Sidebar: Teachers should never do this to themselves. Those breaks are put into a teaching contract for a reason! They are well-deserved and needed in order to properly prepare--mentally and physically--for the next school year. Anyhow . . .
On July 6th, I left Tampa, Florida for Chengdu, China to teach a three-week camp focused on art and society. The camp was through MaxIvy, an offshoot of Great China which is a well-known and established SAT/ACT/English immersion program in China. The mission of MaxIvy is to prepare children to become global citizens through delivering high-quality learning and enrichment opportunities.
From MaxyIvy marketing tools, “The English Immersion Programs and Enrichment Programs provide a wide range of educational and recreational opportunities that support young children’s language, cognitive, and social development. Language programs also focus on teaching English within the context of different disciplines and topics to build students' conversational and contextual abilities for communicating in English. This aspect is important to the holistic preparation of children for future rigorous academic environments abroad.”
After a terribly boring flight across the ocean (on China Eastern you are not permitted to listen to anything on your personal cell phone: no music, no audiobooks, no podcasts, no nothing), I arrived in China just after midnight on Saturday morning. My roommate--a 27 year old male--greeted me on the street and led me upstairs. I slept for a few hours, then woke up to find that I was living in an absolutely beautiful apartment and neighborhood. Not unlike a fancy and relatively quiet part of New York City.
That is not what I do. Nor was that what was explained to me when I agreed to this position. I also found out on this day that students were only signed up for one session. We would only be paid for one camp and not two, as promised. On our contracts we signed off for being paid for teaching hours. This would have been fine, if they had given us two sessions. But they only gave us one. So going into the three weeks, I was already down half of my take-home pay. No bueno.
I was also required to stay in the office whenever I was not teaching. I taught between 9 and 11:30am. But I had to be on campus from 8:30 - 6pm every day. There was hardly any air conditioning and the students were sometimes left to run up and down the hallway. I dealt with this by taking 1 - 2 hour walks for my lunch break.
It was during this first week of classes that I found out from my supervisor that my roommate and I were being paid the same wage. He did not have a college degree or teaching experience. I was furious that they would even consider paying us the same wage. I also thought it was rather strange of them to put a 43 year old women in the same apartment as a 27 year old man, sharing a bathroom. We had never met, nor were we on the same page for why we traveled to China. My goal: art teaching. His goal: Chinese women.
As an international teacher, I have heard countless stories such as this one. A teacher signs a contract to teach and on the other end of that contract are crazy situations. One teacher told me her school was in charge of her electricity and sometimes the bill wouldn’t be paid, so mysteriously her electricity would get shut off. (Wait until the next post to hear more fun things about my situation.) It’s very important to check every institution out backwards and forwards.
As far as teaching is concerned, I think I did okay in the first week. There were a lot of things I had to figure out. One of them was language. I was told that the students understood English. They did not. They understood about as much English as I knew Chinese. (This means none.) And not only did we not know each other’s languages, but the students did not want to be there. It felt like they were forced by a parent, an administrator, you name it . . . I could tell by both their behavior and attitude.
I combated this by having my Chinese speaking assistant help to translate an activity where I had the students create their own classroom rules. We talked about the rules they came up with and how they boiled down to: 1. Respect each other. 2. Respect our artwork. 3. Respect our classroom and supplies. Then, each day--for three weeks--I had the students repeat the rules outloud as a group in both English and Chinese. They really liked doing this! Especially when we got to the Chinese part! We started every day like this. Then I would launch into a small PowerPoint that I put together showing strong visuals of what we were doing for that day’s activities and what our point of inquiry might be. After I would go through the visuals (and I could physically see their eyes opening wide, and some ooooohing and aaaaaahing taking place), I would have them sit in a seating chart so that I could learn their names. Then I would have them draw an Art for Kids Hub guided video that matched our point of inquiry for the day. Students of all ages from all walks of life LOVE this YouTube channel. Mr. Rob is so great at explaining line and shape and taking time to let a drawing come to life. And it’s all in the name of fun! So the kids had a blast!
Did I mention that I also had to teach PE? (Surprise number 302.) I love doing active things and being an active person, but I do not enjoy teaching this. I am also not fond of games. I do not like board games or group games or physical games. I’m not sure where this comes from. I have always been talented physically, but I just think games are sort of lame. So I don’t like initiating games. My only way around this was to engage the students in relay races. I would set up paths for them to circumvent. Usually it involved a ball, a hula hoop, and a series of cones. It ended up being great fun. But PE coach, I am not.
Leshan is this neat city about 2 hours from Chengdu. There is a giant 72 meter Buddha in a park there, built right off the water and straight up. You climb stairs up to a temple where monks live, you see the tip of Buddha’s head, and then you walk down a skinny and frightening staircase on the side of a cliff to see the Buddha from the bottom up. It was fascinating!! More than anything else in the world, I love to visit temples. So this trip was perfect for me.
Please stay tuned for week 2 of China. Up next: Australian Matt and his collection of images featuring painted stobie poles in and around Adelaide, Australia!