Although I’ve never seriously considered teaching English (too busy, at least these days), I’ve always been curious about it. What do English teachers DO on a daily basis? What’s it like trying to explain your language to a bunch of kids with a HUGE language barrier?
Luckily Mike was happy to take me in for show and tell to his students. He teaches at a University; his studenrs are all english majors, trying to master the English language to become teachers or tour guides. Most of their classes are solely text-based, so it’s Mike’s job to work on their spoken English and pronunciation. Their skill and motivation levels vary wildly from one kid to the next, making this quite a challenge.
I’d met some of the students my first day in town at the “English Day” celebration. All of the English majors gathered in the center of campus to put their hand prints on a giant banner. Katy Perry blasted on the stereo and the emcee joyfully pointed me out to the crowd as “Michael’s Girlfriend.” It was all so cute and enthusiastic that we barely had the heart to point out the glaring grammar error on the banner.
English is a hard language.
On my day in class I felt like a visiting dignatary or celebrity(link) as my entrance was greeted with gasps and applause. For my day in class Mike and I had collaborated on a special speaking exercise to tie in my presence. “I’m traveling China for the first time,” I told them, “and I need to know where to visit. Can you tell me about your hometown?”
This was great, because kids come to this university from all over China. I heard about hometowns in Inner Mongolia, Sichuan province, Shanxi and more. Like in any classroom some kids totally blew off the assignment or half assed it (I can’t blame them: I was having flashbacks to my painful years of high school Spanish class), but some kids were really excited to tell me about the beautiful sites and delicious foods of their hometowns.
At the end of the class we had picture time (link). I posed for dozens of photos, but the class seemed surprised when I wanted a photo with them. Still they excitedly crowded around to pose with me for posterity.
It was a fun morning, but listening to 50 some kids personal writings with varying levels of competance was also quite tiring. Probably even more so for Mike who had to be the instructor and disciplinarian, instead of just the honored guest. Doing this every day must be exhausting and explaining the many strange peculiatries of the English language tiring. No wonder so many of the instructors start falling into the same simple and clipped speech patterns as the students. It’s just easier than forming a complex sentence.
Could I be an English teacher? It certainly takes a lot of energy and persistance to keep these kids motivated and on task. There’s a level of patience required that some might struggle with. You need to be creative to keep your students interested, and insightful on our crazy and wonderful language. But for all that work it seems tremendously rewarding, to leave your students with a better understanding og language and culture. All in all yes, I think I could do it.
But for now, I’m glad I’m not. I’d much rather be the celebrity guest.