Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Tales From the Orient: Teacher!

Hey, Teacher! Teacher! That's what the students call us. In America I'm "Miss Señorita Black" and in China I'm "Teacher". The kids at the camp are great. We had about 36 students, which was a smaller group. In past years they've had groups as big as 50 and 60 students. I'm kind of glad the group was smaller; it was easier to get to know all of the kids this way. There were more girls than boys (isn't that always the way?).

We had a few students who were middle school age, but most were in high school. It was very interesting for me to compare teaching high schoolers in America with teaching high schoolers in China. As you can imagine, the two are like night and day. Chinese students are so eager to learn it's almost unbelievable. High school isn't free in China like it is in the States. Some [poor] families aren't able to send all of their children to high school, let alone university. If I still taught high school that would make me even angrier with my slacker students who refused to work and failed all their classes and eventually dropped out. So many kids over here take things like education for granted while there are millions of children around the world who would give anything for that same privilege.

The competition to get into university is so fierce in China that students don't have time to screw around when it comes to academics and they know it. They take their educations seriously. Look at the fact that with what little summer vacation they have, these students opted to spend 2 weeks in an English camp. Some students who attended the camp last year stopped by to say hi to people and they said they didn't come to camp because they were too busy preparing for the upcoming school year. The don't play games in China when it comes to school. They take notes, they practice, they ask questions--it's really refreshing.

In our lessons I had planned a lot of activities like the ones that I did/do with my students. Lots of hands on activities that involve drawing, art, creativity, etc. as well as games and things where they can get up and move around the room. On the first day we played a game where they had to go around and find out what everyone did in their free time and get signatures on a sheet of paper. We also did things like a fashion designer activity where they designed their own outfit and create your perfect room. I taught them the "flyswatter game" that I used to play with my high schoolers to practice vocabulary and I think they really enjoyed that.

A lot of the students were very artistic and creative. I think that they enjoyed being able to showcase those abilities because they don't get the opportunity to do that in a typical school day. I think that the Chinese classroom is run very old school compared to an American classroom. I'd actually be very interested to observe a Chinese classroom and see how they do things. We played more games than I would typically play in my actual classroom, but it was camp so I wanted it to be fun. I think that the Chinese would be surprised to see that when you incorporate some fun activities it actually helps students learn. Speaking of helping them learn, I wasn't crazy about the book that we used at camp. It wasn't created by a teacher and I think it could be so much better. I really feel like I'm supposed to make a better version of the book for them to use next year. I'm going to attempt to do that this year, hopefully I'll be able to do it!

Anyway, back to all the students. They were so sweet! They complimented us all the time. Team members who'd been to China before were able to word it very well: the Chinese don't take friendship lightly. They were all so nice. Many of them gave us gifts on the last day of camp and they loved taking pictures of us and/or with us. I think I know what it feels like to be a low level celebrity with paparazzi following me around!

The students also wore the same clothes all week. It wasn't an issue of being poor. We actually had quite a few students who were rather well off. It's just what they do there. And it's not like the clothes smelled bad or anything. I think in general they live more simply than we do and have less possessions. I wonder what they think of us showing up in different clothes every day? I'm not sure if this is what it's like in Beijing, but it was the case in Shangri-La.

I'm going to miss those kids a lot! They don't have Facebook in China, but they do have something called QQ. We all set up QQ accounts so that the students could send us messages. The tricky thing about QQ is that on the iPhone app, everything is in Chinese! You can see the message they send you where they've written in English but you have no clue what any of the buttons mean! One cool thing about it is that they can record voice messages and send them. I really hope I'm able to go back next summer.


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