Winter Camp’s over. YES! The past 14 teaching days, since January 2, have basically consisted of a lot of hard work and will culminate tomorrow in a “closing ceremony” day of song and drama performances from the students. ‘Camp’ is probably a slightly misleading thing to call what is just English lesson after English lesson after English lesson – there are no tents, no ghost stories, no melted marshmallows round a burning bonfire – but despite this and despite the fact that other native teachers will collect their January paychecks having sat in front of their computers for three weeks, I’ve enjoyed it and I think the kids have too. But that doesn’t mean I’m not glad it’s finished.
I’ve been teaching one class of about 18 first-graders from 9:00 – 10:30 each morning and then eight second and third-graders until lunchtime, as well as my usual after-school routine from 13:50-15:00 in the afternoons – so while I’ve been used to preparing roughly five hours of teaching a week (three different 40-minute lessons split into two and repeated five, six or seven times plus after-school), for the last three I’ve had to come up with four hours’ worth of material every day. Hence the hard work comment. But it’s also been really rewarding. I spend half of my time during a regular school day as a slave to the English curriculum textbooks, and the other half standing around like a lemon. My after-school classes have always been the most challenging in terms of preparation and teaching, but also by far the most enjoyable, and not least because I actually get to teach. With complete control, I can slow down when students are struggling, and race through or skip areas of the language that they already know. I can explain that certain phrases, while techincally gramatically correct, may sound unnatural in real conversations – rather than drilling them into their heads so that they’ll forever be expecting any foreigner they ever meet to suddenly blurt out “we wear our shoes in the house” at any given opportunity. I can make decisions.
There has been just enough co-teacher participation that I can stick my head round the classroom door or wait until they’ve finished taking photos or fiddling with the heating to request a translation of a particularly tricky concept – apart from today, actually. Fridays have been designated ‘fun days’ that have involved things like cooking and watching films, and so I’ve been told not to prepare for them. This morning my co-teacher walked in at about 9:30, watered the plants and then left without a word, only to return 10 minutes later to tell me to sit down with the students – “I will control”. Luckily when I asked to leave at this point he agreed, so I came to write this. The closing ceremony is at 11:00. The other two fun Fridays have been pretty weird: the first we “cooked” sandwiches (ingredients being ham, cheese, eggs, mayo and potato, all hand-mashed together); the second it was crackers (cracker, ham, cheese, banana, hand-spread jam, second cracker).
In a school of over 1000 pupil it’s hard to connect with many of them, and so been nice to see the same kids every day – to get an insight into their individual rather than collective personalities, to learn their names (out of grades 3-6 I only know one name and I’m unsure whose face it goes with) and to see progress they make on a day-to-day basis. For me camp and regular school have been at extreme opposite ends of my limited teaching experience spectrum.
Here are some photos: