It is hard not to be selfish, especially towards a room of people that are thousands of miles away. In my brain, the word selfish takes on many meanings. It could be that someone keeps two pieces of candy instead of giving the other to their friend, or maybe a single classmate takes all the credit for a well-rounded answer created by a group. In any case, being selfish is extremely tempting. After week 2 of Zhuhai, I’ve realized just how much self-control it takes to be an impactful teacher in this program and to resist those temptations.
My biggest impulse is to speak Chinese when I’m frustrated. Every time I’m met with awkward silence, instead of waiting for sitcom crickets to start chirping, I itch to use Mandarin. Although sometimes it is a lot easier, especially to make sure their wifi connection is still holding up, using mandarin once during class unlocks a pandora’s box of Chinese speaking not only from me but from the students. I’m glad that my students are comforted by the fact that I can speak Chinese, but at the same time, I’m afraid that they will stop their efforts to formulate their thoughts in English, even if it is broken. So I’ve made it a personal goal to speak as little Chinese as possible. This isn’t the first time I’ve made this resolution.
Fun fact: even though my sister is 9 years older than me, the first time I met her was when I was 13. My sister stayed in China away from my family until she was 22, while I lived in America. It has been a strange journey, getting to know my sister, but I won’t go into the details. One aspect of our relationship that I think about fairly often is the language we use to communicate with each other. When I first met her (and for a few years after) I primarily used Chinese to speak to her. The problem with that was that my sister was (and still is) trying very hard to learn English, but as her American sister, I wasn’t able to provide her with an environment for her to use and enhance her skills. Thinking back, I was extremely selfish. I spoke Chinese to her out of convenience, even though I was fully aware that speaking English would help her exponentially in adapting to life in America.
So, I find that it would be best to speak English to my students at Zhuhai. Even if I’m afraid of awkward pauses and confusion, switching to Chinese out of frustration is not the answer. After all, the non-Chinese speaking members of the Zhuhai team have also done phenomenal jobs in keeping the students engaged and excited. I can definitely learn a lot from them.
Week 2 ended with a bang. The wifi connectivity issues that were so apparent in week 1 became less intense and less frequent. Our team also worked very hard to conjure various contingency plans for various connection problems. They can see you but can’t hear you? There’s a plan for that. They can hear you but can’t see you? There’s a plan for that. They can’t hear or see you? No worries, there’s a plan for that. We are trying our best to not let wifi impede on the precious time we have with the students. This week flew by so quickly. The kids were very excited about the topic at hand: food and restaurants. I recall a few of my students answering that their favorite thing to do is “eating” when asked what their hobbies are. So yelling that they “would like to eat hamburgers” was on par with their interests. I love working with my teaching partners, and I learn from them every day. It is great to see how much we have progressed as teachers from the first time we teach a lesson to the last. The students are slowly warming up to the class, and there were definitely fewer awkward pauses than before. I love seeing them becoming more and more enthusiastic about speaking English, and I hope their interest will only continue to grow. One of the teachers also made a WeChat group for the students! They love talking to us (and to each other) in the group chat, and I am so glad to see their personalities shine through the texts! The students are hilarious and never fail to make me smile.
I guess my biggest fear is giving in to my temptations to be selfish. Reverting to Chinese, not spending enough time lesson planning, giving in to zoom fatigue, avoiding my responsibilities, etc. These may sound like basic expectations that I should have no problem fulfilling but in reality, without the physical pressure from a classroom of bright-eyed Chinese middle schoolers, the ease is gradually decreasing. I haven’t felt the full effect of these temptations yet, it is only week 3, but I’m sure I will write about them more later.