First time nerves…. again

First week of teaching was… interesting. I should perhaps provide some background. So, a couple of weeks ago, we (that is, some of the foreign teachers; two did not attend) had a meeting about the semester, and it was suggested we use the textbooks we had been issued with, for our lessons, especially because, the exam will be based on this. My colleagues had their semester pretty much all sorted – they planned on doing the same as last year, but perhaps with a few ‘tweaks’ to include textbook bits.

For me, however, the vagueness of the instructions was not particularly helpful. In previous years, the speaking exam had been set by the foreign teachers. This had allowed them to fit into their teaching syllabus (for example, some teachers got their students making a film, others giving presentations etc). But we were told at this meeting that the exam may be focused on part of the book. Or be like the topics in the book. And it may be a conversation between two students. Typically vague, and typically helpful (not).

We do have some class grades and homework scores which we can allocate, based on attendance etc (as was the same at RDFZ). My syllabus plan is such that I will probably broadly follow the speaking topics of the book, but adapt lessons and do my own thing, using some of the stuff I did at RDFZ. I may get the students to do some acting scenes too, if there is time, at the end of the semester.

Anyway, I was reasonably happy with my introduction lesson, but was very nervous before my first class on Tuesday. I got the bus and made it to the campus no problem (my colleagues accompanied me and showed me where to go). Students were even waiting in the classroom for the lesson. My teaching days follow this pattern. Three classes in one day. It starts early, up at 6am, to get the shuttle bus to the other campus at 7. We arrive about 7.45, giving me about 15 minutes to the teaching building and classroom. There is no bell, so I have to go off my watch for timings. And I was, to put it mildly, nervous. Yes, I’ve taught many classes before but this was new. The first time I’ve taught in a university, the first time I’ve taught university students, and the first time I’ve taught with little guidance.

The lesson itself was sort of based on what I’d done at RDFZ, but was longer. I started with a tongue twister, went through the class rules, and then did ‘two truths and a lie’, which went well. Then, I gave out some paper with a table on it, which I wanted them to fill in (it was information about themselves – which provinces they are from, what sport they like etc). They seemed to do this well too, and then, after the break, they did ‘find someone who’. This is where I give them some topics (e.g. find someone who has a birthday in the same month as you), and should go around the class and ask other students questions and find the right answer. They did this very well, and didn’t even speak much Chinese, which is always good. Then lesson was pretty much over.

I said I was nervous and I was…. I’d kind of got into a bit of a rut at RDFZ, and it was nice to teach different students, even though I am very fond of the RDFZers. Some of the students are even 17 (which I don’t really understand), though most were 18, so not much older than what I taught at RDFZ.

So far, so good, and the lessons on Tuesday all followed a similar pattern. A student in the afternoon even told me he really liked my class, and was sad that he may not be able to take it again. Which brings me to the problem of the week. It seems, as with many computer systems, that the online enrolment for students, failed. What I mean by that is that students who were in your class for the first week, may not necessarily be in it for the second week. This annoyed a lot of my colleagues, who said they had got several messages from students, upset they may not be able to take their class. I didn’t, because I hadn’t given out my WeChat (because in the first week, students can switch classes anyway).

The class sizes on Tuesday were big (and even bigger in my one class on Friday) – at least 27 or 28 students. In China, all undergraduates should take English as part of their university study, regardless of their major. So these kids were in my class not through choice, which can make things a bit harder (they may not excel, or even enjoy English). On Friday, I only had one afternoon class, due to the opening ceremony – and that was over-subscribed.

I try and push the fact that I don’t expect students to be fluent, and that I am more bothered about them trying in class, and also that they should speak English whenever possible. In the third class there were some very weak students (it seemed), but even these, when they had to ‘find somebody who’, did go and asked some people questions and used some semblance of English (I think). The class was split mostly in terms of my giving them information about the course (though I didn’t go into detail on what we’d study), and getting them speaking getting them speaking. Whilst I wouldn’t say the lesson was perfect – far from it in fact – it wasn’t terrible either, and in all three classes on Tuesday, and the one on Friday, I can say they went reasonably well.

Apparently, because the system went down, all students were reassigned classes, not just our classes but Chinese teachers’ classes too, meaning that, potentially at least, the second week of classes may have students who are almost or completely different to those in the first week. We decided to redo the first week, though this poses a problem if there are students in your class who are the same – they would already have done the activities you set for them. But I also found out that we (as in, the foreign teachers) are assigned a Chinese teacher and it is those who the students select. My understanding is that when they select that teacher, they are automatically assigned a foreign teacher. Given, however, we can only have a maximum of 30 people in class, and there are only six foreign teachers, I’m not sure exactly how it works out.

Anyway, week 1 went pretty well, all things consider. Week 2.1, however, remains to be seen….

Update – so it’s Monday of week two, and guess what? Online enrolment has been extended until Wednesday now…. We’ll see if it gets extended further! So week 2 has already become week 2, but there will not be happy people if week three will also be week 1!

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