Two days and eight classes down, and Xi’an is a distant memory 😦  It’s never a good idea to do a totally new lesson plan (a) when the students have just returned from a week’s holiday and (b) when you do on an even week which means you’re trialling the lesson on the students at the lower scale of the English-speaking ladder.  Yesterday was a total disaster, to the extent that in my final class I walked out ten minutes early, literally picked up my books and my bag and walked out.  it’s not my fault and it’s not the students’ fault, but at times the language barrier can drive you to cry with sheer frustration.

I’d spent hours working out my new lesson – food from around the world, a bit of role playing, then hangman.  How on earth was I do to know that 90% of students had never heard of France, Spain, Kenya, Ireland…..nor that they had never heard of food such as curry, sausages, olives…….nor that they had NEVER heard of hangman.  This is where the Chinese education system is proved soooooo different to those from around the world – it’s insular and the only outside things the students have really heard of is American things from – well, music or tv I guess.  So pizza/hamburgers and hot dogs were good – popcorn, nope, few of them had heard of McDonalds, KFC was good because there is one in JIngbian, Burger King forget it. 

I literally stumbled through three classes, the role playing was a total disaster, the students are so shy they won’t come to the front of the class and by the fourth I was losing the will to live….as were my students, first day back after a holiday and unbeknown to me until today, they have a whole weekend of exams to get through this weekend.  I can only assume that that the students only found this out before my fourth class (in the same way that I find out about meetings or English corner an hour before they take place) , as right from the off they would not be quiet, despite me asking for quiet, telling them that if they wanted to read they could and let the students who wanted to learn to listen to me.  I tried and tried to teach, to explain what I meant, but nothing. 

Sometimes it is easier to walk away, so I did.  I won’t get into trouble over this I know, but it was either me taking a step away from the situation or screaming blue murder and getting into trouble for that.  Thankfully one of the Chinese English teachers was outside and he was really kind, so I was able to chat to him and go home hereupon I was told by Tony we had English Corner….thankfully it was very informal, we basically sat with the students on the floor and chatted to them about holidays and what they liked doing, exactly the point of English Corner.

I didn’t sleep very well despite being in bed from about 9.30pm, I was probably worried about today’s classes, but then it came to me in the shower this morning…..Get the students to speak in groups – and that worked really well – thankfully my classes are laid out in groups of six, so I was able to spend about 20 minutes going over what food came from what country, and this being classes 14/15/16/17 their command of English was so much better than yesterday’s classes.

Tonight was back to the English-speaking competition.  I was only told about this at 4pm when I finished my classes, such is the way in China, and I’m not entirely sure what the purpose of it was.  Again we say and listened to the 24 students giving their speeches, and had to nominate 4 to be knocked out.  It’s horrible to do that, all of these students are in my classes, although I only really recognise about half of them, me and James the Chinese English teacher agreed same as last week on the same four, and then it was just really sitting listening to Chinese girls singing because apparently at the ceremony there is going to be some sort of entertainment.  Thankfully nothing further has been said about me howling to the dogs the theme to Titanic, so with any luck some of the – quite frankly really really good students – will be chosen over me.

What’s really nice in the informal setting of the speaking competition is being able to talk to the students – some of whom have a really good command of English, I just never get a chance to find that out.  But then I also have to remember – when I was 17 could I speak fluently in another language – of course I couldn’t despite getting an A in French and also holidaying in France every summer.  So my expectations are purely too high, especially when it comes to classes 18-22.  What  I do now need to work on is a way to communicate with these students, without being patronising and without getting frustrated.  With classes 18 upwards I need to do an introduction of the topic for 15/20 minutes, and then giving each group a speaking task and then going round each group individually whilst they do the task, that seems to me the only way to ensure that they speak – giving a written task is pointless because they just won’t do it. 

In a class of 60 students it’s going to be impossible to stop them speaking, but if I can concentrate on each group of 6 at a time, whilst ensuring that the noise levels don’t go through the roof, then I think that might work.  Now I need to think of tasks for them to speak about, there’s a limit to how much you can do “I like/he likes.  With regards to classes 18-22 I’m going to have to take advice from other teachers – thankfully on facebook and linkedin I belong to quite a few groups so I’m sure I can get help from those.

Tomorrow – a day off 🙂  I’ve got to go and see some students at 12 to go over their English-speaking competition stuff, then I have got to face the supermarkets.  This has been one of those weeks where I’ve not been able to eat much, lunches have been fairly spicy in the school canteen and with being away I don’t have any fruit or veg.   But if I can get a measuring jug then I can have some of my soups from Walmart, and chicken and veggies are always a good standby.  The dumplings I bought a week or so ago were so disgustingly greasy despite only boiling them I just couldn’t eat them  last night.

And I’m looking good – thanks to my Dorothy Perkins’ delivery arriving yesterday – 5 jumpers, 2 t-shirts and a pair of jeans 🙂  Free world-wide delivery works even to the desert!  One of the Chinese English teachers even commented tonight on how nice I looked – out of my customary black teaching garb (black, not a good idea when you’ve spent two days writing on a blackboard with chalk!).  Now I wait in anticipation to see whether my soup/chocolate package arrives from my mum…..