It’s funny how life throws you curve balls and gives you what you need, not necessarily what you want, right? Well, I did not want Kindergarten. I wanted anything but Kindergarten. ANYTHING. My general attitude to children goes along the lines of they’re as fine as soon as they’re old enough to ask funny questions and have opinions, toddlers are fun to chase for about ten minutes and babies are mostly boring but they can’t help that. I think this mostly because I don’t know many kids, so I haven’t really gotten to know any properly as people rather than entities I have to entertain for however long. As a preference I would always opt for people who I can have a conversation with, so coming to China teaching I was hoping for anyone 8+. What did I get? Kindergarten. My worst teaching nightmare! And on top of everything else, it means that I’ve carried a heavy flipping grammar book half way around the world unnecessarily. Balls.
I felt quite honestly sick when I first walked into Lilac’s Number 2 Kindergarten on that first morning, and I did quite literally get through it on novelty, adrenaline and baa-baa black sheep. They say necessity is the mother of invention, and as far as I’m concerned They are quite right – that’s how I got through the second morning, but what I did, with which class and how well it went I couldn’t tell you. Not a clue. I did sit down and draw all the animals in the Chinese astrological calendar when I got home so that I would have something to fall back on the next time I was back in. I’m about a month in and I’ve only just discovered that Number 2 does in fact have books for students to work from- the next step is getting a book for me so I can plan things. At the moment my telepathy is about as good as my Mandarin and it’s a tough call which I’d actually find more useful here! Fortunately, in Kindergarten Number 1 (my Monday and Tuesday school) things are a bit easier. From the first day there were books and flashcards and a lovely assistant called Amanda to help me, and I’ve borrowed the ‘Hello Melody!’ CD’s from them so I can get familiar with the songs. They’re rubbish by the way, here’s a sample: “Hula hoop! Hula hoop!/ Round and round./ Don’t let the hula hoop/ drop to the ground!”
Each morning (Monday to Thursday at the moment) I have four classes of about half an hour each, the range of ages goes from about 18 months up to about 6 years and class sizes are between 48 and 14 or so. It’s surprisingly manageable with a good assistant, which both of mine are, and a sense of humour. If I am dying on my arse there’s usually only ever about fifteen minutes to kill and stickers raise morale like nobody’s business. I gave three stickers to one tiny little girl in one class because she was the only one saying anything, and she came and gave me one back with a huge smile – presumably because I’m good at speaking English too! As soon as I manage to convey to the older ones that shouting things as loudly as possible doesn’t count as more understandable and get used to being winked at by a dozen tiny willies when teaching the tiny ones (the little boys’ trousers are not sewn up front to back below the waistband and they don’t wear pants) I’ll be on a roll. I haven’t really learnt any of the kids’ names yet, but Laura has a girl called Andrew, a boy called Brains and one whose name is either Cool or Star depending on his mood. She also got to give a class their English names – little Barry burst into tears at his name, can’t think why...
I should be getting more classes soon, which I am actually quite looking forward to - I didn’t come to China to sit around, I was doing enough of that in England. This could very easily be a case of be careful what you wish for, but I am learning very quickly that all the sayings are true and whatever doesn’t kill you... I’m still getting to grips with being a teacher, but I seem to be doing reasonably well at it and I’m actually enjoying myself! Covering some classes today the assistants didn’t believe I’ve only been at this for four odd weeks. Once again, my mother has proved that she is ALWAYS right because I’m finding my ability to draw a huge help – it’s good to see an expensive degree (in art) isn’t being wasted, though I didn’t expect drawing tomatoes and monkeys would be my primary artistic outlet after graduation!
It’s hard to describe the atmosphere inside the schools, especially since I can’t really compare them with any kindergartens or primary schools back home. Stereotypically you expect Chinese children to be all silent and dedicated – fortunately (or otherwise...) so far pretty much all my kids are bouncy little monkeys and the teachers and assistants seem to be a combination of dictator and warden and mother to them. They shout and they drag but they cuddle and they comfort when the sight of gigantic speckled foreigner gets too much. Because as a foreign teacher I am a hot commodity in the school’s show pony stakes (Look parents! We’ve got Foreign Teachers, so clearly we are an Excellent School and you should spend lots of money sending your precious child here...) it’s hard to tell if the Chinese teachers resent us being there or not, despite or because of how polite they are, and that is a little unsettling. We get carted between classrooms and when I land in I seem to be interrupting whatever the class is doing, like the English lesson that I’m about to deliver is the most important thing and everything else should move aside when the Foreign Teacher is around. However, I can’t say I’ve seen or experienced anything that could be described as unwelcoming, so I am going to take the way the kids are prompted to say ‘Good Morning Teacher!’ and ‘Thank you Teacher!’ simply as good manners and carry on doing my best not to screw up these children’s education.
Here are some things I have found popular and useful so far:
Stickers and pennies as bribes/rewards for good behaviour go down a storm – sometimes too well...
Peekaboo makes toddlers giggle universally – even ones who were bawling their eyes out at the sight of you a minute before
Kids <3 jumping
You lose your inhibitions about your singing voice surprisingly quickly
Putting things in bags can spin out teaching vocabulary for ages
If you’ve got any tips, please share!