so while people with work left did that, we had a little reading corner to keep everyone else busy. It was…… probably the worst lesson I’ve done with them, but we survived.

They are my favorite class to teach and the ones who have me considering kindergarten teaching (particularly Montessori) as a profession. I have so many fun ideas dreamed up for them already that I couldn’t wait to try. So here’s something upsetting I found out today and a cultural clash between my values and the Chinese education system. Starting tomorrow, I have to start preparing them for an oral English exam they have in December and can only teach them words and sentences out of this one particular book. They’re 5 years old for goodness sakes, and they have to take an exam??? And to top it all off, the sentences are SO stupid, they make my skin crawl and I can’t stand that I have to teach them. I kid you not: “Mr. Black is a good man. Most men like football. Mrs. Black is a nice woman. Most women like nice things.” WHATTT???? I was warned about having to suck up certain disparities in modern values and whatnot in teaching, and this is pretty minor compared to some “behind” seeming practices at other schools (paddling is still a common form of discipline)…. I feel weird making kids recite crazy gendered statements like this that my hippie dippie nurturing side rebels against, but I’m here to do the job they ask and pay me for, so all I can do is just teach the ridiculous sentences.

I also taught my really bad third graders today. Here’s what I wore and here’s the face I was making by the time it was over:
if i go to hell when i die....

I don’t have any other pictures from that class because I’m not sure these kids would show up in mirrors or on film. I’m joking about it, but I actually cried over it today. I haven’t seen them in a few weeks, and last time it was sheer pandamonium in the classroom and I kind of gave up and let them go Lord of the Flies on my ass. So this meeting, I was determined to bring them back to the light of civilization! I read up on classroom management in some great teaching manuals my mom gave me (First Days of School by Wong, Tools for Teaching by Jones), where as the first title suggests, they underscore the importance of establishing a management system on the FIRST DAY….oops….

Despite this, armed with my brilliant new skills and a newfound confidence, I brought a Chinese teacher in to translate for me, and the children were all big penitent eyes and angelic arms folded on desks while they received my translated finger-wagging and helped suggest rules for the entire class and learned and recited the word “RESPECT” with me. As soon as the Chinese teacher was gone, though, they were back to their antics. I wrestled with it for awhile before bringing ANOTHER teacher in to help. This time, we went over consequences and rewards and I made class teams. Again they transformed into Jeckylls moments after the Chinese teacher was gone. By this time, class was practically over (yes, this all took 45 minutes), and without having taught a single thing from my super fun lesson plan, I left in a storm of grabby hands chorusing “sweets, sweets, sweets”…. It was a nightmare. It’s easy to joke about the kids being evil but I know it’s not really them that’re the problem. I am so frustrated with myself. I knew I was screwing up the techniques from the manuals even as I was doing it. Like an out of body experience, I watched myself do all the wrong things and botch the whole experiment. Like good little cannibals, Grade 3 Class 2 skewered me and ate me alive.

I would love to run into MY third grade teacher, Ms. Ernst, again. I was a difficult, stubborn, mischievous third grader myself, and I really want to shake her hand. Actually, I want to grovel at her feet, beg her forgiveness and make her swear to be my sensei and tell me all the ancient magic and mind-control meditation she did to maintain her sanity and actually teach imps like myself. I’m pretty sure she can probably levitate, walk on coals, and be consumed by fire without a burn; I only have to do this once a week and my knees already shake at the idea, but she had to face us every day!! Amazing woman.