As much as Richard and I have been enjoying retirement for the past few years, we’re definitely having fun being back in the classroom this term. The job isn’t exactly what we expected but in some ways, I think its even better than what we anticipated.
We were hired to teach at the School of Continuing Education at Liaoning Normal University where all of the students are required to take one year of English. They have the option of taking it from a Chinese professor during their regular school day or they can pay extra to take it from us. We teach our university level classes during the evenings and on Saturday mornings.
I have two university classes with 27 to 30 students in each one. Teaching a foreign language to that many students at once is difficult but student motivation is probably a bigger factor in whether or not they succeed. Since attendance accounts for 50% of their final mark, working hard in class isn’t a high priority for many of them. Add to that the fact that, on most days, they come to a two hour class at 6:30 p.m. after having been in school since 8:00 a.m. I can hardly blame them for not being overly enthusiastic!
My university classes are very different from one another. One is made up entirely of students who are art, music and phys ed majors. In spite of the fact that they started learning English in third grade, their knowledge of the language is weak and prying spoken English out of them is like pulling teeth. The other class is made up of academic students who have a much higher level of English. The majority of them are somewhat fluent and they participate well in class discussions.
There are only twelve students in Richard’s university class but their level of English is more varied which presents different challenges in teaching them. Instead of a second university class, Richard spends two evenings a week teaching a class that has become fondly known as the Munchkins. This is a new course made up of 11 and 12 year olds who participated in an English camp put on by our school last summer. The camp was such a success that the parents, who are obviously very keen on having their children learn English, asked for a continuing class for them. Thus the Munchkin class came into being last fall. As a well seasoned grade 5 teacher, Richard was the obvious choice to teach them this term.
We also have two small classes of high school graduates who are spending a year in English immersion in preparation for going to college in Canada or the US. In order to qualify to do that, they must achieve a high score on the very rigourous IELTS (International English Language Testing System) test which is made up of four components; reading, writing, listening and speaking. Richard teaches Reading and a course known as Pronunciation and Idioms to the 7 students in Class B while I teach Reading and North American Geography to the 5 students who make up Class A.
Class A is without a doubt my favourite part of the job. These kids, who range in age from 17 to 23, are absolutely delightful. They are the ones who are eagerly taking advantage of every opportunity to spend time with us outside class soaking up the language and trying to learn as much as they can about our lifestyle and culture. In addition to being our students, they are quickly becoming our friends.
Though it may sound as if we’re very busy and though we do have classes at various times between 8:00 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. five days a week, our actual time in the classroom is equal to approximately a half-time teaching assignment in Canada. There’s preparation and some evaluation on top of that, of course, but all in all it’s a pretty sweet retirement project!
(Pictured below: our first meal with some of my A students. Known as hot pot, we cooked various meats, tofu and greens in the steaming broth in the centre of the table. It was delicious! The young Caucasian gal is Courtney, the only young teacher on our staff of six. The rest are golden oldies like us.)