Here I stand, my first day of school from the other side of the teacher’s desk. The weather says 93°F and “feels like” 104 °F (34°C and 40°C). 40 pairs of eyes seem to work together to halt any hint of cooling breeze. Multicolored chalk dust hangs in the air. And there I am, remembering every teacher I’ve ever had and casually doubling my respect for each one.
Sometimes empathy just doesn’t do an experience justice. Teaching is hard.
How do you assess the English level of a group of people who were educated in an entirely different way than you, who can think of 64 words made from the letters of “metamorphosis” in 3 minutes flat (sit, room, hat, hot, hear, those, throes, art, path, heart, men, trip, tea, or, meat, met, mom, master, man, metaphor, home, motor, time, sister, me, them, this, her, air, rise, raise, ate, tape, some, hope, rose, to, ear, see, oh, mean, team, hate, tip, top, emphasis, hit, near, photo, heat, same, eat, miss, mother, me, more, map, rat, rap, rape, ape, sea, most, seat), but don’t necessarily know which tense to use when talking about theoretical scenarios?
How do you decide what level of activity to choose for the first days of class, then remember to speak slowly and clearly enough to make yourself understood? And what if you naturally talk a little fast and don’t think particularly well when there are 40 pairs of unfamiliar eyes trained on you?
I don’t think PiA chooses ready-made teachers for these posts. I wouldn’t be here if they did, and if I were, I would be a profound disappointment. I’m trying, though. I’m trying my very best. Hopefully, with more than a few hours to plan my next lessons, I won’t make the same mistakes again (those ones they warned me against from day one). Hopefully with a month or two of experience I’ll actually be worthy of the job title. And, most importantly, hopefully the students will come out of the year with a little more confidence and fluency in their English.
In the meantime, I can try and redeem myself outside the classroom, with office hours or English practice four nights a week and countless meals and hikes. This is the way I actually know how to teach: on a small scale. Sitting outside after dark on a summer evening, talking about quirks of language (“I’m all ears,” “you have a point”), or saying “hit!” “hat!” “hit!” “hat!” “question!” “action!” “question!” “action!” until everyone hears and feels the difference in pronunciation.
And I can enjoy this this beautiful corner of the world, swimming under waterfalls next to 4-inch-long millipedes and going on epic hikes through the rugged terrain that makes this area famous:
Next week: A comprehensive list of all of the things I have done in China