Interesting stuff even though I will most likely never teach in China.
I teach 25 classes a week in 2 public schools in China. Most of my students are in middle school, but I have at least one of each grade from 2 to 6, also. I have not seen much information on this kind of teaching on any of the "interwebs" The threads I found here on this topic are old and closed.
I'm starting this thread because in hopes it will attract some others who have done this kind of work and might have advice to pass on. I'm certainly glad to share what I have learned in the course of *almost* a full academic year. Unfortunately, I still have more questions than answers. In this kind of setting, one doesn't often get a chance to talk to one's predecessor. People's contracts end and they leave the country. I haven't had the benefit of talking with any teachers who have taught middle school. I've learned a little more from current and former primary school teachers.
I'm in the northeast of China -- Liaoning Province. I think what is true for the public schools here is true in many other regions, but I'm sure things vary a lot across this huge country.
Here are some of the features of (my) public school teaching that set it apart from private classroom ESL teaching:
- Class sizes vary from about 20 to 60 students. 35 to 40 is about standard. Some public schools send 2 classes at a time for lessons with the foreign teacher. I have a group of 85 in this category.
- Desks and chairs are generally arranged in single or double rows. Alternate seating arrangements are not generally an option, as there is no classroom dedicated English teaching.
- A native Chinese speaking assistant provided by my employer (a private language school) accompanies me to each class. Assistants, exclusively young women at my school, are chosen mostly on their ability to speak and understand spoken English. They are expected to translate the foreign teacher's instructions, and to assist in maintaining discipline in the classroom. A good assistant is essential to the foreign teacher's success, I believe.
- Communication with students' *other* English teachers -- the Chinese teachers -- is either very limited or non-existent. The majority of Chinese English teachers I have met have been friendly and charming, but few of them can converse in English.
- Students are not tested or graded on their participation or performance in my classes. (Students know this.) Foreign teachers are not expected to give written exercises or tests in class. My language school would not permit me to make the hundreds of photocopies required, even if I wanted to mark such a high number of papers.
- The vast majority of Chinese students I have encountered are friendly and at least moderately cooperative. Many of them view foreigners as minor celebrities. I prefer to concentrate on these students rather than the small number who go out of their way to show me their contempt and disrespect.
Thanks if you've stayed with me this far. If this post draws any comments or questions, I'll add more about specific classroom issues and some of the ways I have found of coping with the challenges.
Interesting stuff even though I will most likely never teach in China.
An informative post - especially as I am hoping to go to China sometime in the future.
I hope you don't mind if I ask a few questions. May I ask how you ended up in Liaoning Province? Did you reply to a job advert on a website? Was this your first TEFL job?
When you're teaching the larger classes, what sort of approach do you take? How do you handle the mechanics of teaching 85? I have never taught a class of larger than 25, so am interested to know how you handle the practicalities.
My main reason for being there is to teach listening and speaking. I often begin a lesson by doing a walkabout and asking a question based on the week's lesson. I had this group of 85 today, and the question was "Do you have a hobby?" I will raise my hand to indicate I want volunteers to answer my question, and I will generally get a few. I try not to go to the same few every week. Then I ask a followup question using the target language, and I coach them to respond using that as well. This stage generally lasts about 5 minutes. It can last longer if I have to beg for responses
This activity obviously leaves 84 kids silent while one speaks, but I accept that as inevitable. At least they can all listen. It's also my warmer, and by walking up the aisles in the small auditorium where I see this group, I clearly establish the fact that I'm there and that class is in session. I think it also humanizes me more than if I remained at the front during the entire lesson. This applies to all the large classes, I think. Kids who sit at the back can see me up close too.
The core activity in all the middle school classes is oral reading. I will introduce a reading text (a short dialogue, usually), pre-teaching vocabulary and pronunciation as I would with any size group. I then read the text and have them repeat in chorus. Then we move to individuals reading the dialogue while I stand within earshot and prompt or offer corrections.
A lot depends on the good will of the class. If they are wound up, it can be difficult to do any individual reading (or much of anything at all). However, as I do teach pronunciation, I think it's necessary to hear individuals read so I can spot check the particular points we've been working on, do corrections, and decide if more full class work is required. Also, the chance of reading for Lao Shi (the teacher) is something that motivates some of these kids -- even the 16 year olds.
One thing is certain -- I can't shout over them. I don't even attempt it. I will occasionally thump a desk or podium to remind them that they need to tone things down.
I accept a certain amount of background noise, and I try to compensate by getting close to whoever is speaking. Frequent shushing and pleas for quiet are part of every class. My assistant patrols the rows constantly and tries to quietly put an end to conversations.
The most fun they have, and the hardest work for me is the word game that ends every class. I enjoy playing Hangman or Change One Letter with the group, and they really get into the competition. Hearing and understanding the words coming out of their mouths when I'm anchored at the blackboard is a struggle. I'm sure most of them think I'm quite deaf.
I have only rarely done group activities with these 35+ classes. It's very difficult with the seating arrangements and actual participation is very low. If I make groups small enough to work well, I have more groups than I have time for at the "report back" stage. Classes are 40 or 45 minutes only. So, I work at the extremes most of the time -- full class or one or two at a time.
It's very teacher-centric and not at all the kind of thing I learned when I did my CELTA. It's just what I've arrived at through trial and error.
I'm here to tap into the knowledge in this forum and to try to improve upon what I do. I value input from experienced teachers most of all.
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Harbin, Heilongjiang province. Awaits more hints.