Covering Continuous Classes
I have been teaching now for about three months and I can only assume everything is going swimmingly. I received my quarterly bonus, haven’t been fired and I have yet to make any of my students cry. Although one student did refuse to enter class for roughly forty five minutes when I covered a counterpart for six weeks. In the end she had to be coaxed in by Emma, my teaching assistant and patiently sat with whilst I tried in vain to make her smile. Being only a kindergarten student a sudden change to an otherwise structured schedule can be quite daunting for a Chinese five year old girl, especially when confronted by a strange new teacher yelling your name, waving manically and holding a balloon.
These are the times when your definition between your allotted working time and the time you could be expected to work blur. I am contracted to work no more than a total of twenty four hours a week. This is rarely met by any of the teachers at York during a normal working week, but then you could also be expected to work a lot more during the summer. We go from five days a week to six. This isn’t such a huge upheaval as the extra day is only for about four hours teaching, but when you consider that you have to plan and teach an extra four lessons a week it can be extremely draining. This perhaps has been the busiest time of the year to be a foreign teacher in Fuzhou and it felt like a long time ago that we started the summer course.
The other extra working conditions that is expected of foreign teachers at York is to do “promotions”. These too are dished out evenly between the teachers where everyone is asked to do at least one slot of helping to sell the school to future prospective students. This could be standing outside a shopping centre (mall if you are from North America), an apartment block or outside a primary school. These are pretty mundane but they also keep you in a job inevitably as the more people you attract to speak English, the more you prolong your career as an English Teacher.
The Expected and Unexpected
The long and the short of it is that teaching is slightly different to many jobs. In the past when sick or compassionate leave from working as a teacher is taken it is taken as a given that someone will fill in no matter what, normally at short notice, for perhaps between a week and a couple of months. Just recently I have covered perhaps three different classes which were not my own for many different reasons. Without going in to too much detail, I covered one for a prolonged time due to a fractured jaw, one for a bereavement and one because of sickness. I also have to take two extra classes this week due to holiday time being taken as well. What strikes me as the difference to this job and others is that I don’t really mind that I have to work these extra slots. Sure, if my schedule was always this hectic at one time it would be something to complain about, but it really isn’t that much added stress. Compared to other jobs in the past when you were asked to cover shifts in a bar, particularly as you knew the person was a consistent liar, it always seemed a chore to answer ‘yes’ and a fantastic relief to produce an excuse not to quickly enough.
It is this network of teachers around you that make you feel happy to help out, pitch in and support. The act of teaching is somewhat changeable depending on the situation, especially in a foreign country and definitely when you are teaching in an area such as Fuzhou, which is prone to typhoons. One of the most unexpected occurrences was when the area was hit by a typhoon on the 2nd of August and the school had to be shut down for the day. This meant working late on the following Saturday just to make up for the missed summer course lesson.
Some people complain about these unexpected happenings but I would much rather be doing this job and adapt to a situation than to have a set structure but dislike my job. The amount of free time we are given to complete things of our own want, whether it be travelling, learning Chinese, writing for a blog or working part time as a TV extra can be taken for granted when not put in to context and this is what makes it so much fun to work as a teacher in this environment. It is to expect the unexpected.