Teaching English to Chinese kids

I thought teaching English would be easy. Holy Cheesestick it’s harder than trying to put a sweater on a wild panda! At least that’s how I feel after the recent stint at the J Plus English school and the tutoring lessons I’ve done here in Xi’an. Kids are like monsters on little legs!

Granted, I’ve never taught this age group before, but how hard can it be? I thought.  A few weeks ago I answered the plea of a desperate friend in need of a substitute teacher, he couldn’t make it to class that weekend due to the flooding in his town. They would pay me 100 kuai an hour, I would teach classes of 4 to 7 year-old kids for a few hours each day. Cake walk, I thought.

Nothing went as planned. I had a whole lesson in mind when I walked in to the classroom, and managed to get through about 10 minutes of it before the classroom became a circus of clowning kids vying for attention. First, it was questions after questions of, Are you Chinese? Why are you from the U.S. when you look like you’re Chinese? To … “Look at me teacher look what I can do”!  Luckily, the experienced assistants knew what they were doing and were there to dig me out of the hole before things got out of hand. I would be strung up like Gulliver and his little people otherwise.

They did warn me not to be too nice, or they’d walk all over me.   But I couldn’t help it, how could you be stern to these adorable kids?

I reviewed their ABC’s by using The Body Language Alphabet Dance, imitating each letter with my arms and legs.  I taught them how to sing the Itsy-Bitsy-Spider Went Up the Water Sprout song. I had them pick their favorite colors from the box of crayons I brought, drew pictures of bears and cars and houses, played hot potato while counting up, played Hangman with the older classes, and read them the story of Sleeping Beauty and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.  We must’ve done a million things.  I swear Einstein’s theory of relative kicked into full gear, as the speed at which time passes was proportional to the hyperactivity of the kids.  I was drained by the end of the first class.

I did enjoy reading the stories to them as they gathered around huddled on the cushioned mat floor.  You don’t get the same enraptured attentiveness from your adult friends.  They were all wondering why the princess was so stupid she let an ugly old hag pricked her with a spinning wheel.

They also taught me this joke:

What kind of “ma” (horse) has only two legs?
Answer: ObaMA!  Ahahahahaa!

At the end of the second day, a little girl and her mom came up to me to say their goodbyes.   The girl tugged at her mom’s dress, she had something to tell me but she was too shy so she was making her mom do it.  The mom said, “She wanted to ask if you will come back next week to teach the class.”  I told them I didn’t know, it depends on if the school still needed me or not.  Then the little girl said something quietly to her mom.  The Mom repeated it to me, “She said she wanted you to come back because she really likes you.”  And then the little girl ran away.  That was so sweet, but it broke my heart knowing that I would probably not be back anytime soon.

> Read part 2 of my teaching adventures

6 thoughts on “Teaching English to Chinese kids”

  1. hello.i am living in china before 4 year.i am medical student in china university.i want to teach english to chinese kids,with any affordable pay.if you have any vacancy avalable plz contact me.i will be very thank full to you

  2. I am from Michigan, in the USA, now tutoring english and math in Shunde, China. I have never taught in my life. With that being said, when I first came to China teaching was the furthest thing from my mind, I came to prove to the government the relationship I had with my Chinese spouse was real. A few months had passed and I was soon approached by parents asking if I would be interested in tutoring their son in english, having 7 grown sons of my own I thought the request was well within my realm of knowledge…boy did I learn a lot! I did manage to make it through the first few sessions and I found that with each one, I got a bit better at it, soon I had 15 students.
    This past summer a friend was in charge of a small summer school program and the english/math teacher she had lined up to teach suddenly backed out, she instantly came to me. Hearing her dilemma I thought how hard could it be, right? I agreed and she was thrilled! The first day came and I was a bit nervous that I wasn’t prepared enough, ( I had 2 huge plastic carry boxes full of printables). I set to work…fully soaked in sweat, the class consisted of children ages 4-13…YIKES!!! I managed through that first day by the skin of my teeth, barely making it home before total exhaustion overcame me. I’ll make the rest of my 2-week learning lesson short, I adlibbed one day to the next, keeping the younger kids happy with tracing and coloring while running the older kids through nouns, verbs, word pictures, introduction to American money, hands on science projects…everything I could possibly come up with to fill each 3 hour session of my day. I…WILL…NEVER…SAY…YES…AGAIN!!! While the interaction with the kids was a blessing, I walked away each day brain-numb and exhausted.
    I come across the kids from my summer school class at the market or the many walks my wife and I take, the kids run up to me with warm hugs and tell me how much they miss class, I put on a warm smile and tell them that I do to.

  3. Haha. Thanks for sharing Jay. At least you got some character building and wisdom out of the experience I hope 🙂 I certainly appreciate teachers a lot more now. What a tough job it is!

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