First Class (29 Sept. 2015)

So, while I’m in China, I want to share my teaching, learning, and cultural experiences during my year here. So far, I have been here about five weeks. The first entry in this online journal (can’t believe I’m using that term) can read now. Don’t expect many pictures in these entries guys.

Today I taught my first class. And taught is a poor word to describe what happened. “Haphazardly guide” is more accurate. In the weeks leading up to this class, I met with other students my colleagues teach, observed my colleagues in the classroom, bounced ideas from them, and prepared materials. However, I woefully under-prepared. To understand how and why, I need to provide some context.

First, the classes I teach (I’m adding 2 more in November) are split into two 50 minute segments with a 10 minute break in between to let the students stretch their legs, check their phones, use the bathroom, and relax for a bit.

My plan was to cover introductions to the class, course work, and get a chance for the students to introduce themselves. I also took the chance to ask about some things the students wanted to learn about so I can cover some topical stuff in future classes. I thought all of this would take up 100 minutes considering I have 45 students in my class.

Boy, was I wrong. We got done about half an hour early, so I started improvising. Poorly. I won’t go into details, but I kept the students kind of engaged and busy. First, I used a writing prompt. Then, I started explaining the practical uses of said writing prompt and I think they didn’t quite understand. And I move on, trying to keep them engaged and myself calm.

Overall, today was rough. Before class, my stomach went into a knot. My confidence in my abilities to speak in front of an audience evaporated. Ironic because I wrote about public presentations for a freelance gig. To calm myself down and keep from dashing out of the room, I counted by ones. I got up to around 150 before I finally settled down enough to conduct class and myself.

In short, today I learned the value of over-planning. Everyone told me to over plan, and I thought I had planned adequately. I reflected on today’s experience, and decided to think of class time in 25 minute chunks, which I consider manageable.

Back in 2013, I learned I hated spending nearly a dozen hours on individual lesson plans because the textbooks I read and had to design my lesson plans from told me–in effect and through my understanding of them– micromanagement is the most effective way to teach and manage a classroom. I found this methodology counter-productive because teachers have lots of constraints on their time. They often have upwards of 120 students collectively to teach from their individual classes, homework and tests to grade, meetings to attend, and have lives of their own. Plus, the micromanagement things (in my largely uneducated and inexperienced opinion) kind of limit learning because it puts learning into a box rather than giving a box of tools to students. So, I left the education track in 2013, entered the professional writing track, and somehow through dumb luck and a serious case of “screw-it-all,” landed a job teaching English in China for a year.

Man, life is funny sometimes.

However, using the 25 minute chunks I think will give me and the students decent structure and flexibility. Keeping this mind, I probably need to plan for 125 minutes, which is a manageable amount of five 25 minute chunks. It will allow time for lecture, individual and group activities for the students, and should everyone to be more effective. Most importantly, I learned that over-planning and micromanagement are not the same thing.

For those that want a visual representation of how I felt, watch this scene from School of Rock starring Jack Black. (I actually felt like Jack Black’s character.)

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