Monday, June 13, 2016

Outside My Comfort Zone

Originally posted on: July 17, 2015

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What a week.  I am now 5 days into my stint as a high school ELL science teacher!  It has been such a learning experience.  Our classes are designed using the team teaching model, which made my transition to the unfamiliar much easier as the teacher I am co-teaching with is a middle school science teacher back in the states.  We were able to adapt her previously designed lessons fairly easily for use with our students here.  We decided to focus on the specific biomes of the United States, a topic that the students had a background with, however their knowledge was mostly limited to China.  Also, I apologize up front for the lack of photos in this post.  All of my instructional photos have students in them, so I thought it would be best to leave them out.  I did include their responses to the question “What do you find most difficult about learning English?”  There was a common theme in their answers…
Our students are grouped into three different periods with 20-25 students in each.  The periods are one hour long and each group receives the same content, give or take what was changed for differentiation.  I have been absolutely amazed by the natural respect students have for teachers in this country.  The first day, when I called on a student and he stood in order to answer his question, I knew behavior would not be an issue.  The students want so badly to be recognized as a top student that they intrinsically motivate themselves to learn whatever is put in front of them.
The idea of competition among peers is also strongly encouraged in Chinese schools.  Each class has what is known as a ‘monitor’.  Each monitor is a student in the class who has shown an advanced level of responsibility and trustworthiness.  These students then are given tasks both in and out of class.  They are to take attendance, collect papers, communicate and collect homework, and keep materials organized.  What is especially unique though, is that the monitor has the authority to report other students to the teacher and/or principal.  It is expected and encouraged that they follow through with this.  To me this seemed like a terrible way for these students to be ousted from their peer group, but it is really quite the opposite.  The monitors are seen as a center of knowledge and information and all of their peers want to have a relationship with them.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that the teenage culture is also VERY different here.  Our students are 15 and 16, yet appear to be terrified of the opposite gender.  I find this both comical and a little uneasy.  The students are so focused on their studies that time is not allotted for relationships.  It could also be related to the fact that marriage ages are older in China.  Women must be 20 and men must be 22 before they can marry.  Perhaps they simply are not invested in wasting time in their young teen years.   While all of this may sound ideal for parents, a social life is one of the few ways teens are able to alleviate stress.
Anyway the instruction of the students went very well this week.  We played lots of hands on games and I had the students create a 3D cube with each side representing a different US biome.  The most difficult piece, by far, was the vocabulary.  I found myself constantly scaling back the vocab to simplistic words they would understand.  For all of the animals we discussed, pictures were eventually incorporated.  When we started, it was hard to gauge the level of English of the students, but I feel like I really have a good grasp on their abilities now.
Sadly, one of the most invested students in our class told us today is his last day because he will be visiting the UK next week.  This was sad to hear since he is our monitor.  My co teacher, Katie, and I stayed after class for a good 20 minutes talking with him.  He was so very appreciative of our time together.  It really made me feel like I am having some sort of impact with all the crazy stuff I am doing here!
Oh, and then a student came up to me and said I remind of her Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory and “I like Sheldon, so now I like Mr. B.”  It was hilarious.
In writing this blog post, I really began to reflect on my time teaching abroad vs. simply traveling abroad.  It is surreal to know that I am here creating friendships with locals and having an impact on the kids.  I wouldn’t trade that for anything!

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