I’m Amanda Sinclair, a 24 year old born and raised in England. Since finishing my law degree I decided to take a break and teach English in China. I have never taught or travelled to Asia before, and even after reading about China and what to expect, I still felt woefully unprepared. Here is a quick run-down of my very first week in China.
Walking into the classroom for the first time
There are a set number of classrooms, and you have been told where you will be and what you will be teaching. You have planned the lesson, to what you think is perfection. You have extra activities lined up on case, and you have gathered all the required resources for the lesson.
The bell goes for the start of lesson, with trepidation and a knotted stomach you slowly walk down the corridor, at a pace which may indicate you are walking to the gallows. For me, it felt like it. I have never felt so nervous, even scared.
Reaching the classroom, I braced myself, took a deep breath and entered. I would be in there with 16 children for the next hour and a half, hopefully teaching them new English vocabulary and grammar.
The room is smaller than I remembered, and upon entering, 16 faces turned towards me and an excited murmur went around the room. Breathe. I focused on the table where I could place my box, before turning, and summoning as much excitement and gusto as possible, I say hello.
I meet my students for the first time
The children all expect you to be this confident, intelligent, infallible person, who will teach them English, and make it fun. I felt anything but. My mind went blank as soon as I had taken the register, and was so grateful that I had a lesson plan. The hardest thing I found was keeping my voice steady, and remembering to breathe. That is so important.
The children were keen to tell me who they were, and show me how much English they could speak. They were lively, keen and adorable. They absorbed everything I told them, which at the time I was lucky enough to not realise, as that is huge pressure when you think about it. What comes so naturally to use, we have to rethink and make sure we are correct, and why it is that way.
Whilst the children are keen to learn it doesn’t mean that they aren’t children, and can be mischievous.
Beginning the business of actually teaching
After you have remembered to breathe, you have to establish the classroom rules, clearly and make sure the children understand, otherwise you can’t justifiably tell them off or punish them for doing something later in the class.
I established two teams, children love competition and points, and got them to name the teams, so that they have some input in what they are doing. This made it so much easier. I had a direction, and so did the children.
With the help of the teaching assistant (T.A), another godsend, I proceeded to introduce the new grammar. First saying the word, and then trying to elicit the meaning, in English then Chinese. TPR is also invaluable, as I learnt, in my first crash course in the lesson.
To hear, and see the children responding is priceless.
After the initial heady rush, I managed to find a pace, and a rhythm that I could maintain. There were games and activities, rewards and punishments, and some pretty excited children. I was lucky though, I was only subbing a teacher that was ill, so it wasn’t my class. It was almost a free test run.
My advice to new teachers
1 – Breathe. Take a deep breath in before you go into the class to help settle your nerves.
2 – Lesson plan. This is key to anything. If your mind goes blank like mine did, it is your safety net. You can never plan too much, if you have extra time, you have a back-up game/activity planned. Or if you run out of time, you can at least make sure you have all the necessities covered.
3 – Talk with your T.A. The T.A’s know a class pretty well, and can help you with translations, keeping the children in order, and making sure the class runs smoothly. Make sure you listen to any advice they have, and also let them know what you are planning to do in the lesson, as they can help you to organise it.
4 – Teachers. The other teachers are your greatest resource. Speak to them about classroom management and ideas how to teach a certain grammar point or vocabulary. They normally have great advice, and have been there before. Never under estimate what they can say and help you with.
5 – Resources. Be creative with what you have. Children have a limited attention span and the more fun you can make a lesson, whilst still being informative, the better. But don’t make it all about the games, they still have to learn English as well.
Learning and teaching at the same time
I was so lucky to be able to have all of these available to me, and to have a great network of support. Whilst teaching the first lesson is every bit as daunting as I described, it is also one of the most thrilling and exciting things I have done since being in China. It is the culmination of why you are here, expectation, and then reality.