One word to encapsulate this week would be unexpected. Well, not that anything has been exceedingly expected about our program thus far, but I did notice it more this week.
To start the week off on this theme, we were notified Monday morning that we wouldn’t be teaching that day because of June 1, Children’s Day in China. It actually worked out pretty well for us because it was also Memorial Day here, so my dad didn’t have work and my brother didn’t have school. We went strawberry picking (again) as a family, and I was also able to hang out with a good friend from high school.
On Tuesday mornings, I teach my bao bao ban (宝宝班), which is a class of four students who are the children of several of the middle school teachers in China. I set my alarm for a little past seven to wake up (as much as possible, anyway) and prepare for my lesson at 8 am. My class is comprised of first and second graders, which is a group that brings quite a different energy than my seventh graders — let’s just say that they are bursting with energy and can have a harder time sitting still. The unexpected part of this particular Tuesday was that only one of my students showed up, and I received absolutely no heads-up beforehand or explanation afterward for the others’ absence.
Interestingly enough, it was almost a more productive class than usual because I could focus on just one student (Thanks Austin! You did amazing). I think coincidentally — or perhaps serendipitously — this one boy was normally the quietest one in our class, but he quickly became super outgoing and talkative once given the chance. So although completely unexpected, I believe this unintended private lesson was a blessing for both my student and myself.
Perhaps my favorite unexpected moment of the week was my first-period class on Wednesday night, when not one but two students raised their hands volunteering to go first (one of them even used the Zoom raise hand function!). I always incorporate an activity into each week’s lesson where every student has to talk — usually following a simple template like “My favorite ____ is ____ because ____” — before popcorning a classmate. The students take turns talking until everyone has shared.
This small gesture from two students may not seem like much at first glance, but I found it quite touching because I had never had any volunteers in any of my classes up until this moment. My weekly question of “Does anyone want to go first?” had always been greeted by silence, but here, halfway through our program, the silence was broken.
And speaking of breaking the silence, I wanted to bring up a little story that began last week and really blossomed this week. What happened during our last period on Thursday night last week was that because of connection issues, Sandy and I only had one student successfully join the call. Hsiao-mei soon joined as well, and for forty minutes, the three of us just talked to her. We took turns asking her questions and joked that she was getting a private lesson with a three-to-one faculty/student ratio — the opportunity of a lifetime!
At the time I felt a little bad for her because she seemed very sweet but a little shy, and here she was getting grilled in English by three foreigners. But when we saw her — along with all of her classmates this time — this past Thursday, we were astonished to discover that she was the top contributor in our class. Out of a dozen students, she was almost always the one to shout out the answer now, and I could tell by her smile that she was happy and excited to participate. The best part was that we got a volunteer in this class too, but it wasn’t even her. One girl’s confidence had radiated into the rest of the class and brought them out of their shells, too.
I can’t believe we’re already halfway through our program. I feel a healthy mix of tiredness, joy, and hope. But if the kids are already making such strides in confidence, I have full faith that we will see even more during the second half. After all, our goal is not to teach them perfect English, but to guide them to a place where having a full class of volunteers is no longer unexpected. Onwards to Week 5!