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On the Teaching Path

Popularity 14Viewed 2812 times 2015-5-18 11:48 |System category:Life| Teaching, Engish, speaking, expected, possible

This is a second part to my previous post - The Path to Teaching.

When I first started with classes at Three Bridges English School I was pretty nervous as was expected. I took as much advice as possible from the more experienced teachers there and presented the classes as best I could. What's the first thing you learn teaching English in a Chinese classroom? SPEAK MORE SLOWLY. In fact that speaking your native tongue slowly rule caught me out when I spent a holiday in Hong Kong with my grandsons two years later. They are both Australian and I was still adopting the 'speak slowly' style of communication until one of them asked me if there was something wrong with me as I was speaking so slowly to them! Oops!

Over the 4 years I changed my teaching style enormously. Most importantly, the secret to a good class is meticulous lesson preparation. I spent (and spend) quite a bit of time preparing the lessons for the classes. I invented new games, even purchased a colour printer, I bought those A4 magnetic sheets which I cut into 4 pieces and wrote the letters of the alphabet on them. There is no end to the word games that you can play when you have this simple, cheap tool. I printed pictures as well as the words and used them to play 'Concentration'. I stuck full words to the magnets and then we could play sentence games. I learnt how to draw simple things like animals and items on the board. I spent hours searching ESL sites on the internet learning games and then adapting them to my classes. After 2 years of this and honing my teaching skills I started using Power Point and saw just how useful a tool it can be.

In these first 2 years I taught the age range of kindergarten to adults and seemed to be able to do pretty well with them. I was gaining a reputation and and a lot of that success was due to well planned lessons. Once I learned Power Point I spent hours developing Lesson Plans which meant doing away with using the white board so often during a class. I think writing on the board takes up a lot of teaching time and when you have to teach concepts and ideas rather than vocabulary then explaining them can be a little tricky. We were teaching from Cambridge Young Learners books, Superkids books, New Concept English books, Shentong books and Interchange 1, 2 and 3 books. I created my own for subjects like Happy English and Oral English and one on one tutoring. Over the next 2 years, and still continuing, I have adapted ALL these books to Power Point lessons.It has taken me about 3000 or so hours of work. The PP lessons include video clips that explain concepts, music and dance clips that can be either watched, sung to or danced to interactively (or all three), cartoons and lots of GIFS that are funny and informative and what's more important, capture the attention of the students. I also developed other word games and quizzes using Power Point. Basically the books the kids are learning are presented on the projection screen in moving colour. Sentences, words, dancing letters, puzzles, explanatory video clips are there in front of them so they are not required to read from their books 90% of the time. You can see you have their attention. Their eyes are on you and your presentation!

We teachers all know that there are three ways to teach kids and the use of the PP's allows me to utilise all three. I don't depend entirely on the Power Point but also use my own style to present and teach. To get educational institutions to embrace this method of teaching is probably the hardest thing to do. We all know that the kids in Chinese schools today are overloaded with homework, get very little exercise, learn by rote and are taught to compete ferociously to be the best in their class and in their school. This competitive streak is obvious even when playing silly word or language games in the classroom. Tantrums and tears when a student loses or fails to complete a game still makes me laugh but is very common.

While I was scouring the web for different ways to teach English I came across an amazing number of innovative and exciting sites that have been very creative in the way they present the lessons. With the power of the internet and its ever increasing use I think this will become even more the educational tool of the future. Interactive websites on which you can learn English, pronounce and be tested are becoming more prevalent and will get better and better. Having said that, there is NO replacement for a teacher, and what separates a great lesson from a mediocre one is the expertise, quality and passion of the teacher who can guide and even inspire students.

My Power Point lessons were eventually purchased by the school although they seem to be reluctant to allow unlimited use by my colleagues as yet. In addition to all this creative work in Lesson Planning I was hired by the school to write new English books for them to replace the Cambridge and Kindergarten books we were using and having our students buy. This made economic sense and was a good business plan as well as updating the older English style that was evident in the books we used and really isn't the way we speak these days. English is always evolving and teaching students our more modern version is important especially if they travel overseas to further their education or even go just for holidays.

In conclusion, I guess I can say that this 'travel job' has become a lot more to me than just work and has changed my lifestyle enormously over a 4 year period. I have never enjoyed a 'job' more than this one and while it will never make me rich in money it certainly has enriched my life in other ways. Sometimes I dream that I am in a poor, outlying village teaching the kids English and receiving just food and lodging as payment. Altruistic but not very practical I suppose. The problem for me now is the realization that I, by myself, won't change China, won't teach everybody in my class to speak great English and won't make the enormous impact that I dreamed of making when I landed in Beijing in January 2011. But, like eating an elephant, small bites, if you inspire and make a difference to just a few at a time, it might be the start of a ripple, a wave....who knows?

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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