Published on:
May 7, 2019

by: Guest

A day in the life of a public school teacher, Shenzhen

My name is Shehan, and I’m an English and Drama teacher living in Shenzhen, China. In the not so distant past I studied Drama at Exeter University, followed by (somewhat paradoxically) Law at Cardiff University.

I’m an inquisitive wanderer; I love sport, the arts and I’m learning (or at least trying to learn) Chinese.

Where I’m most likely to be found: Somewhere in Shenzhen eating my weight in noodles.

I normally wake up around 7am (at the moment, frequently to discover that ravenous mosquitos have been feasting on my legs and feet for the duration of the night.) After getting ready, I leave my room, and as I make my way out of the building, a weary looking cleaner who I see most mornings, with a pink apron and deep creases in her face, glances and nods my way as I begin my relatively short commute to work from Honglang North to Bao’an Central.

As I head down the street towards the subway, I buy some tea eggs from a street vendor, for breakfast. She looks up and smiles with recognition as I approach. She ladles two tea eggs (these are eggs that have been boiled, cracked and then boiled again in tea, sauce and spices. They do in fact, taste nothing like tea) out of a vat of boiling purple liquid, drops them into a clear plastic bag and hands me the bag. I listen to a few tunes (I’ll share a playlist with you later) on my way to work, using QQ. QQ is a Chinese app which is similar to Spotify but unlike Spotify, a free version is available without having to listen to tedious adverts.

My ten favourite songs this month/a Shenzhen playlist:

1) Jungle: Cherry

2) The National: England

3) Frank Ocean: Pink and White

4) Jorja Smith: On your own

5) Talvin Singh: Traveller (Once Upon a Time in the East Mix)

6) Pearl Jam: Yellow Ledbetter

7) J Cole: Change

8) Jorja Smith: The One

9) Janelle Monae: What An Experience

10) Birdy/Rhodes: Let It All Go

I’m fortunate that my commute is short, and while I’m on the subject of travel, I’d like to point out that the metro is one of the best features of Shenzhen; it’s efficient, clean and cheap. This morning, like any form of public transport during the early hours of the day, the metro is crammed full of people making their way to work. I make a dash for the end carriage, which will come to a halt by an escalator at my intended destination, saving me a walk up the stairs. Once I’m out of the station, I take a brisk five-minute walk to my school where I’ll normally arrive by 8am. I like to get in around this time, to prep for classes and study Chinese.

I greet my American colleague, Steve, and Rosie, (“Miss Law”) my slightly sassy, ever helpful, ever patient contact teacher, who I’m fortunate to have a good relationship with. Having a good relationship with one’s contact teacher (a contact teacher is a Chinese teacher who you approach with any issues you might have. She or he will inform you about holiday dates, lessons that need to be rescheduled or anything going on in the school that a foreign teacher will need to be aware of) is useful when you need something, such as time off or support with an unmanageable class. At 8.40am, I bound off to my first lesson of the day (how enthusiastically depends on how much I like the class.) On this particular day, my first class is with Year One, class two.

I can say without hesitation say that the Year One students are amongst my favourite classes to teach. Their little personalities are filled to the brim with innocent joy and overflow with youthful enthusiasm; upon entering class they greet me with visible excitement and beaming smiles. Their desire to learn is genuine and they are yet to be worn down by assessments and relentless, copious amounts of homework. Recently, I’ve been using drama in my Year One classes and as a result, they’ve become more dynamic and fun to teach. I use a teddy bear to communicate with my year one classes; such toys (and similar ones such as dolls) are familiar and comforting to young children who may be intimidated by their relatively new surroundings. They are also less likely to be fazed by correction or chastisement if they feel it’s coming from the bear, rather than me.

Today, we’re acting out a story called “Get Dad” from Good English (Some of you may be aware of Good English, a textbook which contains the exploits of Mum, Dad, Kipper, Biff et al) which involves Dad chasing Mum around the garden with a bucket of water. I’ve brought a bucket from home but rather than filling it with water, I’ve filled it (for more practical and obvious reasons) with crumpled pieces of paper. The children engage. They squeal with delight when acting out the story and giggle and laugh as they pour “water” over each other’s heads. I conclude the lesson with a song which allows my class to move their restless bones (“Follow Me” by Super Simple Songs. SSS is a collection of songs and nursery rhymes for young learners, which can be found on YouTube. Some of you may already be aware) and leave feeling the class was a success.

Next up, I have a lesson with Year Five, class four, who I enjoy teaching but more often than not, test my patience. Today we’re learning about adverbs of manner. At the beginning of class I inform them that I have a new video. (Mr Bean.) They respond enthusiastically (Yay!) but behave poorly. (Booo!) I try to give as many students as possible the opportunity to speak before concluding the lesson with a short segment from an episode of “Mr Bean Rides Again.” With that, the clock hits 11.50am- it’s lunchtime. I head to the office, greet Steve and we chat about our respective mornings before going our separate ways. (Steve, home for lunch, myself to the canteen to feast on Chinese food, laden in oil.)

Following lunch (occasionally during my lunch break, I sleep but today I read the news and listen to some music), my next port of call is a lesson with year four, class two. Today we’re looking at parts of the house. We begin by naming the constituent parts/rooms (living room, bathroom etc) before I ask them to describe pictures of these respective parts on the smart board. Most of the students regurgitate the same words as they answer in succession. (Nice, beautiful, good.) However, I feel the students use these words too often so I challenge (particularly the most gifted students) them to rack their brains for other words; words they’re not accustomed to using regularly, as well as encouraging them to explain why they like the way the room looks. The class does not go completely to plan but a handful of students attempt to use new or unfamiliar vocabulary, even if occasionally they use it in the wrong context.

Afterwards, a likeable, lively (which is putting it lightly) boy who I praised during the course of the lesson, approaches me and surprises me by handing me something he’s made with his name inscribed on it; a piece of origami fashioned in the shape of a shuriken. When I return to my office, I let my sentimental side get the better of me and place it on my desk where it takes pride of place, next to my computer.

My final class is a drama lesson which I teach jointly with my contact teacher, Rosie. We conduct our drama lesson in the lecture theatre, which is downstairs next to the canteen. Today we are assigning parts for a performance of “The Farmer and his Wife.” None of the female students are eager to play the role of “wife” (the students are still at the age where they feel they will catch a debilitating disease if they stand within ten meters of a member of the opposite sex) but after some cajoling, I persuade Bella, a bright young student to take the role.

After school I make my way to Co-Talk Language School, situated in a location called “Window of the World.” My Mandarin class contains two other students, (neither are teachers, which gives me a welcome break from the expat teaching bubble) one from France and the other from Venezuela. We listen to our esteemed teacher (“Laoshi Echo”) for two hours (with a short break in between) and fall out of our seats laughing at our perpetual inability to pronounce a single Chinese word correctly!

Teacher Guest Post written by Shehan Nithiananda.


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