First Day

21 Feb

Well, that’s over. Sort of. I have 11 more “first classes” to teach this week, but at least it won’t be my first day anymore.

It turns out I spent a lot of time worrying about the wrong things. I was so concerned about the students’ fluency levels, but I should have spent some of that time thinking about class size. My classes are big, between 30 and 40 students each, and the rooms are physically stuffed. There’s barely room for me to circulate among the desks, and there’s certainly not enough physical space to do activities that involve having the students stand and move around more than a little bit. I just can’t see any way I could have all 40 of them on their feet and mingling, or standing/sitting in a circle. There’s not enough room to move the desks (and I’m not certain I could, anyway–the students stay in one room all day and the teachers circulate, so I don’t have my own classroom. When the bell rings, I leave and the math teacher comes in).

So, that’s going to be a challenge.

My students range in age between 12 and 17. As I’ve prepared for this job, I’ve been assuming that the older students would be easier to teach because their comprehension level is much higher. I guess I thought that it would be easier to plan lessons, and that I’d be able to lead them in more involved and interesting activities.

In retrospect, this seems kind of stupid. You’d think I’d never met a 16 year old before.

Today I taught a class of my oldest students and a class of my youngest students, and from a certain perspective, I was right in my assumptions. The 16-17 year olds understood me. They just didn’t really care. The 12-13 year olds, on the the other hand, understood much less, but they were darling and enthusiastic and well-behaved.

Overall, for my first day, I’m going to count it as a victory. In the end, I got all three classes to settle down. My lesson plan didn’t work that well in the first class because of limited space, so I adapted it on the fly, and by the third class, things were going pretty smoothly. The older students were a handful, but I got their attention and cooperation eventually.

I came home and a did some crash-course reading on classroom management–as tempting as it is to blame the students for being rowdy, I’m very aware that this is a skill set I’ve never had to cultivate. I’d like to improve my classroom management skills as much as possible as quickly as possible, because for the rest of this week, I’ll be making my first impression on 11 more classes. I have no desire to be especially strict, but I have a feeling that if I start the semester letting teenagers see me struggle for control of the classroom, I’m going to have to work three times as hard to get it.

In non-teaching news, after class, James took me to get a Chinese cellphone. I think it’s the last thing I really need his help with for now–I just couldn’t imagine trying to convey “I don’t want an account, I want to prepay for minutes” in Mandarin.

After we left the cellphone store (where the clerk tried to sell me a device that had “aiple ipone” stenciled on it–but, hey, only a hundred bucks!), James asked what I was going to eat for dinner. He’s very concerned about my ability to feed myself, and I have to wonder if it’s because of his experience with previous foreign teachers. Maybe they didn’t cook. Anyway, I told him that I was planning to eat ramen noodles, which seemed to horrify him. I think he thinks I’m going to starve to death. So, despite my protests, he told me he would treat me to what he called “fast food”, and he proceeded to lead me to the duck store. This is a small storefront with a Donald Duck-ish cartoon on the sign. They only sell duck parts, already cooked and sauced. James asked me if I wanted two necks or some feet and a neck, and I went with two necks. It was pretty good; there’s not a lot of meat on a duck neck, but the sauce was tasty.

And now, with my belly full of neck meat, I’m going to bed. Those students wore me out–it was only 3 hours of class time, but I came out of it a bit like a refugee. In retrospect, this might be part of why James treated me to duck parts for dinner–sheer pity.

High school students. Some things cross cultural boundaries.

I’ll be very pleased if tomorrow goes just a little bit better than today, and satisfied if it’s not any worse.


5 Responses to “First Day”

  1. Kathy February 22, 2011 at 12:23 am #

    Tomorrow will be better, you will know what to expect,I am starting to really like James. Ask Jen, the grammar teacher for tips.

  2. candyce February 22, 2011 at 4:30 am #

    Classroom size sounds like when your mom and I were in school (well maybe not in Catholic school), but certainly public schools of the early 60’s.

    Who’d have figured teens in China have so much in common with teenagers everywhere!

  3. Tomika February 23, 2011 at 4:29 pm #

    Woohoo! I have full faith that you will kick ass at controlling a classroom. I can’t wait to see all your pictures….

  4. Jessica March 2, 2011 at 6:22 am #

    First days are really tough. I’m impressed that the 12-13-year-olds were enthusiastic and cooperative. Middle-schoolers here are already starting to be a pain in a lot of classrooms! I had to wonder what kind of prep you got in classroom management before going; seems like the kind of thing they would help you “foreign experts” with before tossing you to the wolves. ; ) Anyway, I’m sure you’ll do great, as you have excellent instincts.

    I’ll have to tell Johny about the duck meat the next time I have to go into a new classroom or school… Ha!

    • Erin March 3, 2011 at 4:18 pm #

      Most of the teachers that my company places end up in Universities, so I think they focus less on classroom management and more on lesson planning, because University students require less effort to manage? Maybe.

      And I think the youngest students are still wowed by a foreign teacher, because this is their first year at the high school. I suspect that, as the glamor wears off, they might get to be more of a handful.

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