My second full day in China would be my first day of school. As most of you know when I say school I mean that I will be teaching. I am currently a student teacher pursuing my degree in Music Education. The classes I have throughout my time student teaching are first grade through seniors in high school. We have one choir and two bands, as well as five general music classes. Little did I know I was in for one of the most rewarding experiences in my life.
Rachel was able to pick me up from my apartment building and take me to school on her scooter, thankfully. I don’t think there is any way I could have made it there by myself that first time. Luckily the school is within walking distance. It usually takes me about 15 minutes to get to school every day if I walk. However, the traffic can be a little crazy. Here it seems that the traffic lights and lines are more like suggestions rather than the law. Although most people follow the signals regularly, there are times when they don’t. Pedestrians also don’t have the right of way, so I was told by Rachel to look both ways, then look both ways again, then again. It sounds scary, but once you understand what to look out for it isn’t so bad. You can also drive into oncoming traffic (mainly with the scooters), which was really scary for me at first. Rachel always warns me when we do, and it was actually something we normally do on our way to school.
We finally made it to the school gate and were greeted by the nicest guards ever. I guess it isn’t a normal thing, at least from my experiences the guards I meet everywhere usually aren’t in a happy mood. However, the guards for our school are always talked about as the happiest guards in our area. It may not seem important, but it’s amazing how much of a difference it makes to start my day with them smiling at me. I also have been able to learn different greetings from them as well because they know I am a “new teacher,” and know minimal Chinese.
We parked the scooter and walked up to the building. We entered and Rachel signed in. Every day the staff meets before school at 7:30 A.M. for a morning meeting. I was introduced and had a chance to learn everyone’s name. Of course, I was really nervous because I never like to be the “new person,” but we all have to start somewhere, right? The meeting was great, and very student focused which is something I really like about this school. It is all about the students. I know a lot of schools are this way, but I’ve also been in a lot of situations where schools SHOULD be this way. I really enjoy being able to work for a school that believes in the same things I do for education and how we can do everything that is best for the students.
After the meeting Rachel and I went to our room which is on the fifth floor or in this case the top floor. The stairs really aren’t bad at all, but luckily there is an elevator just in case we feel lazy, which I know for me is pretty much every day. We started the day off with a planning period where she basically gave me the down low for everything happening that day. She sent me multiple resources, and schedules that I need for dinners planned that week as well as our class schedule. Before I could get my thoughts together it was time for our first class which was third grade.
I knew that this week would mainly be observing for me and helping around the classroom. So I waited in the room while the students were standing in line outside. Rachel had the door open, and I could hear some of the students talking, “Is the new teacher here?” I thought this was the sweetest thing ever! It was so nice that Rachel informed them about me coming, and it was also helpful that they were excited to meet me because it made building relationships with the students much easier. I noticed that most of the students are Korean. We have some Japanese, American, Indian, Brazilian, and other nationalities within the classes, but mainly Korean. When I looked at the seating chart I was nervous to see that most of the names were actual Korean names that I had no clue how to pronounce. Some students do choose English names which made it somewhat easier for me to remember, but I always feel badly when I forget their name or pronounce it wrong. I also find that with the younger students it is hard to understand their accents. I am getting better though. I’m starting figure out what sounds they use to replace certain sounds in English, or maybe certain letters they have difficulties with when they speak. It really isn’t that bad most of the time, there are just a few times I have a hard time understanding. I also have to remind myself that this was the first day, and I’m not going to be perfect at it anytime soon.
Although the accents are what makes me most nervous, it also my favorite part when they talk. I know there is a student in first grade who is from Brazil and always asks questions with the cutest Brazilian accent like, “Teacher this is how we do this, yes?” Cutest thing ever. It is also really interesting to see what they think is funny, or references I make that they don’t understand. I think the best part is that everyone from the U.S. expects these students to be different than students that they know, but they aren’t. They’re just kids! They really are just like the students I observed throughout college, or the students I taught at my last student teaching placement. They want structure, and they want to learn and have fun with it. Granted, I am at an international school, and of course there are some cultural differences. Overall though they are interested in similar things and respond to activities and lessons in a similar way.
We have a concert coming up and Rachel gave me a choir piece (Already Home from the Wizard of Oz), two band pieces (A Childhood Hymn by David R. Holsinger and Bottom Bass Boogie from Essential Elements) for secondary classes, and lets me teach movement activities, and lead some of our concert repertoire for elementary. I really am learning a lot and gaining a lot of experience through this, not only with teaching, but also the independence and confidence gained from being on my own.
I know you all are really wondering, what is the school lunch like? Well, they are really good actually. The lunch is made by our school cooks who are all Chinese staff. They actually make the bread and cook all the food so nothing that I know of is frozen and heated up. Every day they have a table set out with A LOT of veggies, and Kim Chi, which is a Korean dish of cabbage and spicy sauce. It’s pretty good! We usually have a soup that contains seaweed, veggies, or bamboo (my favorite) with a little meat, or egg drop soup. The main portion varies which I like. We have had chicken sandwiches, hotdogs, different Chinese and Korean dishes, and we always have a serving of rice. There is normally some kind of dessert. I’ve come to learn that they serve donuts made from scratch on Thursdays. Since most of you know me, you can only imagine what my favorite day of the weeks is. The donuts are definitely different from a regular glazed donut or cake donuts. If you have ever had the fried bread at a Chinese restaurant in the states, I would say the bread part is similar to that, then they pour actual chocolate on the top rather than frosting. To give you an idea of how great these are, the students have now asked me for the past few weeks how many donuts I ate the previous Thursday. I always three…but I think at one point I had four, and I really think we’re only allowed one! The donuts are the best thing ever, and I could talk about them for days…so moving on.
Of course we have more classes, and they were very similar that first day. Everyone seemed just as excited to meet me as I was to meet them which was very relieving! Rachel and I talked a lot about the plan for the rest of the year before the concert, and also what I would be doing throughout the next seven weeks. I really just co-teach with Rachel which has been so great! I learn so much every day, and I feel more a part of the school community as time goes by.