Summer Camp Teaching

Trip Start Sep 11, 2010
Trip End Aug 19, 2011

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Flag of China  , Jiangsu,
Sunday, July 24, 2011

In Shanghai airport arrivals hall I met up with Lee, the camp dean along with a group of about 8 teachers, old and new, mostly from the States, and some really random southern states too, not the kind of Americans you usually meet travelling. I had the immediate shock from travelling solo to suddenly being in a large group.  People got lost and it took the group close on two hours to get out of the airport and onto the school bus to Yangzhou.  It was a good 5 hours trip which was a nice time to get to know the other teachers on the bus.  When we arrived there we were met by a group of about 10 other teachers and staff and immediately all had dinner together.  It was a bit of an overwhelming day, meeting so many people all at once.  We were shown to our hotel, where we would be staying for the coming 16 days, and we had an early night.  The following day a gang of about 10 of us we did a little bit of a tour of the city.  People were picking up various things they needed, we were browsing the center and checking out the tourist shops.  Again being in such a large group was a bit annoying and frustrating, but it was also nice to have the day to get to know people and become acquainted with the city.  Instead of boring you, and myself with my daily monotony I will tell you about the school, my class and my general daily routine.

The school is part of the 'Beijing New Oriental' chain which has about 2 million students across China.  The campus is situated about 2km from the center of Yangzhou city.  During the term there are 4000 students on campus, across the primary and secondary schools, ranging from ages 8 to 18.  The school is a boarding one with accommodation for all these students.  Campus has two Gyms, two sports grounds, about 5 canteens, a shop, two playgrounds, two outdoor gyms, an assault course, rivers and ponds and even a petting zoo… indeed it is like a city!  It reminds me of a University campus back home.  The school term breaks for 8 weeks for summer and many parents send their kids to summer intensive camps such as the one where I would be teaching.  Our particular camp would be taking 420 students from all over the province for 15 days of intensive English language emersion.  The kids, ranging from 8 – 14, are divided into two parallel camps with 10 classes each taught by 20 international teachers.  The idea is to provide a fun and friendly camp for the kids to enjoy their summer holidays but also to learn some English at the same time.  Each teacher had to select a state, holiday and sport which they would teach.  For me it was an easy decision; Ireland, St Patrick’s Day, and Touch Rugby.  I wanted to pick ‘The Holiday of a Lifetime’ for my holiday and talk about my trip, but they wouldn’t allow me.  Each teacher has a homeroom class everyday and a rotation class with which you do your state, holiday and sport.   

Our first day was orientation where we were brought up to speed on how the camp runs and our daily schedule.  Each class has at least 3 adults tending to it.  The international teacher, that’s me, a Chinese national teacher, and an English speaking volunteer.  Essentially the international teacher is king and the other two are assistants, in charge of keeping the class well behaved and translating if necessary.  In the afternoon I met with these two people and together we began to decorate the class room.  My luck was in when I found some Ireland decorations in the resource room.  I also painted Ireland across the wall outside the classroom.  I also painted a big tree and I’d a vision of putting a rainbow ending there and a leprechaun lazing under the tree guarding his pot ‘o gold.  This grand vision would be abandoned as soon as the madness of the kids’ arrival took over.  I did design a pretty cool sign for the door, with a big shamrock and Irish / China flags.

The first day of teaching was just a meet and greet with the kids.  I was in camp A with the youngest class, my students were mostly 8 and 9 and in school grades 2 and 3.  They came in dribs and drabs so I made it a point to go around to each student individually introduce myself and ask their name.  I gave them a big white card for there name and also some green paper for each to draw and cut out a shamrock for a name tag for their shirt.  Most of the parents would arrive with their child and then stand to the side, not leaving until I had gone and tended to their child, it was a little weird.  Everyday we have lunch with our class in the student canteen.  The food there is Chinese and it is absolutely terrible… served on metal plates from huge drums…. It is everything you would have in your worst canteen nightmare.  Still we can’t really complain since we have a western breakfast and dinner, the food is good if not healthy (the menu is designed with Americans in mind, so deep fried).  In the afternoon our main objectives were to design a flag for the state and to teach the class a state chant. The flag was easy I just divided it in three and drew Ireland in big bubble letters then let all the kids paint in the colours.  For the chant I wanted something cool and after some thought I decided to copy some of the Irish rugby anthem "Ireland, Ireland, together standing tall, shoulder to shoulder, we answer Ireland’s call"… it was too perfect!  We had a rare evening off after dinner so a few of us headed back to the hotel and had some cheap street beers outside… this would become something of a daily tradition after work.          

At first it seemed like I would have a fair amount of spare time but as soon as the camp started I realized it would be to the contrary.  My daily schedule looks something like this

6:30                     Wake up

7:00                     Bus to school / Breakfast

8:00                     Teachers meeting

8:30                     Homeroom class

10:00                  State rotation

11:30                  Lunch / rest

2:00                     Homeroom

3:30                     Sport Rotation

5:30                     Dinner

6:30                     Evening Activity

8:00                     Bus to hotel

All together that makes a 13 hour working day, with 6 hours teaching.  I’m sure that anyone with teaching experience will empathies with me… 6 hours is a long time to spend in front of a class of 8 year olds.  I did absolutely no preparation before the camp but I managed to throw together a few slides on Ireland and St Patrick’s Day.  For my home room I never wrote a single lesson plan.  In fact I would go in pretty much every day and decide on my feet what we would be doing.  I’ve been winging it my whole life so I though a bunch of 8 and 9 year olds should be easy enough.  I started the camp with a lot of energy to pour into my teaching.  Especially with my homeroom class energy is required and the kids feed back energy to you.  It’s such a wonderful environment when the class is having fun, you are having fun and maybe just maybe somebody is also learning something.  Through the week I have decided that teaching is something you either have or you don’t have.  Lesson plans are safety nets for people who think they don’t have it.  I am lucky… I do have it.  I can think on my feet, draw and sing and these three things are really all you need to teach kids (at least in Asia).  Teaching with a Chinese national teacher and an assistant was a little bit strange.  There are three relationships in the room which you have to worry about, so it’s totally different from the simple teacher-class that I am used to.  My national teacher said she had no English and the volunteer was pretty lazy, spending most of her time reading or texting.  Really I could have, and would have preferred to have, taught without them.  The relationship was frosty but superficially friendly until my national teacher changed half way through for a lovely lady who had some English and wasn’t afraid to talk to me.  After a few days the energy started to wane… One big night out on the town a few days in combined with bad weather and a last straw of getting wet socks for the whole day had me sick by about 5 days in.  It was a struggle to keep putting so much into the classes.  Actually I wasn’t the only one who was buckling under the pressure.  A lot of people were falling ill… actually, of the 20 teachers hired only 17 made it to the end of the camp. 

As well as the teaching we had lots of fun activities, most of them in the evening but some in the day too.  Pretty much all of these were led by the international teachers, I think the idea being giving the kids a lot of informal teacher time.  It also ensured that the class and teacher were well bonded quickly.  We had movie nights where the kids would watch Pixar movies in English with Chinese subtitles. There were two bingo nights.  At the first we realized that Bingo can be a cruel cruel game crushing hearts and dreams, so at the second we called out so many numbers that everyone won.  We had a scavenger hunt which was a lot of fun… and I led my class to 3rd place (out of 10)… not too shabby for the youngest class.  We had a mystery night where ‘somebody stole the school flag’ and the kids had to figure it out by interviewing suspects and witnesses. There was a wet and wild day where we had lots of water games and opportunity for the kids to soak each other, and us.  We had a field trip where the whole camp was taken across town to an activity center where they got to do some crafts, make tofu and dumplings and enjoy an assault course.  There was a talent show, where thankfully the international teachers had nothing to do with the acts but could just sit back and relax.  We had a Halloween night where all the kids made masks and we put on something of a haunted house…. It was actually terrifying for the kids.  We had a handful of criers and even one pee’er.  On the last two days of camp we were putting on a school play.  Here each class had to fill a few minutes and it was all on us to put it together.  I put together a program where the kids would march out singing our Ireland chant, then a good evening song, the girls would do a dance and the boys would read out funny facts about Ireland… then for the grand finale the class would sing the Journey song ‘Don’t Stop Believing’.  I had bitten off a lot for me and my 22 8/9 year olds to chew and putting it all together was one of the most stressful things I have ever done.  As the camp drew to a close the kids were getting more and more restless and it was nigh on impossible to get them to be calm and quiet enough to rehearse.  I’m sure I had a vein throbbing in my forehead for the whole day preceding the performance and it was the only time I ever got angry and shouted at the class.  I got the kids to all wear white or orange shirts and gave them green and shamrock hats I found in the resource room, they looked very cute.  Before the performance I was soooooo nervous, I am sure I would have been less nervous if I were performing myself.  Of course the kids pulled it off well, not perfect but very well.  It was a very proud moment for me seeing them up there and I realized how attached I had become to them.

It wasn’t all work and no play for the two weeks.  There was a pretty good nightlife in Yangzhou and we had a good couple of nights touring the clubs.  Although these nights were good fun with the gang of teachers it meant that I quickly saw the Chinese nightlife for what it really is.   A rich and pretentious status driven fallacy.  These big fancy clubs, with their drink prices up to 20 times the retail amount, attract only the richest of the rich.  These people with their head in the clouds attract attention by throwing money around on 2 liter bottles of hard spirit which they only half finish.  People seem proud to openly waste money in this way as it gains them status.  We would have a little bit of extra attention too as to be seen with foreigner also gains you status.  Status, status, status… these people are truly obsessed with it.  To be honest the whole scene makes me sick especially when you think that 20 years ago all these people were below the poverty line.  On another night the school treated us to a lovely buffet dinner in the 5 star Yangzhou Guesthouse… perhaps there’s an air of hypocrisy there.  I was a nice change from the 3 meals a day of canteen food.  It was quite chilling to find out the Kim Il Yung stayed there on his visit to Yangzhou.  On our last teachers night we had a few drinks in an Expat bar before heading to the KTV.  About 20 of us in total, with almost half Chinese teachers sang Karaoke songs there for the night and it turned out to be a lot of fun.  Another night on the town saw us getting home just before the sunrise.      

I had mixed feelings by the time the end of the camp arrived.  On the one hand I was happy that the exhausting 15 days were over but I was also sad since I had become so attached to the kids.  I had met some cool people in the teachers too who I would miss but also some assholes and strangely backward Americans who I was looking forward to getting away from.  On the last day, my token crush girl… the same one who had been fighting off other kids from holding my hand, the same one who was a spoilt brat used to getting everything she ever wants… came up and gave me a big hug and said ‘teacher, I love you’.  My heart melted, I could have cried, and in that moment I’d have taken her home as my own kid.  The class also made a card for me, which was pretty sweet and the national teacher gave me a China tea set.  It was a lovely gift but a little impractical for a backpacker with a few weeks of travel yet remaining.  On the last day we had the closing ceremony.  The class sang our chant for the last time and there was a two hour painful ceremony of awarding everyone and anyone who had anything to do with the camp.  The teachers had been out the night before and I was among a handful that had only had about 1hrs sleep so I found the ceremony particularly painful.  
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Mam on

Well done you seem to be a natural at the teaching, but a bit arrogant to think you can get away with not doing lesson plans.Pics are great. Love your choice of national song and shamrock with both flags.

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