They say don’t judge a book by its cover, and boy, has this book had its moments. As my time at Always Sun City comes to a close, my heart is full of so many emotions. As many things that are completely opposite from the United States here in China, the fact is, what is the same is that wherever you go there are people who will do you wrong. More importantly, there will people who will become friends and wonderful memories for life.
I will always remember Shane, Ruby, Jenny, Gavin, Rachel, Miki, Ivy, Vicki, Amy, Vivi and especially Eileen for helping me grow as a teacher, helping me with logistical issues and getting me through my time at Always.
Did a small part of me feel robbed in the beginning? Absolutely. I spent months and a lot of money to train to teach a certain age. I wanted all high school or all adult learners. But, how was I to know that even when asking a direct question to the power that was that I would be blatantly lied to? I found out that it’s happened before many times, and I found out one person was mainly to blame and not my school itself. They were nothing but helpful and wonderful. So, my first piece of advice to anyone planning on doing this is to research, research, research and ask questions of people beforehand who are native English speakers. Ask every little question you can think of and more regarding the things that are important to you when moving. Don’t settle for a roundabout answer. Get direct details. Your school, no matter how great they are (and mine was compared to other horror stories I heard) can’t possibly answer the little things that may be personally important to you. I didn’t know that even though they advertised K-12, there were only K-8 at the most at this school. Asking an English speaking teacher that direct question will save you time and energy in the vague-answering land known as China.
I was given serious and even sometimes helpful reviews, yet the school logo was spelled wrong on most of the marketing materials, there were major English errors in the curriculum (which I don’t think were even written by a native English speaker), and they hired someone who absolutely wasn’t qualified to do what they were asking, yet I waded through it somehow. Their “SmartBoard training” lasted no more than 10 minutes and their “classroom training” session had NOTHING to do with what I actually was asked to teach on a weekly basis. Even halfway through the semester, when I was sent to a public school for extra hours, they sent me in with 10 sentences and zero information or technology, forcing me to wing almost every class. A lot of the studies called for audio listening, yet there was no CD, tape player, nothing to supplement the book, so I had to skip those sections or become my own audio. If it weren’t for another expat’s premade slides and technology back at the regular school, I would’ve absolutely sunk. They do the best they can with what they have, and the fact that I care that it should be better perhaps says a lot about my growth as a teacher. I am absolutely a more patient and “go-with-the-flow” person than I’ve ever been. It also allowed me to come up with fun games on my own, which ended up being a blessing in disguise. I found out quickly which games were hits and which ones failed, and I grew leaps and bounds as a teacher.
When it came to things outside of the school, like the airport pickup, my sweet apartment, getting my bank account, helping with trips, etc., the school was incredibly awesome. They were eager to help and to answer any questions I had about daily life in Jinan. I can’t say enough good things about the efficiency of this part of my stay.
While I would not trade my particular school for anything, I also feel kind of sad because of the location I was put in. I was so far away from the other expats, which I really envisioned getting to know a lot more than I did, and city life. People here really do settle into everyday life more than I expected, however the last couple of weeks I branched out more, which in turn cultivated many more friendships. That was a big lesson and true to another major cliché—you definitely get out of something what you put into it.
With that being said, do I feel like I made a difference in a child’s life? With their attention spans, I doubt most of them remember who I am past Saturday. But now that the bulk of teaching is over, I can look back and cherish the faces in each class. I did find that whenever new kids and their parents would enter a class to check out the school (promo classes) that I was protective of my current students over the new kids. We had built a bond and I felt like the outsiders had invaded their turf. Perhaps that was a bit of a maternal instinct taking over that I’ve never had before. I want to say in the tougher little kid (Sticker) classes that I tried. God, did I try. I tried picturing the kids as my friends’ kids. I love my friends’ kids because I know them and they are the spawn of the best people I know. I tried picturing them as a litter of puppies, which I would adore and have the time of my life with. Some days it worked OK, and I’ve definitely grown to love and will miss many of my students. Hearing “Hallo Aleeesa” did warm my cold, dead heart. I will see their faces in my mind for the rest of my life and wonder 20 years down the road what kind of adults they are.
I will remember my very first New Parade class and how I was so nervous and scared and NO IDEA what I was doing when I walked in. I will remember Rain, and his amazing note to me and how I wished he was in the class the full semester (he came in half way). I will remember Vicki and her pink glasses and how she and her dad zipped by me before class on their e-bike and she would yell out “Hallo Aleeesa” as they whizzed by, but once she got to class she rarely paid attention. (A lot of kids lived in my neighborhood, so seeing them outside of class and hearing “Aleeesa” on the street always made my day.)
I will remember little Linda in my New Parade 1 class and how cute and smart she was, her smoker’s laugh and how I teared up the day her mom smacked her arm so hard it echoed in the classroom, but she acted like it happens every day. And, it probably does.
I will remember Arthur in Sticker 7 and how he yelled “Bea Schwa La! (sp?) in class and I figured out it meant “Be Quiet!” It was one of the first Chinese phrases I learned, and I don’t know if he was trying to be a teacher’s pet or just couldn’t stand the noise. I’ll remember Mike’s face from the same class on the last day when I handed him the $1 he had been begging for since our money unit. He beamed with joy.
I’ll remember the girl in Interchange 0B who made my black and white bracelet. I’ll remember my cute kindy classes and how fun they were and how much Eileen and I laughed during them. I’ll remember Eric, Claire, Tyler and Tony. I’ll remember Ali, Rolly, Mary, Charles, Mike, David 1, David 2, Vic, and Turbo, who I couldn’t believe his name was Turbo until I got to know him. Now he’s obviously Turbo. I’ll remember Amy’s Connect class and how much fun we had just sitting around the table and talking about KFC and English sayings. I’ll remember Bob from the other 0B class who seriously knew English before he got there. I’ll remember the other Rain from my Sticker 3 class who jumped up and down the entire class. Every day. He was so cute and just could not contain his energy. I’ll remember poor Do Do from the same class, whose parents changed her name four times and settled on a word that means poop in English. I doubt they knew. The one regret I do have is not learning their names early on. By mid-semester I had maybe 1/3 of them down and was too embarrassed to ask again since so much time had passed. Next time (if there is one) I’ll have a better naming system down.
Lastly, I’ll remember my two Interchange 2B classes the most. They were my two favorite classes, and they were visibly dejected when they found out I wasn’t teaching the next level. To me that’s the ultimate compliment; they kicked ass and I always knew they would. They made everything else worth it, from laughing at me when Miki tried to teach me Chinese words to just being great listeners and fun learners. I will always remember my conversation with Fred in the lobby, his smile and how he loved to play Boggle. I’ll remember the back row of my Saturday class and how the first half they barely said anything, but by the second half of the semester they were engaged in everything—we completely had a blast.
And, I’ll remember Candy. I had to write down our last encounter, because she reminds me so much of me in so many ways. She’s convinced her mom hates her, her parents are way too hard on her, and she’s so bright. I left class that day with a blanket goodbye and we met eyes. Something told me not to go home and to wait outside. I did so, and Candy walked out unable to find her mother. After finding her she ran back to me with a somewhat embarrassed and longing look on her face. I just knew what was about to happen. She said, “It was so good to get to know you.” I at this point am fighting back tears with all my might and said, “The same to you and good luck to you. Can I give you a hug?” I said, “E-mail me if you ever need anything and we will keep in touch.” There’s so much more I wish I could’ve/would’ve said in that moment, but I was so stunned that I could feel this strongly about one of my students. She said, “I hope you have a happy life.” And with that, she was gone.
The next day more tears were held back when Mark asked me about high school in America, that he wants to test into studying there and he thanked me for everything I taught him. I would be thrilled to see him again. Such a bright student and a joy to be around. Sherry wasn’t in our last class, so I asked Eric, her best friend in class, to send me a photo. I’m convinced that they hate each other and playfully smack each other around enough to marry one day. Eric handed me a note at the end of class and I decided to read it later for fear of crying again in front of all male 13-year-olds. In hindsight, I think they would’ve cried with me. Eric’s note (along with Rain’s note and Candy’s interaction) were some of the most loveliest things I’ve ever received. A photo of the notes are attached to this blog. With words like those, how could I ever feel robbed? I feel like the most blessed person in the world.