Archives for category: teaching

…is my favorite, and it is not disappointing me. I’d say the highlight occurred today, where the kindergarten and preschool forwent regular lessons and instead threw a halloween party for the kids! It’s my number one holiday, but not all that known here. As China gets more affluent they begin to incorporate more Western practices into their culture, and our “halmark” holidays I think are among those. Christmas is the only one you see getting true face time here, in any season; year round you can find Christmas symbols and characters adorning random products and bastardized christmas songs playing over the loudspeakers at the mall while you shop. I kind of missed seeing everything all decked out in spookiness for Halloween. I love how in the states, all the grocery stores and pharmacies are taken over by polyester spiderman costumes and mini candies and those annoying motion sensing robots that cackle or start to sing when you pass. Ahhh what a perfect time of year where I come from. Okay, sorry, that is the second phase of culture shock talking: over idealizing of the homeland!

Anyway, I became the halloween consultant for this little party. (I wish that were a real job, by the way). My adoring mother did not leave me ill prepared for this task in a care package I received several weeks ago. Pianpian and Keke (my two chinese teachers and dare I say, friends) were adorably bemused by the cotton cobwebs I brought in. We had fun stretching it out over the banisters and making little spiders to live in it. They were kind of mystified by the thought when I told them this stuff is EVERYWHERE around halloween in the states.

spider webs from America put to good usespider web from america, put to good use

I’m such a dork, but I think I was as excited as any of the kids would be when I woke up this morning. I put on my halloween party outfit, including tights and a wig straight out of my care package (thanks mommm!!!)

halloween party outfit
he's looking at my wig! ha
(^I managed to capture this priceless reaction to the wig I was wearing! HAHA!)

and went into a properly spookified classroom greeted by lots of little children in homemade masks.

halloween masks
me and a masked villain

I had made a little “pin the tail on the black cat” game (‘black cat’ was one of the halloween vocab words I taught this week so I thought it only appropriate), expecting to set it up in the corner of the room and have kids come up and play it as they pleased. What I was not expecting was for the whole kindergarten and preschool combined, as well as visiting early childhood education university students, to line their chairs up like when I do lessons and wait for me to make a kind of presentation out of it! I was not prepared for that, and it’s not really the nature of the game for people to watch quietly as everyone takes their turn; it was a more somber game of pin-the-tail, but whatever! I winged it, and the kids had fun.

pin the tail on the black cat
pin the tail on the black cat

When it was over, there were lots of eyes blinking at me expectantly for another game, and one of my students (bless her) requested “duck duck goose” so I turned it into “ghost ghost pumpkin” and it filled up the rest of the time quite nicely and got everyone lively and having fun. Pianpian and Keke stopped me abruptly because the children had to go outside for morning exercises… which is odd: they cancel all classes for the day but morning exercises must be attended as usual? But I was just relieved to not be the center of attention anymore!

morning exercisesmorning exercisemorning exercises

The rest of the day was a breeze. The kids made halloween art projects and pretty mush just ran around playing in their masks and having candy. I gave out spider ring prizes. I also did a little face painting. I think I wanna be a carnie when I grow up.

halloween crafts
Kingty working on halloween craftshalloween crafts

Nathan as a scary vampire- MUAHAHA
don't lose your mask in the ball pit
ooooooh scary!
spider man
halloween queen Jenny

face painting
face painting

enjoying english halloween book
Another care package shout out: Ethan there is enjoying the book that ALL the kids love to look at and have me read, a halloween story in English!

It was an awesome day. Although Halloween novices, these children seemed as adept as any at tricks and treats, and they took to it like naturals. But what’s not to love about a holiday that celebrates mischief and candy and fun and kids being the center of it all? Those are the kind of golden values that transcend language and culture and all that other crap.

Look, here’re the party animals now!
halloween group photo
some of my students
some of my students
cutie patooties


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.

Laoshi (laow-shur) means “teacher”…. my kids alternate between the English and the Chinese when calling me, but it’s a word that makes me perk my ears as much as my own name these days. “Teacher, teacher! Laoshi, laoshi!” Often they say “Katie Teacher” or “Miss Katie” (that one’s cute). Do I actually feel like a teacher yet? Only sometimes.

I have a LOT of weaknesses that often make me feel embarrassed in front of the Chinese teachers (in all but my 3rd grade, the regular Chinese teachers are there to help or watch me flounder, whichever they feel like!). Mostly in classroom management and general child-wrangling. Yesterday I witnessed my preschool teacher, Keke, maintain the interest and enthusiasm of 5 three year olds with counting blocks in Chinese where minutes prior I had been unable to keep them in their seats for English counting games. She is experienced and talented, and I truly respect and envy her abilities. Her English is limited but she is the sweetest person and I’ve already learned so much from her. Like the fact that children that age can’t sit still for long and need lessons that involve movement. This led me to one of my extremely successful counting tricks! For any other teachers or interested parties, I’ll share:

It’s a rhyme I made up that goes like this “Five little fingers on my hand. Oh! Here comes the FINGER EATING MAN!!” I hold up 5 fingers on one hand, and with the other hand I “eat” one of my fingers and make it disappear. Then we count the surviving fingers “One, two, three, four. Four little fingers on my hand. OH! Here comes the FINGER EATING MAN!”… etc… The kids do it with their hands, count their fingers, and are hilariously captivated! They sit still for that WAYYY better than watching you point at a white board or a piece of paper.

When they are going crazy, I try to roll with it. Instead of forcing them to sit in their seats, I use whatever it is that’s distracting them as an excuse to use English. They want to run laps around the chairs? Fine, every time they pass me, we high five and yell “One! Two! Three!” Also, seeing “how many times can you spin?” was fun. Spin them in place like they’re about to go after a pinata, when they get to the target number (five in my case) I pick them up and make them “fall” and of course they love it. Keke taught me that with kids that little, you really just have to let them learn while doing what comes natural for them.

Kindergarteners, about 5 years old, are so cute. They love to play pretend!
Playing "restaurant"
Playing "restaurant"
Here we are playing “restaurant.” That’s one of my naughty boys pretending to dump water on his customer’s head, but ya know somehow the naughty ones are my favorites in a way! He just has a lot of energy and a lot of imagination. When I get him engaged in an activity he gets really into it and he’s actually very bright.

They also love when I get involved in the pretending. They fight to “serve” me food and drink during that unit, and today when they pretended to be animals (mostly puppies), they couldn’t get enough of me taking pretend bones out of my pocket and throwing them across the room. I have to admit, I love it, too! I always loved pretending when I was little and it’s incredibly fun to have an excuse to indulge in some good ole fashioned pretend as an adult!

When things are too wild, coloring is like a natural sedative. The whole energy in the room changes when it’s time to color, and it becomes a peaceful, quiet place. Ahhhh I love coloring.

Coloring day
coloring day
This coloring day we practiced “shirt” and “dress”… they then got to choose which picture to color, the shirt or the dress. The woman in the second picture coloring in Cinderella is Keke.

Issues: The kids don’t take me seriously a lot of the time. They do things to me I never see them do with the Chinese teachers, and it’s probably because they see me as a playmate… They do what kids do: Snatch my teaching aids, hit things out of my hands, pull on my clothes, run to the board and mess up my drawings or whatever when they think I’m not looking. I’m not quite sure what to do about it. Part of my job was described to me as “just play with them” and it’s really fun when the pressure is off and we do just play, and the kids who are interested wander over to me, we practice some English without them even realizing they’re learning, then they wander away when they’re bored. And they are sweet as pie! I love it when they run up to me and give hugs and kisses and sit on my lap and hand me books (that I can’t read because they’re in Chinese but I just make it up). But I am also expected to have a class. Sometimes I manage to maintain that balance, and often I don’t, but I’m still learning.

Primary, though, is a WHOLE DIFFERENT NIGHTMARE. Primary consists of ‘gradeschool’ and I teach first through third grade. First and second grade aren’t too horrible because the Chinese teacher is present and she helps out. But third grade I am on my own with the animals. Bribes and threats have done nothing, the kids don’t take me seriously, and I think part of it is the precedent set by past oral English teachers. Oral English time is free time in their minds, and the last two days I taught them I pretty much let the class dissolve. The five or so out of the 25 kids who were interested I allowed to come up to the board and we played word scramble games and drew pictures, and frankly it was much more manageable than trying to corral 25 ADD monkeys into some kind of organized activity. I feel guilty because part of it is laziness on my part. And I know they know they are inappropriate because twice one of the boys called out a warning and they rushed into their seats when they thought a Chinese teacher was coming. I could go to the office and get a chaperone and conquer the savages with the help of a respected authority figure. But it’s hard for me to care. It’s like…. I’m not paid enough to expend this level of energy. I’d much rather use my time and free time thinking about my kindergartners and preschoolers.

Anyway, that’s my short novel about teaching so far. And it’s only been a month…. dear lord….