What a busy week it’s been, but unfortunately not a particularly successful one in trying to prove myself as a good teacher (although I am making progress). I mentioned before that Tuesday and Wednesday is my weekend, so Thursday is like Monday and Monday is like Friday.
The week started badly teaching at the state school. I observed Dave – who also teaches at the state school – on Thursday morning to get an idea of how to teach 40 kids at once before I would teach two classes in the afternoon. The lessons are very teacher centred; in the 40 minute slot with 40 students there just isn’t time to set up varied activities. The lessons also all contain a listening component as that works well as every student is benefitting at the same time.
With the lessons being teacher centred and containing a listening, we rely heavily on powerpoint and the computer to play the audio files. I went to the classroom for my first lesson, and the IT guy was there fiddling with the computer. Being in a positive mood at the time I though ‘oh, he’s just turning it on for me’, and I patiently waited. About two minutes later he says “it’s broken”, turns off the projector, rolls up the screen and walks out of the classroom. Crap. So there I am standing in front of 40 kids not having a clue what to do. I looked through my lesson plan and saw ‘ppt, listening, ppt, listening, ppt, ppt, ppt’. I didn’t have a copy of the powerpoint slides or listening script, so couldn’t improvise by writing on the blackboard and speaking the listening text.
Fortunately for me, Dave was teaching the same lesson in the next classroom, so 3 minutes after walking into a Chinese classroom to teach a lesson for the first time, I walked out again. Walking into Dave’s classroom, he was getting the kids warmed up with questions: have two students stand up and ask each other a question. I entered as he was about to pick the second student, so he said “Jon, question.” I immediately replied “how do you teach a lesson without the computer working?” Dave has two years teaching experience and knows the students there well, so, much to the amusement of the Chinese kids, he went to my classroom to improvise a lesson, and I stayed in his classroom to continue teaching his class with the lesson we had planned. Sorry Dave, and thanks again!
The rest of the week wasn’t great. I’m still finding planning takes so long that I was behind before the end of Thursday. Just the next day, on Friday evening, I went to the director of studies to put together an emergency lesson plan for Saturday’s 9am class, and on Saturday evening I had to put together an emergency lesson plan for my 9am Sunday class. Now that I’m learning more activities for teaching, and can apply them to different target language with less thought, planning should speed up. This week hopefully I can stay on schedule.
I promised I’d try not to make this blog all about teaching, but truth be told I haven’t done much at all outside of school.
I played pool with some of the other teachers one evening, and have been to the Belgian Bar and Park Chin a bit too often. Once a week Park Chin has pizza night, so a few of us went there. The pizza was actually pretty good – better than most take out pizza in the UK – and even though it was ¥45 it was nice to have a little taste of home. I bit into it and exclaimed ‘ah, it’s so bland, I love it.’ On Monday it was the work christmas party. All the staff from the affiliated schools in Xi’an went to a swanky hotel for food and drink, and then a lot of us went to Park Chin afterwards. It was a good night, and we all exchanged our secret santa gifts. I got a money/wish box that I’m going to put all my Chinese change in for the next year. The biggest coin here is ¥1, so about 10p in the UK. By the end of the year I might have ¥100 or so!
To talk specifically about some of the food here, I’ve mentioned that it’s delicious and cheap, but I haven’t described certain foods yet. Bowzer (pinyin: bao zi; approximate English phonemes: /b.aʊ.z.ə/) are steamed balls of meat and vegetables in pastry. They can be found at stalls on most street corners, and spending ¥5 for 10 of them is plenty enough for a very filling dinner. Roger Moore (pinyin: rou jia mo; approximate English phonemes: /r.əʊ.dʒ.m.ɔː/) is like a thick round toasted pitta bread filled with meat and vegetables (peppers and chillies). For about ¥6 it makes a great lunch, or with two it can be a good dinner.
Coming to China I’ve obviously taken a monetary pay cut compared to my last job in the UK. But with the cost of living here, my real world wage has about doubled. My return flights from the UK and my accommodation are paid for by the school, and bills are very cheap. To give an example of a ridiculously expensive day, I might get a Starbucks on the way to work (¥22), a Subway for lunch (¥30), a taxi into the centre of Xi’an and back (2x¥20) for pizza (¥45) and beer (¥30). But I’ll probably share the taxi with 2 or 3 others. So for the most expensive day possible I might spend ¥150. A cheap day would be: coffee at work (free), Roger Moore for lunch (¥6) which is better than Subway anyway, and Bowser for dinner (¥5). So ¥11 for the day.
In reality, in the 21 days I’ve been here so far, I’ve spent ¥2,000, so less than ¥100 a day. Of that, around ¥600 is one-off set-up costs (phone, bedding, things for my apartment, etc.), so I’m closer to ¥70 a day. With a bit of luck I might be able to save a bit of money here over the course of the year!