Alyssa’s Expat Life—The Grinch Who Stole Childhood English Teaching

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Something happened when I gave my notice this week that I was leaving Always and China at the end of the semester in June. I’m not sure what it is, if it’s a combination of the fact that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel or that it was a holiday weekend here in China. But, I actually LIKE some of the children now. I can safely say I actually care whether a handful remember me and have learned something from me, even if it’s a funny story. I wonder what they’ll be like as adults. I’m not sure how this happened, or maybe it’s “I’m off for the next three days” euphoria talking.

My good friend Angie said the other day that she views children like adults—on a case-by-case basis. After some thought into that comment, I completely agree! I can no longer sit here and say “I don’t like children” anymore. Does this mean I don’t walk into almost every class with an overwhelming sense of dread and leave with an overwhelming sense of relief? No. However, some of the classes I actually really enjoy.

For instance, my Wednesday and Friday night Kindergarten classes. One class has four students, the other six. We have a blast singing and dancing and learning new words. They think everything I do is funny and we joke around. These are the only two classes where I know every students’ names, even the ones who have changed their English names mid-semester.

My Sticker 7 class (ages 7-9 I’d say) is great because I have The Enforcer. This is my largest class and one of the loudest, and he has become my right hand man. He’s part of the “cool” boys group, I can tell, and when he stands up and yells at the class to be quiet, man, they listen. I’m not sure if he likes to show his power or likes me as a teacher personally, but either way it’s great and he’s one of my favorite students. There’s a group of really smart girls in this class who sit at the same table in the front as well, and they know enough English were I can joke around with them as well. One of them also has the same birthday as I do, so we have a bond. I did notice that the “cool” boys group is hard on one boy in class, and I can’t tell if he’s ultra sensitive or being bullied. All I know is I’ve seen him cry twice and I’m keeping an eye on it. I don’t like seeing anyone’s feelings hurt no matter what the situation.

My two favorite classes have to be my Interchange class on Saturday afternoons and my Interchange class on Sunday afternoons, which happens to be my last class after a brutal 17 classes in two days marathon. These are approximately ages 12-13. Sherry and her friend (I need to get his name again, I’m so terrible with names) sit in the front and Mike sits in the back, but they are so smart. They are so great and engaging and fun that I am thinking about giving them my number at the end of all of this and telling them to look me up if they ever come to America. I want to know how they turn out, what they become, and I love knowing that I am a tiny, small part of that equation.

Lastly, I want to talk about Candy. Yes, her name in the United States would equate to something entirely different, however here in China, she’s my absolutely brightest student. She has mentioned her parents’ strict ways many times in class, almost to the point where I know she’s learning English for a way out. Her favorite day so far was when her incredibly strict mother took her to the mall to buy a new T-shirt. Her only one was old and she needed a new one. You could tell this was a rare occurrence and she was very happy. As someone who has never once been shopping with her mom besides embarrassing hand-me-down yard sales as a child, I felt Candy’s joy. She gave me a card for Working Women’s Day, a Chinese holiday. She will definitely get my number and words of absolute encouragement when I leave.

At first I was so angry with my school owner for lying to me about the age groups I was teaching. And, for the most part, I still am from time-to-time. However, it’s these stand-out students and Rachel, Miky and Eileen, my stand-out Chinese English Teachers, whom I have absolutely bonded with through the teaching war, that have made it all worthwhile so far. Every person has a unique quality and a gift. And, now that I’m halfway through teaching already, I am concentrating on cultivating those bonds and making my time here even more worthwhile.

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