Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Once upon a bad day.....

I know that there are 100 other things that people would rather read about in a blog of China, but I don't care to write about them right now. All that I can think of is today. It's all I feel like writing about. Today was the worst day.

Let me give you some background information:

I planned on teaching older kids. 7th-8th grade. I'd have been happy with 5th-6th as well. I'm doing exceptionally well here, and hell, I'll just say it: I'm the best teacher in the newest incoming group. Eh, that's not saying too much (there are only six of us)! My roommate kept warning me to do a bad job because they throw the more effective teachers with the younger kids. At first, they wanted me to teach kindergarten. I held my ground on that one.With all do respect to kindergarten teachers, I did NOT come to China to babysit and assign nap time. I prefer to teach with a board and use my words; not sing on a magic carpet. You know what I mean. Even with Ryan's warning, I still did my best. Even though I was so eager and excited to work with older kids, I could not bring myself to do a bad job. I just couldn't.

When classes were assigned at the end of training, I found out JESIE wanted me to work with 1st-2nd grade. I was not happy about it. In short, I agreed to check out the school. I mentioned how great You Shou was in a prior blog. I don't believe there's a nicer school to work in, here in Nanjing. I was flattered.. My roommate looked so surprised when I told him of my placement. I heard they are picky. Oh, and did I mention I didn't know how to teach kids? I fell in love with the school, the kids, and the challenge. Try teaching English to kids who only know hello, goodbye, and one answer to how are you. "Fine!" they say.

I have been doing so much adjusting here. Know that is has not been easy. I am constantly out all day in unknown territory. I barely see my apartment until night time, and even then, I'm revising lessons. Don't get me wrong, I AM GLAD I CAME AND I AM HAVING A GREAT TIME. Not all of it is work! The built up stress reached its peak today is all. China is a terrible place to be as far as I'm concerned when you have a headache.There's no place to go for privacy (seriously). No park, no shop, no little alley or secret spot. Those places were found by people living here far longer than me. You're better off hiding in your room with the windows closed so you can spare your senses of the smells, spitting (huuuuugggghhhhhhh-ptttt), and the god awful beeping/brakes/car alarms. They are all inescapable.

Upbeat, I went to You Shao. I was motivated and wanted to do a
commendable job. I preferred to please them just as much as they wanted to please me. Strangely, more of my lessons have been observed than unobserved. If you speak with any of these JESIE people, they will all say that is unheard of. Some will go the whole year and not be observed once. Know as I proceed that I could be getting paid MUCH MORE working with another company/school. I teach in other schools as well as You Shao 2 (through JESIE). The school I am in is demanding more from me than I can take at the moment. If they were my only school, that would be one thing. I work at two other schools (different cities), plus I tutor a group of kids at someone's apartment twice a week. When I walk into a school, my job is supposed to be: teach your lesson the way you were trained (Val is a great teacher) and move on to your next class. I work for JESIE, not for the school. Sure, it's nice take part in activities and gain some good guanchi with who you work with, but it is not a requirement.

My second issue: You Shao promised me an assistant to help with translating. I was under the influence when I signed my contract that I would ease into the teaching, but that is not what happened. Not even close. I've had 2 t/a's at that school and NEITHER can speak any English. What was the point? The other JESIE teachers I know tell me that it's great having a t/a because it makes teaching so much easier. How did I get stuck with two t/a's that can't speak english? This school spent too much money on pear trees and not enough on teachers.

You Shao wanted me to collaborate with Chinese-English teacher, Amy. Try to follow me here. Normally, I would have four different classes to myself. Instead, my four classes are split between the two of us. I've collaborated before, no big deal. I actually thought I would learn something from her. Collaborating last week was miserable. While I felt like everyone else from JESIE was smiling and happy to talk about their classes, I was stressing over what to do the next day. First of all, I don't understand anything Amy says. HOW and WHY is she teaching English? I feel bad saying that because she is harmless and so nice, but seriously, why? And how do you collaborate with someone you can barely understand? We share four classes: Grade 1 Class 1, Grade 1 Class 2, Grade 2 Class 1, and Grade 2 Class 2. Since we are collaborating, shouldn't the classes be divided ABABABAB? We should see them back and forth. Instead, no class schedule is the same as the other. One class is AABA, another is BBAA, another is BBAB, and so on. We tried to communicate where we'd leave off, but it was too difficult. E-mails didn't work because a) I didn't have internet, b) I was still apartment hunting. It was the next day before I knew it. Texting was barely effective. I would get texts like "Hello Alexa. I finished page 2." That IS NOT how this should work. I sent her my plans, but she never sent me hers. We wouldn't even be teaching the same thing! I learned to teach them very slowly. One step forward and two steps back. It was embedded in my brain. She'd get through two pages and I'd be on half a page. We are supposed to stretch out the lessons. I stretched them out by playing a lot of games and putting them in teams. Amy did not. She teaches the "Chinese" way. I began my lesson planning at 10am on Sunday and did not finish until 7 (I had an hour lunch break). I only taught two of those lessons this week and have been planning AGAIN during the week. My lessons have been running smoothly, but the quixotic amount of time I have to put into them is going to set me back. NO OTHER JESIE TEACHER DOES THIS. Plus the constant observations and PICTURES. I'm not a bald Britney Spears! It just got to me after a while. I'd walk into a class, see that Amy already taught the lesson I was ready to give, and have to WING IT in front of principals and "paparazzi." Good thing that when it comes to creativity , I am a freaking genius. You'd die laughing if you saw the (totally awesome) games I have them play in order to learn a phrase. It is so rewarding when observers laugh and want to play. When I'm in long enough, I'll film a short video and show you what I mean. The school certainly does not mind pictures and videos. I KNOW THAT ONE FOR A FACT.

I deleted a very detailed paragraph of feelings I had about the vice principal of this school. I've decided that they were too harsh and, months later, I have deleted them.....I'll pick up here:

Amy and I told him again that it wasn't working and still, here I am,making new plans because we need help getting on the same page. I kept pushing and broke the rules: I demanded an answer (you should NOT demand ANYTHING in China) as to why we had to teach the way we were because the kids were learning less and Amy and I were pulling our hair out. I got my answer:

"We are trying something new this year. The parents are upset that their child is being taught by a Chinese-English teacher when there is an American teacher teaching other students. Because of this, you have to share all of your classes."

That's it? You're telling me that the only way to resolve that issue was to put us in this clusterf*** of a mess? The only way you can help to fix it now is to say "be flexible"? One of these days I am going to write a blog on the critical thinking skills of China. OH MY GOD. It takes HOURS for a problem to be resolved. I don't understand how I ever felt they would take over the world one day. Okay, so I'm being rude. I'm in a bad mood. Where was I going with this blog again? Oh yea, so I e-mailed V ver the weekend. I could not keep it up. Not with my upcoming load of classes ahead of me and still no internet.

V wanted to come in, observe one of my lessons, and try to help Amy and I collaborate. V speaks english and chinese so that in itself was a plus. Somewhere in my digging I found out (more I decided to delete about the Vice Principal)


I am going to do my best to refrain myself from curse words and insults. My third day in China I was robbed for my I-phone. Third. Day. In. China. I could write an entire blog on that day and the effects from it. Today felt worse than that.

I got to school a half an hour early, as always, to review. It was nice because I actually had some alone time. I was on my way to my first class when I saw Val. I was happy to see him. He came early to meet with the principal,
Madam Gu, before he sat in on my first grade class. My 2nd graders caught a break because all they did today was learn a song. Aw, my first song! Guess what? They already knew the song. I had to make up difficult dance moves and games to get through those 40 minutes. The bike was my favorite.
I was on my way to my 2nd grade class. I was in a great mood because I just got out of a great lesson. Kids can put you in the best mood! I thought the next period would be a breeze and V would see I'm good with the kids. I had everything mapped out. V sat down. The music came on for the kids to be seated. At 10:05, the kids had to do eye exercises for five minutes. I didn't talk to them when they first sat down because they get too excited and don't focus on their eyes! You Xiao is really serious about these exercises. I could see that V was wondering why I was not talking to them as if I was anti-social. I didn't explain. Figured I'd make up for it with my lesson. Miss cocky over here.

When the eye exercises were over, V, the principal, P, Amy, my T/A, Jenny Young (a principal of one school and a vice principal of another) and a male teacher from the school all sat in the back of the class. Besides Amy and my T/A, they all had notepads. You have got to be shitting me. This time
Madam Gu did not have her camera. There was a very tense ora floating in the air. Paul always says hello. He did not say one word to me. I tried to imagine they were not there, but it was impossible. I could deal with Paul, the principal, and strangers in my class, but for some reason, Val and that Jenny Young (even Amy) made me feel sick to my stomach. Moving on...

Class began. I threw up some review material from our last class: morning, afternoon and evening. I gave them flashcards and they had to stick them in the correct category on the board. I always divide them into three teams by table. The team numbers never change. Well, I was so flustered that I changed up their team numbers. BIG MISTAKE. I started blanking out. I would say something and then forget it. Was is a panic attick? Nervousness?It got really bad. It came out of nowhere! I've been observed so many times. Why now!?Whenever I would give a student a star, I'd give it to the wrong team because I'd have it in my head that they were a different number. It was REALLY bad. The kids got really upset and yelled at me. I can still hear, "Lexy, no! I'm team 2 ! Team 2!" UGH! I mixed their team numbers up so badly that I stopped giving out stars for correct answers. Pathetic, I know. Imagine what the adults were thinking.

Next, I had to teach them dialogue from their english books. I turn on the computer's e-book and the file froze on me. Aha! I had it on my flash drive. I popped that sucker in and it started right up. In the mean time the kids are talking. I asked my t/a to translate ONE thing: the directions. All they had to do was find little Beeno. She couldn't translate. I asked Amy. She had this "who, me?" look on her face and needless to say, nobody translated the directions. I tried gesturing find Beeno! I probably looked like I was having convulsions. At the end of the dialogue, I had some kids come to the board for a matching game (dialogue review). I saw the disappointment in their eyes when I didn't give them stars. I don't know who was more disappointed, them or me (I had no idea what team they were). I'm terrible!

It got worse. We moved on to something new: the letter g. I wanted letter A, but god forbid I don't go by the book made in Hong Kong. Those kids don't even know what an MTR is! My other first grade class was good with letters, but not this one. Wish I had known. It was my first letter with them. What worked in the other class did not work here.

"What word begins with g? Guhh-irl. Who can give me one more?"


And it went on from there. I could not move on to the game because they were not ready for it. I thought about improvising, but I only had seven minutes left and they hadn't finished writing the letter yet. The adults in the back all had these blank, bored looks on their face and I was becoming so upset with myself because this truly was the WORST lesson I have ever given since I've been here. As I walked aroung checking g's, I was thinking about all the hard work I put into my lessons and time wasted because I had to make new ones. I was thinking about how much everyone would dislike me because I brought Val in my second week. I thought about how this might be the only lesson Val sees me teach and it was awful. I wished I could talk to
Madam Gu, but I don't know chinese. In my head, I began blaming the school in because they lied and said I'd have a translator, and they put me with a Chinese-English teacher I do not understand. Next thing I knew, she-hulk came out in class :[

I walked right by the row of adults. After I saw the t/a and P I rolled my eyes at everyone. I ROLLED MY EYES AT PRINCIPALS. I rolled my eyes at Val. I barely smiled to the kids after that point. I couldn't fake it anymore. I was folding under pressure. So much pressure, all the time. It was the longest five minutes of my life. Normally I'd make up some quick game just to leave on a happy note, but this time I just drew the lines and wrote girl. I said,"okay, write girl" and just walked around, not even making eye contact with the adults. I was thinking way too hard about the situation and being too hard on myself. It was so bad. I saw there was a minute left so in a very fast paced, monotone voice, I pointed to the board with my marker and said,

"Okay kids, let's count your stars. Team 1: 1, 2, 3 okay. Team 2: 1,2,3,4, cool. Team 3: 1, 2,3 ,4 ,5. Yayy, you won. Good job"

With a little wimpy clap. Nobody cared. I hadn't given a star in thirty minutes. When the bell rang, I couldn't turn my head to the side fast enough. I packed my stuff (slowly) and made eye contact with no one. A minute later Val says, "Alexa, are you going to wrap up your class?" The kids were sitting, still waiting for me to say goodbye. How did I not notice? I always say something comical and then goodbye before they go. I smiled, said goodbye, waved, and turned back to the side. I wanted to go home. Not to my apartment, but back to NJ. I think I have issues. I didn't even collect their name tags. I ALWAYS collect their nametags. Never missed it. One by one they were running them to me, all happy, and saying "goodbye Lexy!" They love saying my name. They will repeat it over and over. Every time one of them handed me their nametag I felt worse and worse about myself. I suck.

I know: it was just a lesson. I know: who cares, I'm in China! I know: who cares what they think. Well I do care. I wish I did not care! I wish I could just say better luck next time and learn from it, but no, I get angry. It's not even angry. I go mute. That's what I did. I just stopped talking. The worse thing you can do is push me and make me talk. I just wanted time to breathe. No talking! No more Chinese! I don't understand! Get away for five minutes! Zai jian!

I had zero time to get my head straight. I wish that was all that happened. I immediately had a meeting with V, then V and Lizzie, and after that I just left. I just couldn't take it anymore. Mute. He talked to me about what he discussed with everyone about collaborating and we discussed P, of course. During our conversation, I only heard every other word that came out of his mouth. I just kept replaying my pathetic lesson and made myself believe that the school was annoyed I brought V in (even though Amy wanted just as much help with this as I did). I didn't even make eye contact with him. Val might be the nicest guy I've ever met. And he's so funny. And I love all of his tattoos. I thought if I looked at him I'd cry because I failed. I can't believe I'm sharing this with people I know and will have to face when I get home. I will freak out if someone sees me cry. Well, by freak I mean do what I have to do to get away from the situation. I hate it when people get in the damn way of that. If I explode, that's why. Just move! Anyway, I'm still not even sure what I agreed to with Amy. Every rational idea was cut off because of the parents parents parents. I am so tired of parents not listening to the teacher! We know what's best for your kid! Good job, after all that money spent, now your kid gets an average education because you're in denial. And you know what they're going to do with your money? Plant hot peppers. Why would they hire a t/a or a second teacher who knows english? That would be downright stupid, wouldn't it? I believe the final agreement was Amy would teach one page and I would teach the other. Every week. We are not allowed to go pass that one page. Now you have 3 principals, and three teachers. What excellent critical thinking skills! Why didn't I think of that? What a shame I did not think of that.They sure know what they're doing. Page by page. Genius!

The P issue. They pretty much straightup told P that he needs to stop talking to me so much and he needs to understand that when my class is over, I need to get out so I can make it to the next. P nor Amy said anything to me today :[ I didn't want it to be all of this! I just wanted to spend a normal amount of time on lessons and do them without the headache. The collaboration was not working for either of us! Amy was the one who called Jenny Young. I don't mind talking to Paul; he just did not understand that I HAVE TO GO. He lives at the school. Literally. He lives on the top level with his wife and 2 year old.

By the end of the conversation V told me he wanted to save his constructive criticism for another day. I already know everything on that list. He apologized on behalf of the school and for all of them sitting in without my knowledge. He didn't need to apologize for anything. Then it happened. IT HAPPENED. I looked at him. This is where I sound psycho. I cried. I FREAKING CRIED. Not like a baby, but I felt the tears rolling to my chin. C'mon!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Then Lizzie walked up. I talked to her staring at the ground. I told V I felt like an idiot and wanted to go. I could tell he wanted to make me feel better about the situation, but didn't know how. I knew I'd regret crying so bad. I smiled and said I was good and would wait for his follow up e-mail. I dwelled on it for hours. WORST DAY. I hate my life.

Doesn't sound like much to you does it?  Stress and exhaustion have been building, trust me. I wish I could have let my frustration out in the apartment or a fruit stand or something. I let the stress get me in the classroom. That's my biggest problem. I let myself down. I also failed under pressure. I just need to go to sleep. I feel better after writing about it. I've always found writing to be therapeutic. I need to mention that I do actually care about the reputation I leave. So what if I may not see these people again? A majority of the world laughs at us. Most people I meet here will not meet many other Americans and so I want to leave on a positive note. Represent.


  1. So sorry you have to go through all of that. One thing is that you are still there and you are still kicking. It is only the beginning and things should get better. Just continue to have a positive outlook on things and you will come out good. You are strong and have always proved yourself against the odds. Proud of ya and what you are doing. Keep up the good work.

    1. This was so nice. I enjoyed reading. Thanks Aaron!

  2. Hey Alexa. Just wanted to let you know I started following, and I think you are doing a WONDERFUL job. Being around people, teaching, exciting a room, and growing has always been something you are great at. If you don't make a few mistakes, people (and your co-workers) would imagine you flawless. As much as everyone would love to think that, you know that the best practices can be created by learning from those instances (and to never repeat them)! Maybe if the school you are at, saw that you are human, you would be less a commodity, for better or worse. It seems that if you wanted to, you could walk in with such confidence that commands a room, no one would question you or what you're doing. Otherwise, the children you teach will still love and respect you. They will get over a tedious lesson or two when the next exciting thing rolls around. Remember not to lose yourself there. You came as a teacher to adapt, so do not let it consume you. As long as you stay true to your practices, understand their culture, then they will learn A LOT. I do not want to generalize it, because I cannot empathize. You are doing something crazy and spectacular. You will do it well. I know your friends and family support you. Bad days are bad, but good days will feel amazing. Your pen pal idea is fantastic, by the way. Best of luck.

    1. Thank you so much. I like the point you made: ...maybe if the school saw that you are human, you'd be less a commodity." Can I print that out in Chinese on a shirt and wear it around? Lol. In all seriousness, thank you for the kind words and advice. Days have passed and it has gotten much better. I enjoy the school much more now and collaborating has become more of a learning opportunity vs. a ball of frustration.

  3. Print it up and let's see how they react! lol. ;]