For the next year, we will be teaching at Future English School. It’s a private language school, so anyone who wants to learn English and can pay a lot of money, comes to our school. Before we started teaching, we had two days of training along with the other new teachers. During the training, a constant theme was that we had to please the parents. I suppose this is a natural result of charging the parents so much money to send their kids here, and China’s one-child policy. What I wasn’t fully prepared for is the way the parents peer into the classroom door while I’m teaching, and rush in after class is over to copy down the homework assignment.
Another thing they taught us during training was to avoid the “3 T’s” – Tiananmen, Tibet, and Taiwan. Apparently a previous teacher was fired because he was teaching about the names of countries and put Taiwan as a separate country. The children told their parents, the parents complained, the incident found its way into the newspaper, and the school had a major PR issue that could only be resolved by disowning the teacher. We were also warned to avoid religion and politics in general.
The school was founded by two American brothers, employs anyone who speaks English as their native language as well as Chinese teachers to assist with translation in the class. There are teachers from America, Canada (Newfoundland), England and Ireland. The school is very well organized and has 6 locations throughout Dalian, as well as schools in other cities. Most of our day-to-day interactions are with the front desk staff (Chinese) and the Chinese teachers (CTs). When we need more bottled water delivered to our apartment, we just tell the front desk staff and they arrange it. When we wanted internet in our apartment, we just told the front desk staff and they arranged it. It’s quite convenient.
Most of the classes are taught by both a foreign teacher (FT) and a CT, except the high-level classes are just taught by a FT and the lowest-level classes are taught just by a CT. Both Zac and I teach at all levels, from pre-school all the way to adult. I think the pre-school kids are all psychotic, but I love my adult classes. There are three types of classes that we teach. CP (children-parent) classes are for the psycho pre-school kids and their parents together. The C (children) classes range from C1, the lowest level, to C14, the highest level. All the children classes meet just once a week for two hours. The A (adult) classes go from A1 to A8 and meet for two hours three times a week. The classes I teach are as follows: CP3, C2, C4, C5, C6, C8, C9, C10, C12, and A7. (I teach three CP3 classes and two C6 classes. Zac’s schedule is similar) Guess which ones I like best? My C10 and A7. The rest I merely tolerate. Ironically, the one age group that is really not represented at this school is the 15-24 year olds, which are the ones I’m used to teaching and like the best.
The biggest problem is that kids are grouped according to ability and not age. Although it is nice to have the kids on the same ability level, the age difference can be quite a barrier sometimes. For example, in my C9 class, I have some 8-9 year olds, and also some 13-14 year olds. The older kids are way too cool for any of the dumb games that the 8-year-olds love. But the 8-year olds can’t carry on a decent conversation about any topic that the older kids are interested in. My C12 class has a similar problem, except there are only 4 people in that class (most class sizes are 12-18 students). Three are girls, aged 14 (Pearl), 13 (Alice), and 9 (Grace), and one is a 10-year old boy named Spike. On the first day of class, they were supposed to do a pair-work activity, but Spike refused to talk to Grace. I asked him what the problem was and he shouted to the chalkboard, “Because I’m a BOY and she’s a GIRL and BOYS don’t like GIRLS.” But she’s a human being, right? “NO, she’s a GIRL.” I tried reasoning with him, that he would be in this class with us four girls for a whole semester so he should learn to talk to us, but he blatantly refused. What to do?
Our work schedule is interesting. Because this is not a regular school, the school has classes during the evenings and weekends. For us, our “week” begins on Saturday. Here’s our schedule:
Sat: 8am-5pm, Sun: 8am-5pm, Mon: 6pm-8pm, Tue: DAY OFF!, Wed: 1pm-8pm, Thu: DAY OFF!, Fri: 6pm-8pm
It’s actually a very nice schedule because we only really work three full days a week, then just two hours on two other days. I find this reverse working schedule amusing because I say things like, “Oh no, it’s Friday evening!” and “Thank goodness the weekend is over!” and “Yes! It’s Monday morning!”
One benefit of our job is that the school provides us with free Chinese language lessons. They are taught by Isabella, one of the Chinese teachers at the school. She is a pretty good teacher, but it’s a hard job trying to teach seven dumb westerners how to speak Chinese. We’re all pretty bad at it because Chinese is a tonal language. There are four tones in Chinese, and I can only do two of them accurately, so that means half of the words I say are wrong. It’s no good to just make flash cards and learn vocabulary because the pronunciation is so difficult. Hopefully we’ll get the hang of it eventually. The Chinese lessons take an additional 6 hours a week, but we still seem to have plenty of free time.
So what do we do with all this free time? The first week, we spent most of our free time cleaning and shopping for the basic things we needed like sheets and towels and silverware and computer speakers. The second week we did some exploring of the giant shopping malls in this city, because it was too cold to walk around outside. So far we’ve been to seven giant super-malls (and there’s still more!). The one closest to us is the lamest because it only has expensive stores and no people. The coolest one so far is the New Mart mall, with six stories above ground and two underground. Among other things, this mall has a swimming pool, a pet store complete with dogs and tarantulas, a couple of arcades, a movie theater, a giant food court (all Chinese restaurants), numerous shoe stores all selling those knee-high pointy-toed boots that are oh-so-popular here, several departments stores, lots of cell phone shops, a bridal show runway in the center, a vegetable/fruit/meat/nut market, and another giant grocery store.