The Starting Line
From the very first day I arrived at my new job at EF Shijiazhuang I had been hearing of the much dreaded summer course. At first, I heard teachers casually talking about how we had a month to prepare and get ready for the transition but as the time progressed, the casual talking turned more into a frantic conversation. I was extremely worried about what the future had in store for me. As it was, I was barely getting through the current teaching schedule that was bestowed upon me from the previous teacher. Every week was a new experience and I gradually got a little better at dealing with the stress. It seems as if when I finally learned how to plan my weeks effectively, summer course had arrived. The weekend before summer course officially started, my boss handed me my new teaching schedule. It had eight extra hours of teaching, which doesn’t seem so bad but I also had to take the time to plan these lessons. At the time, I was averaging two hours to plan each lesson. Two hours per lesson would not be ideal when I would be in front of a class for 26 hours a week. I noticed my boss had put a picture of a guy lifting weights and it said “get pumped for summer course”. This is completely the approach one must have if they are to survive the seven week camp.
Fortunately, my boss had encouraged us to start planning for our summer classes’ weeks before it actually started. The first two weeks of the new classes had been taken care of before it even started. It was quite different heading into the office well before 12 pm on our “easy” days. There was a new air of stress and dread in the office that week. My planning for lessons was fairly normal since I had prepared the eight extra hours beforehand. The first week came and went and it wasn’t nearly as terrible as we all anticipated. Now that I figured out what the workload actually felt like, it wasn’t so scary. The worst part was expecting and speculating how life would be but not actually life itself.
I would say that I really started learning quite a bit around week three. At this point in time, my lesson plans ran dry and I had to plan all 26 hours each week. The lesson plans that took two hours were now a thing of the past. I was cranking out lessons in 45 minutes or less. I completely cut my planning time by over half. I was surprised because most of the lessons were still very good. It is not as if I was planning really dry lessons, I was actually planning the same lesson I would plan if I took an extra hour staring at the book or the computer. It would be completely untrue if I said that every lesson was perfect and that the entire seven weeks was a great learning experience for myself and my kids. There were a few lessons that were really dull, a few lessons that were repeated, and a few lessons that had nothing to do with the lesson. I don’t necessarily think this was a bad thing. We were all thrown into the whirlwind and we tried our best. It would be too optimistic and naive to think that these stagnant times wouldn’t arise sometime during the seven weeks.
We’ll All Float On
The last few weeks of summer course seemed to fly by. After the halfway mark, things just sped up and before I knew it, there was only two weeks left. I kept telling myself, “only two more weeks and then life will go back to normal.” Not only would life return to normal, but it would be easier. My planning had become so efficient that I could plan an entire week in one day if I really needed to. Before summer there was no way I would be able to accomplish such a feat. The last week of classes, I had to do an open door for all of the parents of the kids in my courses. The parents were allowed to come watch the last 30 minutes of my class to see the kids practicing and producing the English they learned. I was slightly nervous but my kids ended up doing a great job and proved their capabilities when it counted. At last, the end had arrived.
Looking back and reflecting on all of it now, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. To be honest, it was stressful but it forced me to grow as a teacher. I learned so much about my abilities inside and outside of the classroom. I feel as if the next nine months of my year will be so much easier after having been through the summer. Now I can take the extra time and work on becoming a more creative, more engaging English teacher.