19 March, 2012

You Wanna Be On Top?

No one said training was going to be easy—in fact, quite the opposite. All of the PC literature I read always used the word “intensive” in reference to pre-service training (PST). And on top of that, China’s PST is an entire month shorter than typical training programmes in other countries. All of this adds up to what can be a very overwhelming and very exhausting experience.

One of the more important aspects of PST for volunteers working in education—besides learning the language you are going to need to survive for the next two years—is a process called model school.

Unfortunately, model school has nothing to do with Tyra, and I’m nowhere closer to becoming America’s Next Top Model. It does, however, have EVERYTHING to do with giving us an opportunity to practice developing a curriculum and lesson plans for an oral English class. Most of us have teaching experience—my site, in particular, is loaded with teachers—but few of us in teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). (The Peace Corps loves its acronyms.)

We had taken many TEFL classes leading up to, and in preparation for, model school. We partnered up; then designed a curriculum to teach for the two-week duration. My partner was an incredible Texan who spent the last three years teaching AP Economics, and after deciding a unit on poetry may be too difficult, designed a curriculum about travel.
Our board on the first day. As you
can see, it was going to be an
exciting day.

Our classroom was challenging from the get-go because we were immediately thrown a curve ball. Instead of the high school-age students we were told we were going to teach, they decided since Amanda and I were both incredible, flexible teachers (read: suckers), we would be the best to handle a classroom of twelve year olds. We handled it like champs, but it was stressful going in, as we had to retool all of our lessons to accommodate younger, less fluent students.

Just like teaching in the States, each day brought different challenges and different successes. I found that my young male students disliked Justin Beiber quite a bit, so any time any of them goofed off, or were apprehensive about participating in an activity, I just started calling them “Beiber”. They were instantly more apt to working.

Me and my model school students.
Chinese students, from what I’ve been told as well as my observations, are not unwilling to learn; they are apprehensive about participating and being active in the classroom. So much of the pedagogy the United States holds dear about active- and collaborative-learning environments does not exist in the Chinese classroom. Their classes are an entirely teacher-centric dissemination of information, where the students are expected to learn passively through lecture and note taking; from what I can tell, students rarely even ask questions of their Chinese teachers. For anyone who has ever taken any kind of foreign language before, that kind of one-way instruction is not epistemologically sound—no one develops language skills in such a fashion.

(Sorry that last paragraph got a little teacher-talky… I needed to remind myself that I’d taken an educational psychology class.)

In the end, it was a good experience to see what I could and could not get my students to do. Gauging their reactions to certain activities will hopefully help me be more prepared when I start teaching permanently.


The greatest thing that came
out of the model school
experience was the discovery
of my favourite childhood
being sold nearby.
At the risk of sounding too cynical, it didn't. In hindsight, the experience did not prepare me for anything, other than expecting and preparing for one thing and getting something completely different, then having to deal with it and adapt without any warning. 

However, please do not interpret what I said negatively. On the contrary, my feelings are just the opposite. I am so thankful my actual teaching position for the next two years is nothing like what Model School was. I do not have to teach them basic vocabulary or basic grammar. I am blessed with moderately high-level English majors. Most of them care a great deal about learning the language and try very hard to succeed at everything, which has been a delight. After a year of apathetic high schoolers, this is heaven in a desk. Instead of the basics, I get the pleasure of teaching culture and writing. Last semester, I taught a post-graduate class that focused solely on Modernist literature. We explored the translation of Ezra Pound's "The River Merchant's Wife" and compared it to the original. I taught juniors about the joys of Greek theatre while they sat on the school's miniature outdoor amphitheatre (I even forced some of them to get up and pretend to be a chorus).

The back wall was engineered to acoustically bounce sound
back toward the speaker. It was awesome.

1 comment:

  1. 啊啊啊!i look horrible!!!