A week of school under my belt, and what memories will I carry with me? What do I mean to do differently next week? What do I expect for the rest of the year?
School began with a half-day on Thursday a week and a half ago. The short beginning week meant to ease students back into the school routine was a good taste for me, too, though it wasn’t anything like normal school yet! I set my class some lessons over the first day and a half, but because Chinese and Science classes hadn’t started yet, and Friday has an unusual schedule anyway, it was probably the longest I’ll ever spend with my students in one day for the entire school year – I was only without them for about 15 minutes of lunch. Exhausting, but it made the next week seem much easier by comparison!
Monday was the beginning of the regular school schedule. Since nine out of the ten students in my class speak English as their second language (or possibly third, if they learned Chinese before English), we’re encouraged to focus as much as possible on Language Arts at the beginning of the day. I actually have three segments of LA most days – right after morning work, right before lunch, and again near the end of the day. In the afternoons, after Chinese and (Monday through Thursday) Music or PE, we have Science and Social Studies time. This may change as the timing of Art is throwing it off a little twice a week, but for now, the plan is that Lisa – the other third grade teacher – covers a unit of Science for about four weeks, and then I’ll cover a unit of Social Studies in a similar amount of time, switching off as the year goes on. This allows the students to work in bigger groups with people who aren’t in their class all day, and means that we each get a month off every other months from teaching that chunk of time in the afternoon.
I’m slowly learning how to interact with my teaching assistant. She’s been working here for the last two years, so she’s a great resource when I need an idea about how to handle something, or when I forget – as I did twice in the first week – where exactly to lead the class! (Our school is divided between three buildings on an even bigger campus belonging to a Chinese school.) I certainly trained to teach a class on my own in college, but now that I’m working with her I don’t know how I would pull it off alone.
Work days start early and end late – I hear that in the winter you don’t really get to see the sun at home during the school week. We catch the school’s bus around 6:30, have a morning gathering at 7:10 (it may differ some Tues and Wed), students start to arrive right as that ends, and then school officially begins at 8. I think I’m going to be catching a taxi in at 6 or 6:15 on Mondays so I can get my head on straight and just savor a moment or two alone in my classroom before the students arrive. School ends at 3, but we’re required to stay on campus until the first bus home at 3:45 – a bus I only know by reputation, having taken either the Chinese staff bus at 4:30, or the second foreign staff bus at 5, every day so far. Since there’s more traffic in the afternoon, it’s generally well after 5:30 by the time I get home.
Some of the memories I’ll carry with me: Having to stop and ask my TA, “Is it on the third floor of this building?” the first Friday when we were already late because I’d forgotten what time the assembly was. Feeling once again the joy that comes when a student gets that “aha” moment as I explain something. Realizing on Thursday afternoon that I’m going to be done teaching by 2pm that day each week – possibly even by lunch time, if we do science that day – because they have art the rest of the afternoon and then the TA takes them to the bus. Printing up a newsletter for my class with Publisher (ah, how I’ve missed thee, Publisher! The rest of Microsoft I can do without, but Publisher, I love you!) On that note, discovering that I can function better in the Chinese MS Word that was on my old school’s computers than I can in whatever the really-new version of MS Word is in English on our school computers. Gah!
And, best non-teaching moment of all: browsing the secondary library after school on Friday. Browsing a library in China! I could have floated back to my classroom!!! (The public library system is one of the things I miss the most about the USA, and this summer I was in VA for such a short time, I didn’t even get to visit the library once. It hurt.) I read two Young Adult books this weekend in between working in my classroom and going to felowship. Not a balanced social life, but a wonderful way for me to unwind.
The best moment of the week (that actually relates to the students!) was realizing on Friday that I know all their names. OK, so there are only 10 of them, and I’d make myself learn my campers’ names by Wednesday each week when I worked at the Triple R, but with the constant need to think about what’s-next, how-to-explain, classroom-discipline, where’s-my-overhead-pen, etc, etc, while I’m with them teaching, I was surprised and pleased to find that I can tell them all apart already. Now to work on the other third grade class’ names this week, so I won’t be clueless when Social Studies time rolls around!
Goodnight and best wishes for the new week, from me here in China!