Home' Teacher : March 2010 Contents 70 TEACHER MARCH 2010
'Laowei! Laowei!'* shouted the Chinese stu-
dents as we walked by. I've been a teacher
for many years. I've taught in small schools
and large, high schools and primary schools,
city schools and country schools. I've even
taught in schools in other countries before,
but nothing quite prepared me for teaching
my first English class in China.
My wife and I had been invited to teach
English classes at a school in a rural area
of Haimen in Jiangsu province, north of
Shanghai on the east coast of China. The
principal had seen us teach in Australia and
was keen to have us visit his school to teach
We were at a large showcase school, con-
sisting of a 'normal' school and a private
school on the same campus. About 400 of
the students were boarders, whose parents
paid a lot of money for their children to
attend. Classes for the boarders were around
the 30 mark, which is what I was used to
in Australia, while classes for the other stu-
dents were up to double that -- as in big.
We arrived in Haimen a couple of weeks
earlyto acclimatise, settleinto our apartment
on the 10th floor at the top of the school's
boarding section and do a little travelling.
We were given our timetables a couple of
daysbefore schoolstarted. Ourlessons were
to be aimed at improving conversational
English, as a back-up to the classes taught by
the Chinese native speakers, so we weren't to
include any bookwork. This made the lesson
to be involved, or performing, for the whole
40 minutes. Plus we had to get around to all
the various classrooms, rather than staying
put in the one room.
Our teaching began on the first day after
the sum mer break, when temperatures
reached more than 40 degrees Celsius. It
was sweltering heat with high humidity and
you became wet with perspiration in a very
short time. Air-conditioning was essential.
For thefirstday ofthe new term, the tem-
perature was in the high 30s. The sun had a
real sting to it and I was perspiring profusely
the moment I stepped out of our air-condi-
tioned apartment in the main building to
make my way to my first lesson, which was
in the building furthest from my own on
campus. I allowed 10 minutes for the jour-
ney, to be on the safe side. Unfortunately
I hadn't figured on the slow arrival of the
elevator. It was obviously being used a lot
because it took a very long time to arrive --
three or four precious minutes in fact.
I thought about racing down the 10
flights of stairs, but luckily the lift arrived
before I could make a decision. After a brisk
walk across campus I arrived with still a
minute or two to spare, but by this time I
was perspiring and quite thirsty.
Being my first class in China, I was
extremely well prepared. I'd planned a series
of brisk, entertaining activities, with lots of
involvement by the children to maintain
their attention, and a series of alternative
activities to fall back on if any of the ones
planned weren't working out. So I walked
in to my first class on time, confident, if a
little nervous, and perspiring and thirsty.
In front of me was a sea of young Chinese
faces. There were 57 of them in all, emerg-
ing adolescents aged 12 or 13. They were
packed into the room like sardines. Most
had never seen a foreigner before and luckily
were sitting very quietly checking me out.
Unbelievably, there was no air-condi-
tioning. We were on the sunny side of the
building and the sun was beating in through
the big glass windows. The students were
already looking hot and bothered even
though the lesson hadn't even started yet,
and I was feeling much the same way, but it
was on with the show.
All of my activities worked okay. We said
'Good afternoon,' to each other, introduced
ourselves, sang an introduction song and
'Happy Birthday' to the students who'd had
birthdays in August. We blew out candles,
revised counting, identified items on a chart
and played a shopping game. I introduced
some new signals and some new vocabulary
and we practised answering simple ques-
tions. I used four coloured balls to involve
students around the room. I also used a set of
numbered cards so that all the students were
involved in at least one individual activity.
It was all systems go in that first lesson.
You perform a lot of actions when you're
doing this style of teaching. My arms were
swinging in all directions as I squeezed
up and down the rows, demonstrating the
actions for the new songs.
When living in Japan, I'd learnt the
trick of carrying a handkerchief to wipe
ARRIVING IN CHINA, JON STARK'S CLASSES IN CONVERSATIONAL
ENGLISH HOTTED UP A LITTLE FASTER THAN HE EXPECTED.
Teaching in China?
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