First Half of Winter Break & Giving Back #2 Teaching English to Chinese Youth






你好,大家ï¼Hello, everyone! Thought it would be nice to give a little update on some of the myriad winter shenanigans I have been getting in to here in China. With the end of the Fall semester leaving me drained, both physically and mentally (from the countless hours of studying for my intensive language courses and the numerous goodbyes and farewells to fellow friends and classmates heading back home), I first sought relaxation within my newfound freedom of winter break by catching up on some much needed sleep and just basking in the ability to do whatever I wanted when I wanted to do it. But shortly this restfulness turned into laziness which started to creep up on me like a bad habit that I had to shake soon. As a result, I decided to get in touch with some new found friends (who I either came to know by way of fellow classmates who are now departed, or meet while just out and about in the city) to search for an English teaching job that could keep me occupied during my time off and, coincidentally, allow me some walking around money.

***It must be noted that an English teaching job is one of the easiest to come by in Chengdu for a foreigner, whether it be tutoring a student one-on-one or at an ‘afterschool’ school (most of which are designed specifically to help advance primary and middle school students oral English skills and are particularly looking for native-English speakers to teach their classes). These jobs are so abundant that strangers will literally approach foreigners out of nowhere, strike up a little conversation, and then ask if you will help either them, their kids, or other family member learn to speak English. I have had so many of these occur throughout my time here in Chengdu, Sichuan, China, that I have lost count of the amount of job offers or instances of barterers wanting  to exchange any number of things for my services as an English teacher.***  

So, back to my story… My first teaching job came to me through an unlikely acquaintance, and employee of California English (an American run school, whose boss is an American-born Chinese man) that happened to be at my host university one day looking for native-English speaking students who were interested in teaching oral English to local kids (ages ranged from 4 or 5 to 11 or 12). Having saved her contact information, I called her up immediately and requested an interview where we went over not only my qualifications (which I lacked any real teaching experience), but also my future aspirations of becoming an English teacher in China (a particularly real goal I still have today). The interview ended with her laying out the basic structure of a class (most would include a handful of students, around 5 to 6) and the overall goals of California English, as an employer (including, what would be expected of me as a teacher, and the fact that they would furnish me with at least one Chinese-native, English-speaking Teacher’s Assistant that would act as mediator between myself and the kids if the language barrier became an issue during my lessons). Satisfied with what credentials and motivation I did possess, we both conversed and settled on a date and time in which I would arrive at the school and give a mandatory ‘mock lesson’ to a handful of Teacher’s Assistants. Basically, this meant I would have to go in to a classroom full of TAs and act as if they were a bunch of children and teach them some English and they would subsequently evaluate my strengths and weaknesses as a teacher. Fortunately, through a lot of patience and persistence on the part of the TAs, I passed the ‘mock lesson plan’ with flying colors and was soon called into speak with the head honcho of California English to go over a few logistics concerning my hourly pay, availability on a weekly basis, and signing a contractual obligation that stated all of these in paper format. Before leaving the office, my new boss asked and I agreed to volunteer for an upcoming Christmas Party held at the school in about a week. Unbeknownst to me, I was actually volunteering to dress up in a red Santa Claus costume, give a short presentation about the meaning of Christmas to parents and kids (I used my knowledge of Christmas to teach that it is a time for giving and showing love to loved ones), and handing out different gifts that the school purchased for the kids (including, some DVDs I made with famous stop-motion, English Christmas movies I and my parents used to watch as kids). I must say, even though the Santa Clause outfit was an unexpected surprise, the overall experience was extremely refreshing and homey with a hint of Chinese flare. Just seeing the excitement on all those kids’ faces, how they hung on every word that I spoke (more of the TAs translation), and the delight in their faces when they received the gifts I handed them just melted my heart and opened my eyes to my true calling, teaching.  

As a result of this new found love of educating, I decided to venture outside of just teaching English at California English (only on Fridays and Saturdays each week) to asking my Program Adviser for any information about tutoring an individual kid. She gave me the contact information of the International Students Office conveniently located in our dormitory building where parents come to acquire the office’s assistance in finding a tutor for their child. It is there that I was introduced to a little, 6 year old girl, Cutie, and her mother, Jane. After our initial meeting, we set up to have a lesson once a week for an hour, where I would teach Cutie useful, everyday English that would complement the English she learned in school, and I would have her use the words in articulate, well-spoken sentences. 

Lastly, I received an additional teaching opportunity through one of my best friends and fellow classmates, Brent. What was a random night that started with Brent and I having a cigarette and entertaining light conversation turned into a 5 to 6 hour discussion about our personal ideas pertaining to philosophy, the meaning of life, and the source of hatred and dissatisfaction among all mankind. It was at the end of this long conversation, and a full pack of cigarettes, that he vowed to introduce me to one of his best Chinese friends, Alex, who he himself had met through a fellow classmate just the previous spring semester. Alex, a co-founder and co-investor of SHe Says English teaching studio, would not only become my future boss, but also my best and most dear friend in China. We first met during a Christmas party hosted by his studio, where we shared a night full of hors d’oeuvres, cocktails and interesting, goodhearted conversation among his eccentric circle of deep thinking, likeminded friends. A few days later after a series of mobile chats, and lunch and dinner meetings, he offered me an opportunity to volunteer to help with the preparation of (food, decorations, etc.) for the up and coming Christmas party his studio was throwing for students and parents. Luckily, I did not have to dress up and embody the role of Santa Claus like the last Christmas party, but I did play a minor part in Alex’s lesson plan by testing kids’ Christmas vocabulary (in English) by way of a little card game.