Alyssa’s Expat Life—The Highs and Lows of Teaching

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When I was narrowing down my choices of schools to teach at (this profession has one perk, that in Asia it’s pretty much your choice of where you want to go) I had three solid offers on the table. One school only offered five days of vacation, so that was out. Another school was only little kids, so that was out. Always advertised a K-12 atmosphere, but I was told in my interview that I would only have the little kids for one class a week and would be teaching all older kids.

Imagine my surprise when I received my schedule, began teaching and realized that 80% of my classes are with children 10 and under. Another surprise came when I noticed that there were no kids in this K-12 school over the age of 14. That is no “through 12.” That is K-8. Ruby, our school coordinator, asked me how I was doing the first week. I was point blank honest with her and said that I felt deceived. All of my online classwork and student observation was geared toward older humans. I have no experience with children, let alone teaching them, nor do I want any. I told her if I would’ve known I would’ve went elsewhere. She just smiles and says no worries and that I have more little kids because I am younger than Bob, the other teacher here. That infuriated me. I told her I did not leave my friends and family for a year to teach children. It’s not what I signed up for, and she’s going to find out in a month that it’s not what I’m going to do, either.

As the weeks have passed, I have been forced to constantly high five children who have their hands down their pants, are picking their noses and God knows how they are wiping in these so-called bathrooms with no toilet paper or hand soap. I am the queen of hand sanitizer. In most of my classes the Chinese English Teacher (CETs) are my saving grace. In only one class does the teacher just sit in the back and let the class run astray. For the most part the teachers put the hammer down on discipline. (My favorites to work with are Eileen and Micky, hands down.) But also, they are children, so they are loud and run around and have Energizer Bunny-like energy. To keep up with that and keep their attention on what I’m trying to do is exhausting.

I laugh when the CETs ask me for suggestions on how to teach. I’m like, uh lady, do you think I have any experience here? I’m very honest with them and say that I have zero training with children, so you’re gonna have to let me know what you want here. I also say I have no idea why Mr. Gao hired me when I said I don’t like children. I just get blank smiles. They have no idea what I’m saying, so I can be more blunt. I mean, the school’s logo is even misspelled. I don’t think there are high expectations here. If it weren’t for Kelly’s (another Foreign English Teacher at another Always) slides, I would be completely lost and bogged down in much more class prep time.

I have noticed that the teachers and staff do like me and my teaching style. So far the only recommendation is that I talk slower and play more games. Seriously—we play a LOT of games. I can’t stress to you how many games they want to play. The CETs have this point system that none of the kids really care about that amounts to nothing. At the end of the day, if Team 1 wins the most points, they get stickers. It’s like currency at Always. What are they buying with these stickers? Candy, cigarettes, less beatings at home? I have no idea.

Now that I’m heading into week four, I will be a quarter of the way done with this semester already. Most of the classes now know me and respect me more. I also in turn have my favorites. For teachers who say they don’t play favorites, they are lying. When you are running up to me with your hands in my face yelling in the most whiny voice ever: “Let me try! Let me try!” when you just volunteered two seconds ago makes me so annoyed I want to smack you in the face, dude. The kids who are there to learn, or who volunteer without whining or being super annoying, or at least try in class, get my attention in return. My older kids Candy and Fred (of course his name is Fred) are my favorite students out of all of the classes. They are smart and will really go somewhere. They are both 14. To my surprise, I love my kindy classes. I have two that meet twice a week, and I think I have everyone’s names down. They are smart for their age and we have a lot of fun. They don’t whine and volunteer for EVERYTHING. They listen and engage. It’s great.

If I have a crappy class who never volunteers, I have fun on the inside calling on the ones who don’t give me eye contact or who are playing on their phones or tablets. I used to play the no-eye-contact game in classes I hated, kids—it doesn’t work.

Also not to my surprise is that I’m on the lower end of the contract pay scale. I am two hours shy of the higher pay scale. The bulk of my 23 hours comes in two days, Saturdays and Sundays (17 hours). I feel an overwhelming sense of dread on Friday nights, but I go into autopilot on Saturday and Sunday, and it’s actually not too bad. However, once Sunday afternoon at 4:30 comes, I have an overwhelming sense of relief.

Once I leave Always, I will remember the kids who really took the time to talk with me, learn things and who also taught me something in return. Hopefully they remember me, and I care just enough to say that.

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