Monday, March 16, 2009

Refreshing the world

The company I work for is a private language school, which means our students attend English classes in the evenings and weekends, so my work schedule is the opposite of a regular school schedule. I work Friday nights, then 11-hour days on Saturdays, then slightly shorter days on Sundays. After two exhausting weekends of work, I finally feel like I can start drawing conclusions about how I feel in regards to teaching.

First of all, I don't like teaching small children. At all. I never thought I would like it, and it was never something I had any interest in doing, and this confirms it. My youngest classes are full of 6- and 7-year-olds, and my oldest classes are teenagers. It's a good range that really allows a beginning teacher see all her options, but in my case it only cements my belief that I never again want to teach any students who haven't hit puberty yet. I don't have the enthusiasm and patience that such work requires.

But the teenagers? Oh, the teenagers. I love teaching teenagers. My oldest class is filled with 14- and 15-year-olds. They are brilliant. They make me realize that I was right, that I do want to teach ESL when I get back to the US. And this makes me very happy, because I've run out of ideas for new career options.

There are only six of them in the class. (Most of my other classes have about 20 students.) The first day, I made them put their desks in a circle and we had some great roundtable discussions about the roles of language in a culture, and their personal goals in learning English. The all agreed that they already know a good deal of grammar and vocabulary, but their weak spot is listening. The book they are supposed to be working from is completely useless anyway, so I'll be heavily supplementing it with various English language audio and video stuff. Actually, I taught them to say, "This book sucks."

This past weekend, the book said they should talk about advertising. So I downloaded a bunch of stuff off YouTube (which passes through the firewall, thankfully) and brought my laptop to class and made them watch the weird American phenomenon of Superbowl commercials. Most of the clips went too fast for them, but in the end they understood and laughed and learned new words and expressions. But the highlight of the class, and of my entire time in China so far, was this Pepsi commercial:

Nevermind that it's a commercial trying to sell massive amounts of high fructose corn syrup. That's not really the point. The point is that I got a class of Chinese teenagers to listen to Bob Dylan. And they UNDERSTOOD. And they agreed that every generation does in fact refresh the world. And I walked out of that class knowing that I will show that commercial many more times in many more classes, and they will watch and listen and understand.

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