April 12, 2011
Warning: Long and rambly…maybe i should split it into two entries…
School Day Begin!
So I had a feeling it might be a bit like this…I’m uh…well, ya…I’m a bit of a celebrity around here. I may have missed my chance at movie stardom…but now I’m a Jr. High School Star (city-stardom is coming along too, oh yes)! Oh, you’d like me to sign your homework paper for you? You want my email, my MSN, my QQ (Chinese version of MSN chatting), Facebook (wait…you can’t even get facebook in China!), “anything teacher please!” Hahaha. I’m surprised people haven’t started bringing out the camera phones. You see, I’m a rarity in these parts, a desperately desired commodity, but curious oddity none-the-less: an American girl in China…light skin, curly-crazy hair (speaking of hair) and the ability to speak English!
Jiangmen, the tiny town of 4 million in which I currently reside does not boast a tourist industry (industry? Yes. Lots of factories for sure, but tourists are not interested in seeing where their cheap goods come from or experiencing the resulting smog of “development” that blankets this region), so I’m pretty much like a glowing beacon of whiteness. Which is decidedly inconvenient when I’m aware that I look like bumbling idiot most of the time (illiteracy does that to a person): Hey! Everyone look at me pretending to read a label in the grocery store again! Now watch as I try to communicate with someone! Ok, now everyone turn because, look out! She’s trying to eat something! Oh lord…how I love to emphasize all of my social blunders. Hopefully this hopeless stage blunders to an end soon.
As for the celebrity status, well, that may be here to stay; daily routines become exciting cameo appearances, “halloos!” follow me around. I might as well walk around with a flashing neon sign above my head or draped in an American flag with a statue of liberty head-band. The way people gawk, stare and giggle, you’d think I already was! Actually maybe they’d pay less attention cause they’d just pass me off as a crazy person…hmmm. But unlike Africa, people here thankfully don’t overwhelm me in a chorus of “white-lady!” calls. Well, I do get people saying “hellooo!” a lot (and yes…mostly men and kids/teenagers) but that I can easily ignore, smile, nod or respond depending on the sincerity. Actually because people often don’t say anything but instead overwhelm the air with their curiosity, nervousness and excitement it makes me really feel that celebrity status; bizarre for someone who finds themselves utterly dorky and unworthy of such immediate praise.
And because I’m a teacher (daoshi), while I’m on campus I get the FULL force of A-list celebrityness. I think that given the chance, the students might actually swarm me to ask questions and get my autograph…oh wait…that has happened! I’m teaching at Jingxian Jr. High School (7th and 9th grade) and at Zi Cha Primary School (1st grade). The little kids who are insanely adorable….I kinda want to take a few of them home with me (one little boy almost had me in hysterics when I made a comment that the “chocolate car” in our book was “mmm…yummy!” he responded “teacher’s yummy!” and being one of the few kids that excels he clearly knew what he was saying! classic). The little ones generally start hopping around and going crazy when I arrive…shouting out “hallo! Halloooo! Haaaalllo!” constantly. But much more than that in a conversation and they are lost. For these 1st graders, English is their third language. The local language in Cantonese, then they learn the national language, Mandarin…and then…English…phew…I’m amazed they can speak even a little bit and some of them have an impressive reading ability.
Surprisingly, I really enjoy teaching the jr. high kids (even though I recall telling myself that should I ever want to teach I should avoid jr. high like the plague) because we can actually have a conversation; the kids have a genuine interest in America and what I’m all about and on the other hand I can ask them about their own interests and discuss China.
But it was the very first day that I got a taste of my newly acquired celebrity status. I should first mention that the lines between teacher and student are much more blurred here than in the U.S. Teachers office? Teachers lunch room? Umm…no. No privacy…they’re all swarmed with students! You also have to remember, there are A LOT of people in China…think of the amount of people at a normal school in the U.S. and then triple it! But although these lines seem blurred, students definitely recognize the evevated status aof their teachers and are very respectful…of course some of them are little brats…but it’s Jr. High…whadya expect? they just want to get chatty with their friends and eat junk food…haha…universals?!
But let’s return to that first day, and the first few weeks while we’re at it. Cafeteria…a hustle and bustle of noise as one would expect (some kids go home for lunch…the lunch break lasts 2 1/2 hours because people take a nap after lunch…the Chinese siesta! Who knew?!) and being my first day, I grabbed my food and sat down at a table. Little did I know that the teachers sit in my area that I was not in…I was completely surrounded within seconds of sitting down…I would get the food halfway to my mouth and another question would be fired at me as another mass of children descends on my table to see if this new, rare creature was not rumor but was indeed real! Bombarded with questions, pointing, touching, shoving to get a space and a look…this was my first school lunch in China…welcome to Jr. High stardom. We all know that little bit of funny celebrity aura we feel around our teachers when we’re younger…and especially when you see them doing something “normal”…”oh my gosh I saw her in the supermarket! And then she bought food!” “no way! Did you watch her eat! What was she wearing!” hahaha. But as a foreigner and an American at that (Chinese LOVE America) it’s like they’ve watched me on TV their whole lives and now have the chance to talk in person…ahhh! Guess that’s it…i’m a representative for all they fantasize about in the U.S….oh boy…haha
The first few weeks while I was teaching the 7th girls would come up to me after class and ask for me to write my name on their paper. My name? Sign it? Just write it out? OK sure! I would do different designs and they’d get all excited. Some of the boys even get just as starry-eyed and their nervous energy while their asking me my favorite sport or if I really know how to play guitar, shows their adorable innocence. Sometimes it wouldn’t happen, no one would approach me after class, and I’d think…huh…guess that class wasn’t as excited as the one before…but I think it’s just shyness…once one person approached…15 others would follow…all giggling and hanging onto my every word. So cute…how can you not get a little energy high from that?! Still…I’ve never been comfortable in positions of authority and to be thrust to the head of the class and immediately revered like a star is totally insane! No really! I’m just as weird, insecure and nerdy as you guys…really! Of course, part of you has to love it and I’ve gained the wonderful sense that anything I can do for them will be great…exciting even! Need a self-esteem boost? Come to China and teach!
So now that we know I’m a school celebrity, what am I actually doing?! Well, teaching…you know…English…and to a whole lotta kids. I should have guessed….China: population 1 billion. Average class size: 50+ kids. “So how big will my class be?” I innocently asked before my first day of teaching (note: I still had no idea what the hell I was actually going to be doing at this point). Also note: I’ve learned to be skeptical of every promise or guarantee I receive…especially in a place where the majority of people start their sentences with “I think that….” or “Maybe this….”. So when I heard “oooh I think 50 kids in a class…but…um…no…I think they are so too busy…so together…we put two together…I think 100, 110…100…no more than 110…ok?”…well, can you feel my eyebrow of skepticism rising? 100 kids! Whoa! What! Are you going to stack the desks or hang them from the ceiling?? And then I saw my classroom which was more like a lecture hall, complete with a massive screen, projector and microphone (still, I have no idea how or what exactly I’ll be teaching…class starts the next day). Oh dear…good luck! After one week of that they halved the class size (now I was just winging it with power point presentations I put together to learn new vocabulary and little conversation exercises).
After another week they moved me to teach the 9th graders (50 kids in class and in a normal sized classroom yay!) because they have an oral exam in May. I now have 6 classes a week at the Jr. High…that is 6 different classes. So that’s 300 kids, yow! But easy to prepare for since it’s the same lesson all week (is this making sense?). At the primary school, I have 2 different classes i teach twice a week…so there’s 100 more kiddies! Remembering names is pretty much impossible but I’m starting to get to know a few of them who come up and chat after class (this is apart from the crowd mass wanting my autograph and email haha).
Teaching is going great and even when I think the class has been boring kids come up to me to tell me how much they enjoyed it! Definitely gives ya a boost…I thought I might be getting a fan club when I couple of students brought me little presents and one even wrote me the sweetest letter saying that she “feels happy” because I “teach with a smile”. The kindness and welcoming spirit I’ve received here has been amazing and clearly a bit overwhelming at times. For now…teacher must rest. But really…who wants a signed photo? hahaha