Anonymous: i'd be surprised if you publish this. i'm a former expat teacher who was in the same position you're in, teaching in china. i understand you aren't provided much support/prof development and have a nonexistent background in education, but that's no excuse for conducting "fluffy lessons." children carry the concepts you teach them for the rest of their lives. you can find engaging age-appropriate lesson plans created by educators that will hold real meaning for you and your students. try harder.
I’m ‘fluffy’ because my classes do not have homework, grades, exams, and I only see them once a week. I’m ‘fluffy’ because I am supposed to refrain from using any chinese in the classroom (so no word definitions or explaining things in chinese) and remain ‘conversational.’ I’m ‘fluffy’ because they have actual teachers giving them lessons on politics, history, and english. I am ‘fluffy’ because I was hired to hold interaction-heavy, casual conversation classes. The topic is barely meaningful, and is just a vehicle for some new vocab, to help them with pronunciation and cultural details. My job isn’t to teach them American History, it’s to prepare them so that if they go to America, they know what “Thanksgiving Dinner” is and why there are pilgrims decorating everything.
I am a fluffy teacher, my classes are not heavily academic in nature.
I can’t repeat enough that I am not their primary educator, and I am there for half an hour once a week to shore up their conversational English abilities.
I also teach 口语 (also known as, Oral English) class in a large combined middle/high in a rural town in Yunnan. I see each of my 40/50-student classes twice a week for forty five minute classes.
The Oral English ability here is not very high; none of the local teachers can speak it at all, and neither could the students. Many started to learn English at the 7th Grade level.
Many TFC teachers are now teaching Oral English.
I don’t think Oral English is fluffy.
My students may never go to America because they’re not a privileged as the OP’s students, but since I’m here, and I’m already committed to dedicating two years of my life here, I may as well do something meaningful with my time, instead of wasting time they could be spending preparing for exams.
I’ll be honest; I was bitterly disappointed when I was assigned to teach 口语. They have another English teacher during the week who sees the 4x the amount I do, and teaches grammar. If my only goal were to help with exams, the best thing I could honestly do is to just return those classes to the local English teachers.
But there’s more to learning a language than learning how to read and exam questions. I think listening and speaking are vital components of language learning.
We give them Oral English assessments. They are rated on presentation ability, clarity, accuracy, and etc.
We give them projects. They’re writing stories now during class, translating them, and illustrating them themselves. They’re going to read them aloud to the class at the end. I think it’s pretty impressive, given that they’ve taken English for all of four months.
I think Oral English can be fun! It can be funny. It can be entertaining. I think many of my students find 口语 class to be their favorite/most fun class, because they like that they can learn a lot and they like that they are held to high expectations (sometimes maybe not that second bit.)
Oral English class can be a place where students can be creative. Students can practice presentation abilities. Students can do PBL (project-based learning.) Students who don’t excel at written exams can shine by speaking, something not at all highlighted in our rural school here. I’ve noticed some of my best performers in my class are not necessarily the best testers in regular English.
This isn’t necessarily meant to be critical — wait, actually, maybe it is, but I do disagree with the OP’s idea that Oral English classes are by nature “fluffy” because they’re not taught by the “primary” educator.
That’s something decided by the teacher.
I stumbled across a few articles in the past few days — all relevant to teaching but still quite across the board. My thoughts are included, but please read the articles first and make your own opinions! I’d love to hear discussion about any or all of it.
Gardener and Tour Guide: An elementary student encourages teachers to be “tour guides” who allow children to explore and discover new things rather than “gardeners” who cut off “rebellious branches” to grow them into “obedient plants.”
This calls into question our idea of “classroom management,” when we want 100% compliance from our students. Does this stamp out personal initiative and growth? Now that I’ve adapted more local methods into my classroom behavior management, my class is shockingly well-behaved compared to the unruly mess that it was last year, but does this mean I’ve sacrificed some student autonomy in the classroom? In short, am I a “gardener” now? Can I still be a “tour guide” while keeping a firm hold on my students?
(Also, when we are fed the feel-good narrative about inspiring our kids to stay in school or go to college, are we being “gardeners” and molding these students to our own personal ideals? …yes…)
While we’re still talking about classroom management…
I Quit Teach For America: The tagline reads: “Five weeks of training was not enough to prepare me for a room of 20 unruly elementary-schoolers.” I sent several quotes from this article to some of my friends here. Four weeks of training with small classes of well-behaved children is also not enough to prepare us here at Teach For China for several rooms of 50-70 unruly students, either. A criticism of both TFA and TFC that I’ve heard from friends is that the “teaching practicum,” which was three weeks long for TFC Fellows, is not good practice for the management problems that Fellows will inevitably face after a few months at their placement schools.
My Chinese placement partner (and one of my best friends here) echoed the article’s sentiment, albeit with her own twist: “No matter how good of a lecturer you are, without management, your class is still bad.”
Is management that important for a teacher to be an effective teacher? How can you have both good “management” but also have more “horizontal” classroom, where the teacher and the students are on more equal footing?
Teach For America “Works” (but only for Math teachers?): This is an article stating that TFA Math teachers do better than teachers from both alternative routes as well as traditional routes into teaching.
I’m not sure how relevant this is to my life yet, exactly, because a) they haven’t figured out exactly why TFA Math teachers are doing better, and b) I’m pretty sure on average our Foreign (ie. from ‘Murrica) EFL Regular teachers’ scores, especially at the MS level, when compared with local teachers’ scores, are almost consistently lower, with a few notable exceptions. (And no, I did not make this up; I heard this from an MDP of TFC when he was explaining why TFC was making the transition from EFL Regular to EFL Kouyu/Oral English.)
If, as an Oral English teacher, I can’t offer much in terms of test scores (as Oral English is untested), what CAN I offer?
(On a less self-centered note, one of my Chinese partners is outperforming local teachers by a clear margin, and one is head to head with the best in the grade. So while this sample size isn’t indicative of TFC as a whole, at least I strongly feel that Chinese Fellows are better equipped to improve test scores than Foreign Fellows are.)
Short Teaching Careers: Interestingly enough, short teaching careers have become quite the trend, and the article states that the teaching profession may be redefined.
I’m just going to leave this quote here: “To become a master plumber you have to work for five years,” said Ronald Thorpe, president of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, a nonprofit group that certifies accomplished teachers. “Shouldn’t we have some kind of analog to that with the people we are entrusting our children to?”
Can Emotional Intelligence Be Taught?: This is a very interesting article about teaching social-emotional learning to students in school. The article states: “So-called noncognitive skills — attributes like self-restraint, persistence and self-awareness — might actually be better predictors of a person’s life trajectory than standard academic measures.”
I think this is pretty interesting, but obviously, I don’t have the training to even try to implement this into my classroom.
That’s all, folks! Hope you enjoy.
So you’ve just graduated from college and you want to change the world. Good for you. The non-profit sector seems like a natural place for a justice-minded person such as yourself, and nonprofits are almost always hiring because the turnover rate is so high. But you may find the social justice industry to be… a little unjust. Here are a few tips and tricks for how to avoid being exploited by a nonprofit.
- Don’t work at one. Seriously. Working at a non-profit generally involves at least some level of exploitation. (When was the last time you saw a non-profit with a union?) If this doesn’t deter you, figure out what you’re willing to give up: Is it sleep? Weekends? Seeing your friends? Most non-profit workers do not work 9-5. Working nights and weekends is common. Paid overtime is not. Non-profits tend to make you feel like if you are not willing to work 24/7 then you are not “down for the cause.” That’s bullshit. Don’t ever let anyone make you feel like you’re not “down enough” because you are not willing to sacrifice your well-being for “the movement.” People who don’t take care of themselves burn out and often become jaded and bitter. You can’t sustain “the movement” if you don’t sustain yourself.
Summer is over, and now I’m officially back in 镇安. I just came from “MOKO” (TFC’s new silly name for Month One Planning) in 保山, and it was pretty exhausting! I led a 口语-marathon-session (THREE HOURS oh god), and all I can say is…I hope it was useful! >_>
Things went kinda way south in my love life in the last few days, but I won’t elaborate on my blog, eh heh. In happier news, we planned a surprise birthday for Karin, Shiantel, and Caitlin, and it was SUPER adorable, especially thanks to Ubong! >w<
THE CATS ARE HUGE NOW. (Thank you to my amazing friends for catsitting this summer — esp Wai, who got stuck with two fat kitties for a whole month.) They are happily romping around in the field now after being stuck inside a hotel room all summer.
Anyway, 云南, it’s good to be back.