Over a dinner with friends the other night, I had an epiphany. I realized that I was being really hard on myself. I was freaking out about what I was going to teach my students next. I was frustrated that my Chinese wasn’t improving as fast as I thought it would. I was dreading the mound of papers waiting for me to grade at home. I was worried that my students weren’t learning anything from my classes. I was annoyed that I didn’t have any awesome Chinese friends yet. I was disorganized. I wasn’t eating healthy or exercising. I was stressin’ out big time.
Slowly but surely, I started to evaluate all of my unrealistic expectations. I tried to simplify my goals and put things in perspective. I made some changes.
I was freaking out about what I was going to teach my students next. The answer: thematic units. Since my classes have absolutely no guidelines, no syllabus and no textbook, it is entirely up to me what I teach. This is both a blessing and a curse, but mostly a curse (in my opinion). I would pick an interesting, but random topic (say, corporate culture at Google), teach a lesson about it, and then the next week I would move on to another totally different topic (say, American college life). This was taxing for me, because I always had to come up with new ideas, and probably annoying for my students because they didn’t know what to expect from week to week. Now, I’ve been planning lessons that are more cohesive and thematically linked. Right now we’re doing a unit on technology. So far, so good, and so much less stress lesson planning!
I was frustrated my Chinese wasn’t improving as fast as I thought it would. I was going to Chinese class whenever I could, listening to Chinese Pod lessons online, trying to read signs, and eavesdropping on conversations on the bus. What I realized however, was how little I was getting out of my Chinese classes at DUT. In a class with 16 other students, I didn’t get to speak very much, and more often than not I wasn’t prepared for class because I had to miss a class to teach. The solution: instead of class, get a Chinese tutor. My friends Dan, Matt, David and Eric all have the same amazing Chinese tutor named Emily. I had my first tutoring session last Monday, and it was exactly what I needed: one-on-one conversation, lots of practice speaking, and an efficient use of my time. I feel like I’m going to learn more in my two hours a week with Emily than I was in my nine hours a week of Chinese classes.
I was dreading the mound of papers waiting for me to grade at home. I realized that grading is an inevitable part of being a teacher, but it is a lot easier when you have a good rubric. That way the students know what to expect, and you can minimize the bias associated with scoring someone’s work. (I’ve also learned that grading is a lot easier when done in a coffee shop with a strong coffee in hand.)
I was worried that my students weren’t learning anything from my classes. I thought that I was going to turn my students into amazing writers and fluent English speakers in one year. Unrealistic? Absolutely. I’ve shifted my focus from “academic” English to more casual, practical forms and uses of the language. I asked my students to do presentations where they invented new iPhone apps, and I’m teaching a lesson soon about chat/text lingo. It might not be the most essential knowledge, but it seems to be what the students are interested in learning. And even if I teach a “bad” lesson, I try to remind myself that my students still gain some intangible things from my class. They are free to openly discuss their thoughts, they learn about American culture, and they hear a native English speaker talk. I’m also allowing myself permission to “fail” sometimes, because behind every failure is a learning experience. This is my first time teaching, and doing something new always has its ups and downs.
I was annoyed that I didn’t have any awesome Chinese friends yet. I had to remind myself that making friends takes time– especially for an introvert like myself. I couldn’t ask for a better group of American and British friends, and for right now, I’m satisfied with my social circle. However, I’m hoping that as time goes on, I’ll make some Chinese friends naturally.
I was disorganized. It’s hard to keep all nine of my classes straight. Sometimes I would change my lessons slightly throughout the week, or assign different homework to different classes. It may sound like a no-brainer, and I’m not sure why I didn’t think of this sooner, but I’ve started to keep a “teacher’s log.” What a lifesaver. In this one little notebook I record notes about each class– what went well, what I could improve next time, and what I assigned for homework. I feel so much more on top of things now.
I wasn’t eating healthy or exercising. I ditched vegetarianism for a variety of reasons when I got to China, but with that I also ditched a lot of my healthy eating and exercising habits…and I’m starting to feel the negative effects. There is a gym for students a stone’s throw away from my apartment, so I’ve been there a few times to run. At 5 RMB (less than US$1) a visit, it’s totally affordable, so I really have no excuse. I’ve also downloaded a few yoga podcasts, which are a nice way to relax and de-stress in the coziness and comfort of my own room.
Since making these changes, I’ve been much happier. My classes seem to be going better, I feel like I have more free time, and I’ve been more productive. Along with my change in attitude, I also decided to change my hair! Yesterday I walked down the street to a hole in the wall salon and got a haircut for 10 kuai, or about US$1.50. Meet the new, reinvigorated, organized, and de-stressed Teacher Kim!