Still Employed with Sanity Intact
13 Jan 2005
I’m kind of surprised myself, but I successfully negotiated a new contract with my employer. I laid out my demands: half the hours, 2/3 the pay, and no more teaching kids. They capitulated.
This is good because I will not go crazy. I can continue to like Chinese children from a distance, keeping the good memories of the times I had teaching them, while the bad parts slowly fade. But I’ll make sure I don’t get roped into teaching kids again.
I have to admit, though… teaching kids has been a great experience for me. I’m going to share what I got out of it:
I got to use a lot of Chinese when I taught. Maybe a really good English teacher would successfully use an English-only method, but I never claimed to be good at teaching kindergarteners, and I’ll readily admit that I wanted to use Chinese as much as possible while still doing a decent job. The kindergartens seemed to like my teaching, though. Win-win.
Teaching kids means you have unlimited opportunities to interact with the kids. This may sound totally obvious, but I’m quite certain that many foreign kindergarten teachers don’t have either the ability or the inclination to do it. I got such a kick out of asking the kids (in Chinese) questions like, “how many people are there in the world?” and getting answers like “100,” “10,000,” and “40” in a classroom with no fewer than 50 people. (The point of the question was to get the kids to use the English sentence “I don’t know.” Only problem is kids often don’t realize they don’t know something. Why shouldn’t the first answer that comes to mind be the correct one?)
Talking to kids in Chinese is simultaneously encouraging and humbling. It’s encouraging (in a petty way) because most of the time I can feel secure that my Chinese is better than theirs. I have to keep in mind that there are tons of words and topics they’re just too young to understand. At the same time, their mastery of the Chinese language is already far more complete than my own, and it’s maddening.
Kids are honest. If you try to use Chinese with children and your Chinese totally sucks, they will tell you. They will laugh at you. But they will also not be totally tripped up by a few off tones here and there, and they don’t have a psychological block against comprehensible Chinese flowing from a Western face. On the other hand, the sight of big scary foreigners makes little Chinese kids cry sometimes.
Kids are impressionable. Perhaps what I like the most about teaching kids in Shanghai is that I’m doing my own small part to shape China’s future. Before you scoff at my unbridled idealism, let me expain. This past semester alone I regularly taught over 600 kindergartners. For many of them I was their first contact ever with a foreigner. This impression might very well last their entire lives.
What impression did I leave? Well, I was friendly and lovable (yes lovable — I say that because the kids frequently won’t stop hugging me after class), I was fluent in Chinese (I killed the “foreigners can’t speak Chinese” stereotype for these kids before they even learned it), and, most importantly, I was just a person. I could be fun and get angry, just like any of their other teachers. They learned this just from sufficient exposure to me. It always felt good when the kids stopped calling me Íâ¹úÀÏÊ¦ (“foreign teacher”) and started calling me “John.” (Sometimes they even understood that “John” did not mean “foreigner.”)
Yes, I will eventually miss teaching the kids. But I’m excited about grad school. My entrance exams are in May, and the semester starts in September. It’s really time to hit the books.