I worked for a year as an English teacher for primary school aged students in Chengdu, Sichuan Province. My company was an independent language school, which meant that teachers were obliged to conduct group lessons outside of school time alongside offering one-to-one classes. A typical day for me would begin leisurely, with our first classes starting at 12.40. This would provide ample opportunity to prepare lessons and have meetings with other staff and teaching assistants. Or just have an extra few hours in bed…
At around 11 I would head into school with the other teachers. We’d stop for a quick snack at the food stalls in front of school, chatting to locals and bartering for the food. Over the course of the year we got to know the stall owners quite well, although they still never gave us a discount! After we had eaten our fill, we’d walk to the school gates. The students would be on playtime and as soon as they spotted us would run over, shouting ‘hello, teacher how are you?’ Everyone was always delighted to see us and their excitement and enthusiasm was infectious; they never failed to brighten my mood.
Having arrived at school I would commence with my daily struggle of locating the classroom. This seemingly simple task vexed me for the entire year. Unfortunately the teaching assistant and I had differing definitions of clear directions, and this coupled with the apparently completely illogical school layout meant that I always stumbled into 2 or 3 empty classrooms before eventually chancing upon the right one.
The order of the day began by taking the register, and again was perhaps more difficult than one may imagine. The students usually allocated themselves their own English name, a requirement for the class. This resulted in some truly fantastic names, such as Wifi, Batman, Pizza, Barbie and Fish. Unfortunately however, over the course of a week they had often changed their names and then forgotten them, which meant that I had to learn their new names all over again. Suffice to say that remembering names and addressing students was always a challenge!
Eventually we could begin the class. The school that I worked for specialised in phonics, and our lessons consisted of practising the phonetic alphabet, learning new vocabulary and reading words using synthetic phonics, e.g. c-a-t, cat. The students tended to be very good at this as long as they applied themselves; English classes are often considered as fun and a joke which unfortunately means that the students behaviour could be quite disruptive. However, as long as teachers lay out guidelines at the beginning and are quick to promote corrective behaviour, the classes usually would go by fairly smoothly. I played many games with the class (bingo always proved very popular), and we always had a spelling test. Lessons tended to get a little raucous during the games, but after everyone calmed down the class would continue without too many hitches. After that I would assign homework, and the children would file out, chatting and laughing. The hour long lessons would always pass very quickly!
This basic structure of lessons continued throughout the remainder of the day, usually finishing around 8pm. Occasionally I would take one-to-one classes, and these were always my favourite. It gives the teachers and students a real opportunity to get to know one another, and the standard of the students spoken English always increased dramatically. Whilst school lessons are always fun and exciting, unfortunately it is impossible to spend much time with each individual student. Although other teachers preferred the school classes for the shared ideas and energy, my preference was certainly the one-to-one classes!
After a long and sometimes challenging, but always unexpected, day there was one thing on everyone’s minds. After the teachers had gathered together and regrouped after a long day’s work, it would be time to hit the pub.
Read our blog post Chengdu: home of pandas and land of abundance