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Back to School Part Two: Student Teaching

Posted by on March 10, 2012

The semester was under way. I was in full swing teaching English: flinging the verbage and nounage and adjectiveage in my best Minnesotanese.

And though it may seem a more boring or ordinary example of what I did in China—certainly a more regular one—this steady involvement also created an intimacy which, in turn, allowed for some wonderful insights into childhood, adulthood, and brotherhood.

Enjoy : )

One day, I wandered the local retail store, Jusco—the “Walmart” of Zhuhai (the one I mentioned a few posts back with the skinned deer dripping blood on the floor) when I came upon a display of stuffed-animal hand puppets. I found three: a little green rabbit, tan lion, and yellow duck:

They would be respectively named: Cookie, Cake, and Ice Cream by one if my clever, young classes.

I bought these cute props to try and bridge that gap between learning and having fun. For some classes it worked great. I’d stand behind the white board and put on a little show on top of it. As such, teaching would become an activity analogous to all of life: discovering the art of staying loose under the weight of responsibility. For teaching, this included lesson plans, naughty kids, pressure from parents, and one’s own desire to see the kids learn. In life, well we could go on indefinitely with work, family, and social responsibilities that sometimes make “care-free” a wishful thought reserved to those two weeks out of the year when we vacation.

Of course burdens are something most kids know little about, which I realized, is what helps them enjoy life so darn much:

This, in turn, was why my time teaching these half-pints week after week was so eye-opening.Before we’d start class each day, all the children would giddily converse with each other. Oh, the thrill of each other’s company!

It reminded me of the excitement of being able to spend the night at a friend’s house when I was a boy. We’d stay up all night if parents allowed it.

In addition, I saw that children have something else going for them that makes this excitement more available—that magical blurred sense of reality. 7,600 miles between Minnesota and China didn’t change the fact that boys love playing “guns”. I liked to join in with my 9-year-olds before class, but first I gotta say that I was severely outmatched. When I was a youngin’, we had single-shooter finger-pointer guns directed at playmates. But these boys in my class are tossing grenades that come with some sort of audible digital timer that they can detonate from their wrists. Then they shoot me with weapons that take five seconds just to pantomime prepare. All the loading, and pumping, and assembling, and cocking of their bells-and-whistles, modern-day weaponry allows me to get out fourteen “bangs” to their one BOOOOOUUSHHHHHSHSHSHSHH!!! But, of course, my piddly “bang” isn’t even heard over their awesome weapon warm-up.

That being said, I did play a nice monster, impenetrable to their sophisticated arsenal. It was fun and reminiscent to look at the way these children could make-believe. Slowly walking toward them with my arms held straight out, to them I was that monster—and to a magically perfect degree: real enough to get them excited, but not too real to seriously freak them out.

Besides make-believe, children also enjoy the small things because they are still novel to them—like a box to a toddler. But while it’s great to see this, it’s also realistic to note that one day that toddler will be a child who has 100 toys and “needs to have” that 101st. And so it wasn’t all good with the students. I guess as we age and our imaginations dwindle, so does contentment with make-believe and simple things. Probably as wealth increases so does it enable us to chase the high of always having the latest and greatest–something these one-child families often offer to their only offspring. As such, some of the kids were hard to entertain in the classrooms, and expressions saying “this is boorrriiiing” were worn on their faces. I guess that’s the responsibility of adulthood and wealth: you gotta be disciplined to like the little things, because you are always able to try to buy your way to happiness.

But overall, the experience teaching these kids offered countless positive memories. Whether it was their imaginations or being care-free, their unbridled pursuits were inspiring:

Meizhu was one of my helpful teaching assistants.

Check out some footage of their shenanigans:

Like my young students, my adults would also converse before class, but in a low-key “hey man, how you doing?” kind of way.  What can you say? When we get older, the company of friends just isn’t quite as jump-up-and-down thrilling.

Regardless, of all the people with whom I interacted all year, it was these adult students who stood out the most. My first adult class that year were peers by age and by life situation—many still single and early in their careers. They saved up to pay for these classes, and how I adore the person who continues to learn after school!

A 19-year-old woman named Pauline simply liked the English language and the culture behind it, so invested her money from working at a retail store on these classes. Others were there to enhance their career prospects—a gentleman in the hotel industry and another fella who works for local government. The hotel employee (now working in electronic sales) was named Jerry and would be a wonderful friend to me during my months in Zhuhai. He would express his feelings about China and teach me the social norms. We’d talk about women and relationships like my friends and I would back in America. Emily, a polite and reserved 28-year-old accountant, would take the same bus home as me. She’d teach me a few Chinese phrases and share with me her love of ascending the hills around Zhuhai, sometimes alone and sometimes with her husband. There were several lovely hikes and views to undertake there.

Here was that whole class:

Jerry, my dear friend, is the one the bottom right. Emily, the hiking accountant is top row second from the left. Pauline, the retail girl, is top row second from the right.

And here’s some video of them in action:

It’s funny how I initially dismissed teaching as simply a means to an end, a way to get to China. For teaching provided an outlet for lessons that ran deep. And finally as a lesson for lessons, I realized that to teach is to learn, and that while I taught about English, America, and Minnesota (they got a kick out of us driving on ice), the students were the ones teaching me most of all.

-Brandon

I hope you enjoyed the tour of my teaching. Do comment if you have any questions or comments. I have more teaching videos, if you wish, on my Facebook page. Next week we get out the school and back into the community. :)

4 Responses to Back to School Part Two: Student Teaching

  1. Arlene

    I’m wondering if you’ve read Bill Holm’s book about teaching in China, COMING HOME CRAZY.

    • Brandon Ferdig

      You know, a friend just gave me the book and I’m just starting to crack it: ) It’s useful as I, too, am writing a book about my year over there.

      thanks for commenting!

  2. Ruth Sheffer

    Hey Brandon love your blog. I am teaching now in Zhejiang province and thinking about moving to Zhuhai.How do you like TPR? is it a good school to work for?
    THanks Ruth

    • Brandon Ferdig

      Yes, Ruth, they are: ) Tell them you know me cause they’ll remember me. They treat staff well, they are professional, and they are very involved with the community so you have access to great events during the year.

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