Wednesday, January 14, 2004

China Trip: First day of English Classes

Well, we launched! With no other credentials than the native ability to speak English (which was God’s doing, not ours) and our connection with IBLP (another feature not of ourselves), we began our English Camp. I had slept well during the night, and woke up knowing that I was much better (but still not absolutely well). This was a good thing, because I would be needing every ounce of energy and creativity I could muster for the classes I was to teach. We got ready and left the hotel, and as soon as we pulled in to the driveway, we could see the crowds of students. Everyone drew in a deep breath, smiled, and waved. Just WHAT were we getting into?

Introductions were the first thing we were “getting into.” This meant taking off our coats and standing up on stage in our uniforms, smiling and nodding and clapping and bowing while we waited through a bunch of speeches we couldn’t understand because they were in Chinese. To say that we got cold while we were standing there would be an understatement. The building even had the windows open!! But it came to an end and it was actually one of the only times I ever felt cold while I was there.

The next thing we did was to administer an English test to the students to determine their level of ability. I had a blast with this. It was so neat to ask questions, beginning with “Hello, How are you?” and hear their standard response. “Fine, sank you, and you?” We categorized the students into four levels, from lowest to highest: yellow, blue, red, and green. Greens knew the words “helicopter” and “flag,” could read and sound out difficult, unfamiliar words, knew what “raining cats and dogs” meant, and more. Basically, to my way of thinking, they were fluent in English. Yellows, on the other hand, couldn’t understand much English at all.

I was assigned to team Blue 8, and arrived at my class, not having the slightest idea what I would do. All of the students were already there, which was terribly disconcerting. I smiled and walked up to the teacher’s desk without a word and opened my folder, aware that every eye in the classroom was watching me. How would I begin? What would I say? I got some papers out of my bag and put those on the desk too, trying to look like I knew what I was doing, trying to look like I had lots and lots of wonderful material prepared to teach them. To tell the truth, I had been so sick I had not done any lesson planning. I stood there with my heart beating for what seemed an eternity, trying desperately to gather enough presence of mind to figure out how to begin.

Just then, Priscilla arrived at the door with Sally, one of the interpreters. What did they want? They wanted to speak to me. I walked over to the door, and Sally began, “I’m sorry, I think you have made a mistake. Your class is next door.” I looked at my papers and she was right. I was in Priscilla’s classroom! As I gathered up my things and left, Priscilla walked straight up to the teacher’s desk and said, “Good morning!” In unison, the whole class responded, “Good morning!” YES!! Now I knew how to begin!! That was easy!

I entered my own classroom looking as confident as could be, smiled brightly at all the new faces before me, and cheerfully announced, “Good morning!” It worked! The whole class, as if they had rehearsed it a hundred times, responded, “Good morning!” Then what?? Get their names. I wrote my name up on the blackboard. “Miss Rebekah. This is my name.” I then asked each student to stand up and tell me his or her name. I neglected to ask for their English names, and they rattled off their Chinese names so fast that I didn’t catch any of them. I didn’t really know how to handle this, so I smiled and acted as if I understood perfectly. (Things I would have done differently… I could write a whole long list. Oh, well.)

What next?? The dreaded question. Thank God for the workbook!! We got started going through that and it was easy, because they all already knew plural nouns. The time started going quickly at this point, and before I knew it, it was time to go to sports. As we were leaving the classroom, I got to find out my interpreter’s name. She was an exceptionally pretty girl with a well-proportioned face, bright rosy cheeks, and short dark hair. She said, “My English name is Echo, E-C-H-O.” For some reason, I heard her wrong and thought she said “E-Z-H-O,” but the next day I finally got it straightened out. She was always very sweet and at the end of class, she always said the same thing. “Miss Rebekah, I will go now.” She stayed in the dorm at the high school.

I never realized before how difficult it was to teach English to someone who doesn’t know it. I am acquainted with teaching people things they don’t know (piano, computers, Spanish, needlework, etc.), but when your only tool to teach the skill is the very thing they don’t understand, the problem is magnified! I definitely can’t employ my normal teaching style—I know that much after the first day! I like to be able to explain things. Well, what if they don’t understand my explanation? And they don’t. Perhaps I have to make things more intuitive, letting them figure things out for themselves. I don’t know. I feel so inadequate. This is one of those times where prior training would be SO beneficial! Teaching some things, you don’t need that. CLEP tests? Almost never. Cooking? hardly. Teaching piano? nope. If you can do any of these things, you can almost just as easily teach them to someone else. I was sort of thinking teaching English would be the same way, but it’s not.

Before our introductions started, Mr. Wang had come up to me and said there was a doctor at the school and he would like me to see her. He had such a way about him that seemed to genuinely care how I was feeling, I thanked him wholeheartedly and said, “You are very kind. You take such good care of me!” However, I didn’t think too much of it, because I thought, “Perhaps when they see how much better I’m really doing, they’ll forget about it.” At lunch time, though, Mr. Wang appeared with the doctor, a very pretty lady who didn’t speak English. Mr. Shea came with us to translate. They asked me questions about headaches and tightness of chest (you understand, SARS wasn’t far from the tops of their minds), and my cough and congestion and probably more.

We went to a little room on the school grounds where the doctor had an office set up. She took my pulse, which she said was a little high (100), and then took my temperature, which came up to be 37.7 degrees C. The normal level is 37 degrees C, so apparently I had a fever. I wasn’t sure I had a fever. My coat was on and I was clad from neck to toe in an extraordinary number of layers, but they decided it would be best for me not to teach in the afternoon. I was to go back to the hotel instead to rest for the rest of that day and the next day. They would watch my temperature and make sure the fever didn’t persist. (37 C = 98.6 F; 37.7 C = 99.86)

The doctor gave me some nasty-tasting pills (fortunately they don’t have to stay in my mouth for long! I can swallow them), of which I was supposed to take 18 a day, and advised me to get lots of water and lots of rest. Well, I couldn’t agree with her better on those!

Mrs. Wang rode with me back to the hotel. On the way, we were discussing the many bicyclists and pedestrians in the streets everywhere. She said there were many accidents between cars and bicycles. She told me that the wife of the security guard at the school was in the hospital with 18 stitches in her head and a broken arm from running into a bus with a moped.

We got back to the hotel and I went to my room, glad to rest, but sorry I was leaving the others with more work by my absence. Joe Martin took my morning junior high class, and Michelle Childers and Audra Wolfley traded off teaching my afternoon elementary class. I thanked Mrs. Wang, and she said, “Oh, it’s nothing. We want you to know that we love you so much. I want to treat you as I would my own daughter.” I was very grateful for her kindness. Mr. and Mrs. Wang were such wonderful people! They made our trip very special. They accompanied us on all the touring days, and supported us and did things for us that they really wouldn’t have had to do. 

Next Post: Sick day
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First Post: Pre-departure excitement

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