I’ve officially made it through both of my first days of schools. Here are some of my initial impressions of both!
This school really stood out to me while we toured schools 3 weeks ago. It is nestled at the foot of a large mountain and at any window one is met with the lush view of tropical forest.
Since I unfortunately haven’t been able to pass the scooter test quite yet (more on that later), my sweet principal insisted on picking me up and taking me to school. I was so grateful, because she essentially eliminated about an hour of traveling every morning and afternoon for me. PTL.
I got to the school and was shown to my classroom. It is pretty large, it has several windows and it is bare, lacking decorations. I had a free period, then 4 classes in a row. I still hadn’t recovered from my sinus infection and so that felt like quite a stretch of my energy but I was so fortunate to get to work with 2 co-teachers who alleviated any real pressure to perform.
I am teaching grade 1-6 at both schools. I actually missed the very first day because I competed in the speech competition. When I came to school on Tuesday the Dean of Student Affairs, who is the official contact for Fulbright, tried to talk to me about something and for some reason I got nervous and didn’t understand his Chinese. (Will relate back to this later..) Turns out he was trying to tell me I need to sign in everyday for Fulbright!
At Da Ken I can plan to teach grade 5 & 6 the same information, and I’m supposed to create and use games and activities to do so. For the younger students the responsibility for the class is more on my co-teacher, which I really appreciate because the young kids know no English.
One of my co-teachers, Casey, is probably in her early 30s and has been teaching for quite a while. I was so impressed with her ability to control the hyperactive 2nd graders. She started establishing classroom rules and management using a game! It was brilliant. To get kids quiet she would say “Zip your lips!” and that would signal the students to say “ZIP!” and then get quiet. So simple, but so brilliant.
For almost all the classes the first day I introduced myself and the students were allowed to ask me questions. It was like a game and if a student asked a question in Chinese, they got 1 point, if they asked it in English, they got 2 points.
The questions ranged from my favorite color, to if I was married, to what my religion was, to what my thoughts were on the end of the world. Several students commented on my blue eyes.
Couple random things from the day:
1) There is a great divide between the students who have access to after-school tutoring and those that don’t. The students who get after-school tutoring (in Taiwan they go to what are called “cram-schools“…will write on that later) could speak English and weren’t afraid to speak to me.
2) The school has an African Drum Team! They meet once a week on Tuesdays and practice, and guess who is joining them next week? 🙂
3) Everyone was so kind and welcoming. One of my co-teachers gave me a whole bunch of home grown papayas. I also got some pomelos. My sweet principal helped me move in a couple days before and discovered I like to cook. So she brought me soy sauce to use. So nice!
Feng Jia is further into the Mountains. While Da Ken is surrounded by mountains, Feng Jia is on a hillside. Mosquitos are crazy there. I counted today and I have 30 mosquito bites. I’m not kidding. I even wore long sleeves and pants today. I’m going to have to figure something out.
Anyway! Today Da Ken’s principle, Sherry, drove me to Da Ken, and then the Dean of Student Affairs drove me to Feng Jia. This is the same Dean that I was too nervous around the first day to use my Chinese, for some reason. Anyway, we got in the car and we conversed the entire time in Chinese, because he speaks no English. This was so exciting to me because it is like I just had a conversation with him! I know it seems crazy to be excited about that, but it was a really long car ride, and I successfully communicated the entire time. Baby steps, amiright?
So I finally arrived at Feng Jia in time for my co-teacher Janice to give me a short tour of the school ( the school is super small) and then for me to settle in before my 6 classes. Each class has 9-15 students. There are not many girls (…mosquitos…). There is an even greater disparity in English fluency between the students who go to cram schools and who don’t. It will be a challenge to compensate for that this year. My class schedule is also different at Feng Jia. I have grade six for forty minutes, we take a ten minute break, then I have the same grade six for another forty minutes. So I’m technically only teaching 3 grades/a day in Feng Jia. I also have a classroom to myself at Feng Jia. I think I need to work on posters to liven the place up.
My co-worker, Janice, gave me a ride home today. While I think the next month is going to be really challenging juggling 2 schools, 6 co-teachers, 20 classes, I am really excited to finally start. I’m off to Taipei tomorrow and will try and blog next week about all the endeavors there!