On Teaching

I walk into my afternoon class a few minutes late today, but it goes unnoticed. The only student in there is face-plowing his desk, fast asleep. I smile to myself as I tip-toe around the class, thinking of my past teachers getting out the spray bottle or slamming the desks of dozed-off students. I’m probably the only teacher in the world right now, taking precautions not to wake a high school student up.

I haven’t been writing too much about my teaching mostly because it isn’t quite what I expected. I was told I would be dealing with large classes of about 50 kids; I would be teaching at a middle school; I would have a standard curriculum to follow; standard hours. The thing is, Ameson, the organization I am in contract with, could not guarantee much of anything to its new teachers this year; partly because the program is brand new, and partly because every school is different. Ameson is an independent education organization which works with schools, but has no direct control over the schools.

I’m not complaining about my lax schedule or my students; I’ve actually enjoyed teaching, and, even though I’m apparently not authorized to give grades, and I barely have any organization in my curriculum, my students are cool with it. Some have written me great personal essays, and it’s worth all of my frustrations to hear about their their passions, their heartbreaks, their own challenges.

Sometimes students just need a break from studying, and we’ll play trivia or watch videos; I’m fine with giving them time to breathe in their 12-hour school day. Because I’m here to teach test material (SAT and TOEFL) I have to be more flexible to a schedule that changes in the blink of an eye.  This is why my classes are more relaxed and that’s not a bad thing, I’m just saying it’s not what I expected. Then again, a year ago I would never have expected I’d be living in China–or be teaching. The last time I remembered wanting to teach, I was lining up stuffed animals and dolls in a make-believe classroom imagined with my 7 year-old mind. I wish I could tell my 7 year-old self that I’d be living in China and see if I could even point to it on a map. I bet I couldn’t.

Even if I could have pointed it out as a 7 year-old, there’s no way to know what a country will be like until you go there. That’s why I’m here. You can read dull college textbooks, or go to Model UN’s or whatever PoliSci professors like to put their students through, but there’s so many little things you can’t pick up on, even by dissecting every new story of Foreign Affairs. I loved my PoliSci classes, but China is changing so quickly, the best way to try to understand it has to be from the inside.

I could read about the air pollution online or I could step outside and breathe it in. Okay, so I’d rather just read about it.

Here’s a better example, I could learn about the history of all the corrupt leaders and how infected China is with bribes and nepotism, or I could witness it at work in a state-run school (not to point fingers or anything). When people describe China as “gift giving society,” I know what they really mean now: bribing your kid through school is not uncommon. So, when my students refuse to do any work for me, sleep through class, if they show up at all, at least I know why they are so lazy. They can afford to be.


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