I was warned when I first signed on to this program that I would need to be flexible. The Chinese (or so my contact with CCEC informs me) are much more lax with their scheduling than we’re used to in the States, and our itineraries are constantly evolving.
It came, then, as no real surprise when my program coordinator e-mailed me last week to tell me that I would not be teaching content as I’d originally been told: instead, I would be teaching roughly the same age group in an ESL setting. No big deal, right?
WRONG! That is, it’s not really a big deal — I am nothing if not amenable to change, and I’ve had the benefit of teaching a year of ESL in a public school here in Charlotte and then tutoring a native Spanish speaker in English for about a year and a half. But change can be scary, and when you’re already on the brink of a major trip, any little adjustment is call for some trepidation. Am I right?
My nervousness stems largely from two main concerns. Firstly, am I ready to teach a class of 20-30 native Chinese speakers with some English familiarity but limited proficiency? After all, it’s one thing to tutor one or two students, slowing down and rephrasing instructions as the need arises. It’s another entirely to stand in front of two dozen teenagers with blank faces wondering what on earth you’ve said and why you’ve thought to say it. Second, ESL is definitely outside of my comfort zone; I’ve been teaching English literature for 6 years, and with few exceptions, all of those students were fluent in English.
I will, of course, persist, and I have time left to tweak my (still-developing) lesson plans and to consult with my friends here in Charlotte who are actually licensed ESL professionals. I have every hope that my students and I will get to know each other and develop our own form of communication, even if it means I have to take lots of deep breaths, repeat constantly, and use energetic hand gestures to get my point across.
One other small thing changes as a result of this new placement: my actual location in China. Instead of starting my journey in Beijing, I will be stationed in Shijiazhuang. I’m actually quite excited about this development: the thought of staying half my time in Beijing, a major city known for overpopulation and pollution, never quite struck me as the most exciting and culturally-meaningful experience. Although Shijiazhuang is the capital and largest city of China’s Hebei province, it still seems like a favorable alternative.
I’m looking into must-see locations in the area, so if anyone has any knowledge of Hebei, send me some recommendations! In the meantime, I’m scrambling to finalize my lesson plans, get my last-minute, pre-trip shopping done, and prepare for my choir’s performances this weekend. Wish me luck!