The Spring Festival vacation was long, long, long, but here we are at the start of a new semester at last! So I think it’s just the right time to discuss the beginning of the two semesters comparatively.
First semester was a whirlwind. That’s the only way to describe it. It took a whole lot of extra time to get my visa and work permit, so my arrival at Nanchang University was quite delayed (about 3-4 weeks into the semester). We showed up here on a Saturday and began teaching two days later with very little information and not nearly enough preparation. I had some general lesson plans drafted up ahead of time, but I honestly didn’t know what to expect from my students nor did I know what courses I would be teaching until that first day in Nanchang. The first week of classes was crucial, not only for getting to know my students and my way around campus, but also for assessing the level of oral English that I needed to gauge my lessons toward for the year.
The truth is, the students in my classes have a range of oral English levels, which means that sometimes my classes are too challenging for some, while other times my classes are too easy for others. It’s been a real challenge for me to find and establish that middle ground - I’m still not entirely convinced that I have found it. On the plus side, this semester I know my students. I know their different personalities, and those more likely to speak up in class. I know that they like competitive activities, and I know that humor at my own expense is always appreciated. (I’m very willing to embarrass myself for the greater good!) Having that information in advance makes a huge difference between this semester and last.
In truth I was quite nervous to walk into my first day of classes today, mostly because I worried that I would forget my students names after working so hard to memorise all of them last semester. But I got in there and it felt like the most natural thing in the world. I saw all these wonderful, familiar faces filled with an eagerness to learn. It was an exciting day for everyone, in my opinion, because the classroom was full of chatter and movement and learning!
My advice to future teachers in China: Plan for anything. Plan for everything. Just think of your best ideas for activities, lessons, lectures, discussions, and all that jazz - and write them all down! That way once you assess your students you will be able to take those ideas and adjust them to the level(s) of your students without feeling like you are in complete disarray. And if you don’t know the specific courses you’ll be teaching ahead of time (like me!) prepare for it all! Reading, writing, oral english, public speaking, cultures of English speaking countries, debate, etc. You won’t always get information far in advance, so it’s important to be willing and able to adapt!