TJ is a writer living in Portland, OR.

A fraud in the land of imitations

A fraud in the land of imitations

I showed up in China with a pdf certificate that said I completed an online course and was qualified to teach English. I could have made a fake certificate in Photoshop, instead I opted to pay as little money as possible on the chance that it might somehow prepare me to teach in China. Nothing could have prepared me to teach in China, except teaching in China.

When I started, the school made it clear that the bar was set low for me, so low I could trip on it. I had no prior experience to draw on, I did not submit lesson plans for approval, the syllabi for my classes were vague, the textbooks (either too advanced or too remedial) were optional, and the classes were too large and met too infrequently to really make a lasting impact.

So I faked my way through it.

Every weekend I would throw together a lesson plan based on something I read online and workshop it through the week over and over again. Monday lessons were clumsy and awkward; Friday lessons were less clumsy and awkward. Mistakes were made. I didn’t take attendance enough, I didn’t actually have class rosters, I could never estimate how much time an activity would take, I didn’t understand how to explain things, I overestimated the class level, I underestimated the class level, there was too much dead time, I never had filler activities, I didn’t learn how to make copies for handouts till halfway through the semester, the classroom audiovisual equipment didn’t work sometimes and all the instructions were in Chinese.

Still, most of the kids showed up every week, some eager for the few minutes I could engage them with some activity or talk one-on-one with them, some content to sit in the back of the classroom and ignore me. We were all relieved when I decided that showing a movie would be the lesson for the week. Winter set in, I spent more and more time alone in my room trying to stay warm, wondering if anything I was doing here mattered, wondering if there was something more I should do. At the end of the semester I assigned grades I thought the students deserved that fell within the parameters of what I was supposed to give. Then I left for the Chinese New Year holiday. I was glad to be leaving.

I’m back. This is my last semester at this school, I am not renewing my contract, but this last semester is a chance to start over. I have new students. I want to be better. I asked for the class rosters before school started, I make sure to take attendance every day, I spend more time planning lessons, I figured out how to make PowerPoint presentations (I haven’t made one since high school) that actually open on the classroom computers, I make a lot more handouts, I try to anticipate potential downtime to fill, I repeat instructions more and make a buffoon of myself in the process of trying to make myself understood.

I still can’t gauge how long an activity will take.

I still feel like a fraud. But sometimes I see some of my old students and they smile at me and tell me they miss me. And sometimes in my new classes the students really enjoy a lesson I put a lot of time into. And I think, well at least I've been trying. So I can't be all that bad.


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Xi'an Update

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