Tag Archives: ESL

Exam Time

Last week after Friday’s classes, I was elated: the classroom part of teaching here is finally over.  It was a hard week of review–hard because the students didn’t seem to realize I was doing it for their benefit and didn’t pay extra attention–but it was tempered with the happy thought that we were almost finished. There were moments during that week, however, where I was able to feel a tinge of sadness that I would be leaving some of these kids who have become a source of some joy to me.

Some classes are really fun to teach, and I am a different person when I am with them than when I am with a terrible class. The good classes are the ones who pay attention and actually love learning, the bad ones hate being told anything.  I am able to be freer and joke more with the good classes, because I know that I have their respect, but with the bad classes, I can’t show much of that side of me, because if I loosen up much at all they walk all over me, and don’t hesitate to show their disrespect.

By my last class on Friday, I had worked up so much energy in the sheer anticipation of almost being done, that I was a far quirkier teacher than I usually am, and had them in stitches the whole class period.  It was kind of like an out of body experience, to be honest.  I’m pretty sure they couldn’t believe how much energy I had, because I’m usually not that chipper with them on Friday at 4:25 pm.

This past week, I’ve been giving the final oral exams to my students.  I have written 3 tests so that the students can’t listen in on the previous student and copy their answers (cheating is unbelievably rampant).  Each student has 2-3 minutes to answer my questions, correctly pronounce some sentences, use two vocabulary words correctly in a sentence, and describe a picture.  That’s it.  It’s a short test, but that’s necessary in order to get through all the kids.  I got through something like 325 kids this week, and that’s not quite half of them.  Testing is easier than teaching in the classroom–I can save my voice and some energy, but it’s still draining to do 3 class periods in a row.  I am grateful to sit down though and do more listening that speaking so that I can really gauge each student’s progress.

In the Oral English teachers’ classes at this school, only 20 points of their final grade is obtained.  The Chinese English teachers’ classes make up 80 percent of their grade, which is probably another reason why we don’t matter that much to the administration or students.  10 points of the final grade is for class behavior and participation, and 10 points is for the actual exam.  By this time in the year, for most students, I can take one look at their faces and know exactly what behavior score they should get.  Last semester, it wasn’t as easy to remember, so I was slightly more generous in giving them the benefit of the doubt.  It may have satisfied my sense of justice and dignity to give low behavioral scores to the students with awful attitudes and behavior in class, but it felt even better to give high marks to those who  deserved them. Some students have improved a lot this semester, and their grades show it.

Next week, we will finish the exams, and if any students are absent and miss the exam, then we have another week of contract left for them to make it up.  I am hoping that I can finish all of the testing next week so that we will have a free week to just relax, pack, and say goodbye to all of our favorite people and places in the city.  Only three more weekends left in China.  I can hardly believe it.


On feeling less than human

There’s something about the weary cycle of teaching mostly deaf ears that makes me feel less human than before.  I realize that in teaching English, I can’t impart English to my learners as anything more than a language tool, even though I love English because of its literature, and not because it is a tool to further myself.  It’s useful for that, yes, but that’s not why I love it.  It’s not realistic or useful to teach poetry and short stories to 12-year-olds who reply to questions like “how are you?” with “it’s a SUNNY day!”  And it’s hard to teach something that you love when you have to remove all the parts that you most love out of it.  Whenever I complain about students who don’t care about my classes, I’m not complaining because I think they should love English.  I don’t expect them to, and only the students who have a brain and a heart for the beauty of languages will really love learning English at all.  English is compulsory for them, and they’re not all going to like it.  What I complain about is that they are disrespectful to me as a teacher and as a person.  Because I speak a different language, and because I’m a foreigner, I feel less than human in their eyes.  I’m an oddity with big eyes, light hair, and light skin that says strange things and makes them pronounce such ludicrous sounds as “th” and “v” correctly.  In a foreign teacher’s class, the expectation is to play games and watch English movies, not learn tongue-twisters, practice speaking, or learn about the culture behind the language.  So every time I show up to my 21 Junior classes without a movie, or without a game that is riveting enough for even the back row to stop lambasting each other with pencil cases, then I am not cool.  My class is too boring, and they let me know it with their behavior.  From this, I’ve deducted that my role at this school is to be an entertainer, and that if I try to teach much substance, then I’ll lose the attention and respect of my students.

So I can’t impart a love for English to every student, because they’re young, and all they’re concerned about is the next test, and hiding that they’re wearing braces, and tripping as they gallop to their classrooms (oh, the awkwardness of middle school).  Some of them want to use English later in life, and some of them won’t.  That’s okay.  So I stick to my guns (i.e., Oral English doesn’t mean movie time), and do what I can to show them how to use English in real life.  And I’m trying not to tie my humanity up in whatever value my students place on me, my time, or my classes.  It’s just not worth it, and it’s not an accurate picture of who I am.  So, I talk with my friends, read books, and read poetry after classes and on the weekends.  I remember that I’m just a pilgrim on earth (and here), and I won’t be forever. I remember whose child I really am.  I remember that it doesn’t matter what people think of me outwardly, but what’s in my heart.  And then I feel human again.

Discipline by awkwardness: a test project

As many of you know, I have had problems with many of my students being noisy while I’m teaching. This stems from a variety of reasons, some of which include: boredom, being brought up to resent foreigners, genuinely not understanding me, pretending they don’t understand me, and so on. The students who don’t like foreigners, there isn’t much I can do with them, other than show them kindness and try to make my lessons interesting and useful. The ones who don’t understand me, even my dumbed-down English, I can only hope that the Chinese English teachers will help them, and I will do my best to help them when I can. The ones who pretend they can’t understand me, because they view a foreign class as a party class with no frightening presence of their Chinese head teacher, I have to figure out how to deal with.

I don’t like yelling in class, but lately, I’ve been using it too much. But oddly enough (duh), shouting at middle school children to be quiet isn’t very effective. Some of them are embarrassed and stop talking, but most of them disregard it, and probably are amused at the fool I’m making of myself. Poor foreign teacher, shouting BE QUIET at the top of her lungs.

I went to sleep the other night feeling foolish and even a little guilty at how much I’ve been yelling at my classes lately, and realizing that it’s not helping them, and it sure isn’t helping me. So, yesterday and today, I tried a method that I’ve heard from other teachers: the awkward stare.

The awkward stare goes like this: when your students are rabble-rousing, don’t yell “be quiet” until you’re red in the face (been there, done that). Just stare. You don’t even have to glare. Control yourself, and be calm. Just stare, and when the noise level goes down to just a few pairs of students talking to each other, stare at those individual groups until they stop talking and start squirming uncomfortably in their seats. They don’t know what to do with it. I try to hold the awkward stare a few moments longer, until all the kids are wondering what the heck I’m going to do next, and then I just continue on with my lesson as if nothing happened. If they start talking again, I do it again, and if the whole class period keeps being interrupted like this, I tell them at the end that I am going to talk to their teacher about them, and then snag the best student to come translate for me. And they do not like this. I have yet to see if this will prove very effective, but I left class feeling much less angry and tired than I usually do, simply because I didn’t lose control of myself, and that made my life easier. I may have lost minutes of teaching time because of the stare-down, but honestly, there is no point in teaching when I have to shout over their voices anyway.

I can’t make my students respect me. Some do, some don’t. However, what I do in class, I am accountable for, and I have to live with it. I would much rather keep my cool than try to get across to a class via yelling how rude I think they are, because chances are if they’re ill-behaved, me yelling this fact to them won’t change them. But flying off the handle, like I’m tempted to do, will change me, and I don’t want that to happen. This country is too hard to live in with that, too. I snapped at one class yesterday, at the end of a very obnoxious class period, with my sinuses feeling like they were exploding because of a cold– “you are all rude, and I do not like you.” I laughed about it later, but I couldn’t help but feel hypocritical in my own rudeness.

I’ll let you know how the awkward stare pans out in the following weeks!  I don’t think I’ll run out of stares…it’s not hard to summon that awkwardness when you’re me.