A hush fell over the class as I stepped through the doorway of the classroom. Keeping my eyes on the dusty blackboard, I tried to keep a stern but lively gaze. You must be strict, the other teachers warned me. I looked at the clock, 7 minutes early. The students were clearly surprised by who I was (a blonde-haired, blue-eyed white lady), let alone that I was in the classroom already. As more students filed into the room, each one would stop in the threshold and stare at me before I motioned to them that is was okay for them to come in.
Finally the bell rang, a soft xylophone scale of notes. “Goodmorning class!” I announced. Goodmorning, they responded. “Repeat after me, Goodmorning Miss Niech!” Goodmorning Miss Niech, they repeated. Despite shortening my last name for their sake, it is still hard for them say the /sh/ sound. :)
The entire Freshman class is split into 4 smaller groups, these individual groups attend all classes together (kind of like “Teams” in middle school). I have the pleasure of teaching Class 3 and Class 4, made up of 35 students (3 boys and 32 girls) respectively.
Each class is 100 minutes with a 10 minute break in the middle. At first, I thought that seemed like a long time. But each 50 minute block flies by, and before you know it, I am giving out homework for the next class.
As I expected, the students write very well, but are very shy and nervous to speak. The goal of my course is to build their confidence in English speaking by giving maximum time to practice conversation in class. Already I have to remind myself of this as I create my lesson plans. It is hard to know how much vocabulary or grammar to present as I try to figure out what level they are really at. But even if the material is basic for them, speaking is difficult, so starting with the basics seems to be working well. The biggest thing is to not let them speak Chinese! This is a department rule, NO Chinese language in class. I understand how hard that is, to jump into a 90 minute class in a foreign language, but I have been told to stay strict in order to build good habits. To combat this paradox, I have taught the students 2 ‘Power Phrases,’ which they can use when they are struggling to understand me…”Can you speak slower?” and “Please repeat yourself.” With a week down, the students are understanding that it is okay to ask questions in class when they don’t understand.
With 70 students, 8 hours of in-class time, office hours, plus at-home planning time, it all seemed overwhelming at first, but so far it is not too much.
I have to say, the highlight of my week was preparing for my office hours. Many of the foreign teachers here like to plan activities during their office time to encourage students to actually come! I will be teaching a Song & Theatre Workshop every Thursday for an hour, catered to my freshmen students and in-sync with the lessons they learned during the week. This week my theme was Greetings & Introductions and was happy to have 14 students attend. One of my favorite children’s songs, “Shake Another Hand,” was a great way to start the workshop by teaching different (and silly) ways of greeting one another…shaking hands, high fives, messing a head, etc. Then to introduce ourselves we played a name game where you think of a word that begins with the first letter of your name. For example, Musical Maria. This was incredibly difficult for the students, but once we brainstormed together, they were excited to go around the circle and try to remember everyone’s names! Finally we ended with a role play I called “Ding Dong.” Player 1 rings the doorbell and Player 2 answers the door. The pair must hold a conversation containing and introduction/greeting, pre-closing statement, and parting.
It felt very validating to be able to use my background in Children’s Ministry and Theatre to interact with my students. I praise our Father for these moments where my purpose seems so clear and I pray that He will continue to show me how I can work in the lives of my students.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” -Colossians 3:23
Well, I better cook my dinner now (pre-closing). Take care! (parting) :)