A Cry For Help

All you Writing Center teachers (those who want to be or not), I am in desperate need of help!

I'm not a teacher. I love teaching, but it's not something I've been trained for. Now I'm in the middle of a foreign country, teaching app. 1300 students (yes, that's one thousand three hundred - 60-70 per class, remember?), and I have no idea what to teach them. Here's a basic breakdown for the level of my classes:

10-15 students will understand me.
20-30 can scrape by thanks to certain phrases and my very exaggerated hand motions and facial expressions.
The rest have somehow managed to come through 4 years of English classes, including one year of Oral English, and can't say or understand more than "Hello." They can read English if I make them, but actually trying to get them to speak is laughable.

Now, how do you tailor a lesson to suit 4th graders, kindergarteners, and preschoolers, but make that lesson work for teenagers? And keep in mind that there are 60-70 of them, so group activities are really interesting...

I'm lost. This last week I taught money and shopping, and a little about culture differences for American restaurants. It went pretty well in most classes, but now I have another week staring me in the face, and no ideas.

Please, please, someone help me out! If you have random topic ideas, it would at least be something to work with!

(In case you couldn't tell, I'm a little overwhelmed this week. It doesn't help that I've been sick for the last 4 days; can I just tell you how hard it is to make yourself stand in front of 70 Chinese teenagers when you're sick?)


Sky said...

First, breathe. Then, get your mind off of yourself and think about your students. THEY don't know you don't know what you're doing. Whether you like it or not, you wear the mantle of a teacher right now. So, you calm down and always show dignity and grace because they can smell fear just like animals can. You are an example (of a teacher, of the church, of women in a country that barely gave up foot-binding), but, more than anything--It's about them. Get them involved. Let THEM teach you one word a day per student(It's not like you don't need it. Can you order food in a restaurant over there yet?)Teach them to say, "You are a good person" in twos, in groups, coming up to you in front of the class one by one, then, at least, they'll know more than "hello." Get those teenagers helping you with the others. They have skills the others don't have, so let them use them. It's not about you, Shannon. You reach down and get the strength you were born with--that you've been developing for millions of years before you got here and USE it. The Lord is probably itching to help (so many true brothers and sisters, and you get to touch them--I envy you), but fear will suffocate your faith, and He operates under principles of FAITH. Go to Him and get your manna day by day, hour by hour--and stop anticipating next week's failures. For hecks sakes, Shannon, your father is a God. Remember?

Matthew R. Hall, Esq. said...

I love teaching teenagers, and I think the trick, at least for American kids, is to gain their interest and trust by letting them know you're the dorkiest one in the class room and they can relax. You can't get every student talking, especially in large classes, unless you know all of their names and specifically call on the quiet ones. Just relax and have fun. Teens relate to fun.

At least American teens. Maybe Chinese teenagers are really serious or something, I dunno.

Sky said...

OK, I think they're basically mostly quiet since they can't speak English, and how is Shannon supposed to let them know she's "dorky" (which she isn't) if they can't speak English? And what's "dorky" to Chinese teens? That's one of her problems is she doesn't know what's going on in their minds because it's such a different culture. But, one small thing I do know about that culture is respect and/or "losing face" is a huge deal--big--on their side and hers.

Matt, it's probably just me, but sometimes I feel like you throw out advice like pieces of popcorn. You feel something; then you want to help, but you're moving too fast to . . . what? Get it?

Matthew R. Hall, Esq. said...

Thanks Sis. Morgan, I need those careful and appropriate criticisms occasionally. I think you're dead on-- I want to help and so try to throw out the first thing I can think of in that attempt. Most of the time it's not very well thought out.

Sky said...

Thank you, Matt. If you're not being sarcastic, you really are the most teachable (so refreshing) assistant I've ever employed, which makes ME want to be less sarcastic and cynical from your example.

Good luck to you, Shannon.

Emily Poteet said...

Sister Morgan,

I'm sitting in my classroom. School got out 25 minutes ago, and I'm still trying to calm down from teaching today. My lips are chapped, my legs are tired, and I'm hungry. My last class of the day is full of 11th grade remedial students. They aren't remedial because they're dumb. They're dumb because they don't care, and that's why they're in here. Vicious cycle. Last night Brad and I talked about how well I've done so far. I don't want to be a teacher forever. Maybe not even at all. But I haven't complained, and really, there hasn't been anything to complain about. During this last class though, I didn't know if I was going to lose it. I felt like screaming and then kicking someone. Or all of them. I didn't want to deal with their I-hate-English-and-have-no-reason-to-be-in-this-class attitudes. I kept looking at the time thinking, "Maybe I should just give them a work book and make them do grammar for the rest of the hour," but the truth is, I've already done that once. Then I got on the blog when the bell rang, and I saw your response to Shan. Thanks. I needed it. Probably more than Shannon. I'll start praying for my daily manna. These students will only be in my class for 8 more months. I'm almost there.

Chan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chan said...

Oh, and if you're really at your wits end and you feel like vomiting every time you think about making up another lesson plan that five in six people of a thousand won't understand, keep in mind that they'll do anything for a piece of candy. But use that little trick wisely, because it'll cost you a few kuai, and they'll expect it once you start.

Chan said...

I'm afraid being dorky is absolutely out of the question because, Shannon, you are a white American, and it just doesn't get any cooler than that in China, regardless of your social status in the states.

I had classes a lot like yours. Here are a few things that worked:

jeopardy, especially if the winning row gets a dumb prize.

play American pop songs you like and put a list of words or phrases on the board that are in the song. Whoever raises their hand first and can identify what phrase was spoken gets a point or a piece of candy or whatever.

Umm, I had success in some of my classes having them write stories about some theme and then having them read their stories. But only in some classes, and then only with some students. Although even when it didn't work it gave me a chance to walk around the room and get to know some of the students while everyone was writing.

Oooh, if you can somehow display pictures from a digital camera, my students loved seeing pictures of me in the U.S. (apartment, friends, school, etc), or vacations I had been on in China. And then you can use the pictures to teach interesting new vocabulary, or have them say things about the pictures. And if you don't have any good photos, tell us WC folks what you need and we could take 'em and e-mail them to you. Our opening party is coming up, which would probably yield some interesting pics...

If I think of more stuff, I'll let you know. Unfortunately, I could tell you about more ideas that didn't work than ones that did. I feel for ya. Good luck, take heart in the fact that your coolness is sealed throughout China, and in a small, 2nd floor corner of the McKay Library.

Sky said...

Shan, Chan's got a good idea with the photos; in fact, if you have a way to show the pictures, we'll even take some at the party saying Hi to your students or something. I'm sure Ivor, Chan, or Sarah have learned to write "Hello" in Chinese, and it'd be cool if they know we're trying to connect (maybe) with them and, it'll especially show them how very supportive we are of YOU. Do you think it'd help?

Shani said...

Thank you all so much for your comments. Sis. Morgan, you were right on (see my new blog for just how much I needed to learn what you told me). Matthew actually had something right when he talked about being dorky, but Chan is also right. They LOVE it when I act something out, and do things that are a bit off-the-wall; things they won't see from their other teachers, but instead of thinking it's dorky, they think it's cool. These kids have a book and cassette program called "Crazy English" that they love. It's progressive counter-culture: the old people are afraid to lose face, so Crazy English's mantras are "Lose face!" and "Speak English loudly!" So if I'm a bit silly, they think their "Crazy English" program is right, and they're more excited to practice it.
Chan, I'm going to have to try out the jeopardy idea. I would love to use the photo idea, but most of my classrooms don't have projection equipment.
We're getting sick of hearing the word "Hello." So this week I've been teaching my classes about Formal and Informal English, and as part of learning about Informal English I teach them some greetings. Things like "How's it going?" and "What's up?" Their favorite part is when I impersonate a big black man, swagger a bit, and then nod my head and say, "''sup?"