Part time jobs in China part one – teaching kids

(Click for audio version)


…Another very strange thing that happened recently is that I finally checked out this primary school around the corner, the one that’s been emailing me heaps lately about them wanting me to teach there. Since a couple of days a week with them would effectively mean doubling my income, I thought I’d check it out.

So I did.

It was weeeeeeeeeird.

I rolled up to this primary school, and there were a couple of supervisors saying we need your help blah blah blah, we love foreigners blah blah blah, you’re perfect blah blah blah, can you start tomorrow blah blah blah…but I told them that I needed to see another foreign teacher in action, because I’d never taught kids before; also, the teaching materials were, shall I say, minimal. So we went to a classroom full of, I dunno, six or seven year-old kids, we said hi to this Spanish guy who was about to teach, and then we sat at the back of the class…and, after that, I saw about fifteen minutes of one of the most surreal environments life had ever taken me into. Picture this – about thirty Chinese kids, all of whom were turning around to look at me as much as they could (smiling, giggling and pointing at me), with this serious-looking supervisor sitting next to me, while this Spanish geezer was up the front teaching English in Chinese in a Spanish accent (saying stuff like “yi gir mooooouse, er gir maaaankey” (one mouse, two monkeys)). Part of me wanted to run screaming, but the other half was just stunned at the quality of entertainment before me – it was just sooooo weird; as if David Lynch had reworked a Monty Python sketch, or vice-versa, and written me into it.


…I’ve worked at about four other schools now, taking other jobs here and there, whenever this agency that Barry put me onto finds me some work; I go to his agency in particular in an attempt to avoid teaching at the primary school I told you about a few emails ago – you know, the one with the Spanish guy giving dada artists a run for their money. I mean, I could do it, yeah, but if I can avoid doing it, I will. So this agency has been finding me work with middle school students (the Chinese name for high school), and other little English language training companies.

Well, despite these plans (trying to avoid teaching kids)…last night I took a class [twenty-seventh April, 2007], and something happened that I, shall I say, didn’t plan on. I was only given a few hour’s notice…I rolled up to this room in a private school, just off a main intersection of Wuluo Lu, to find the room full of – shock horror – kids!!! My world crumbled around me. I recoiled in horror as a giggling seven-year-old came running up to me saying “what’s your name?”…terror engulfed me when a group of four ten-year-old girls started yelling “HELLO!!!” at me…soul-wincing agony washed over me as I spotted a pair of grinning, expectant grandparents staring wordlessly at me from the door…what unearthly deed had I committed to have this ghastly trial thrust upon me? My peripheral vision expanded tenfold, suddenly becoming naught but a thousand possible escape routes…it scoured my world for doors, windows (open or otherwise), air vents, cat flaps, mouse holes, anything…anything to leap through should I need it in the immediately foreseeable future…my façade remained strong, but, inside, I was a melting ball of panic.

Hmmmm…well, something akin to that. Melodrama momentarily aside (it won’t be away for long, haha), it seems that the school hadn’t told the agency that it was a class of kids, so it apparently wasn’t the agencies fault [nah, that’s crap. They knew, but just didn’t care. It happens]. The ensuing two and a half hours were just weird…something that made it much harder was that I didn’t have a Chinese co-teacher, which, I understand, is a standard thing for foreign teachers to have…consequently, I just couldn’t control them. As far as I knew, I was being paid so that they could hear an alien talk, but they did the vast majority of the talking, which was generally a mishmashed collage of Chinese and never-more-than-four-words-and/or-one-clause-per-sentence English. In between my mostly vain attempts at getting their attention and/or get a conversation going, I just sat there, looking utterly perplexed and helpless, staring into the blankness that was somewhere in the middle the blur that currently manifested itself as this collection of small, noisy creatures before me. Maybe I’m painting too melodramatic a picture of it, but in this class of twentyish, there were about six kids – all boys – who basically never shut up. It made things hard. I’ll wrap this tale up by just saying that the last twenty minutes honestly felt like twenty hours – I checked my watch every passing eternity, and felt a soul-sinking feeling, again and again, when I realised that the eternity that just crawled past me, at the speed of a paralytically drunken sloth with ennui-induced lethargy, was, in fact, only sixty seconds.

So now I can say that I’ve taught in a primary school in China. I’ll see if it’s an effective pick-up line in pubs back in Oz.

PS the stories are from Wuhan (武汉) in 2007; the pics are from a Christmas gig I did in Nanjing (南京) circa 2010. No shots of the Wuhan kids exist….which is probably a good thing!
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