Today was the day! It was sink or swim as we headed out to the schools. At the first school, the children were scattered about the school yard and bounced up and down as the bus pulled in. You could tell they were excited but also unsure of how to respond or approach us. The second drop off was at my school. The school itself was in the middle of a field down several dirt roads. We pulled up to a concrete building with a few windows surrounded by concrete walls. There is no heating, cooling or lighting in the school. Restrooms were in the form of concrete holes in the ground. The only running water came from a spigot located outside of one of the classrooms. It was basic.
When we arrived, all the children were lined up on either side of the gate. I noticed they all had red scarves and later discovered they were considered the uniform for the school. All the children stood perfectly still and as we entered, they all chanted a welcome message in unison. I can’t recall exactly what they said. I was overcome with emotion by the sincerity and sweetness of it. I was humbled at the thought knowing they must have practiced this welcome message many times in the days leading up to our arrival. Then, of course, as children do, they broke from their stances and ran all over the school yard and rushed back into their classrooms. Our first day was spent teaching 4 lessons. We had two lessons in the morning and two more after lunch. Each lesson ran 40 minutes. I was placed with another teacher in a class of 20 5th graders. A normal class size in China can be upwards of 50 students. I can see all the teachers in North America cringing at the thought. We started with assigning the children English names and setting up rules for the class i.e. stand up, sit down, quiet, raise hands and listen. I was surprised at how much English the children knew. While you couldn’t necessarily hold a conversation with them, they could all read their names with relative ease and understood our lessons without too much trouble. Everyone participated enthusiastically which made the lessons that much more fun to teach.
We covered prepositions such as in, on, under and behind, next to and in front of. We played games to reinforce the topics and all the kids loved it. They were a competitive bunch! We also did a worksheet detailing information about the students (age, likes, dislikes, what they want to be, etc.). I was surprised to learn the age span of our class went from 10 to 13. I was informed that the teachers have no qualms about holding students back if they feel they are not ready for the next level. With a group of 20, it was easy to see who “got it” and those who needed a little more help. Even those who struggled, I could see they understood but they just needed more time to work through the ideas to follow our activities. It was like statistics class for me in college 🙂 Our breaks for lunch were about 2.5 hours. Apparently, all the children go home for lunch. We returned to a restaurant near our hotel so us Western folk could use Western toilets. Clearly, we are high maintenance. We returned for our second set of lessons and just as it was in the morning, the lessons flew by!