Teaching Children in Beijing
It’s no secret to those who know me that I have limited experience with children, and I have to admit that I was a bit nervous that my first TEFL job would involve teaching them. My teaching experience had previously been with university students or older adults. After a few months, I have to say I have acclimated to teaching young learners easier than I thought I would. Teaching children is quite fun once you get into it and get to know the students.
Into The Fire
I ended up being thrown into teaching rather quickly. On my first day working at my school in Beijing, after about ten minutes of being there, I was asked by one of the Head Foreign Teachers to cover a class of pre-school age children because their regular teacher was running very late. I didn’t even have a uniform yet but I wanted to make a good impression and be helpful so I agreed.
He could tell I was worried as I had no preparation, and told me if I got stuck the Chinese Teacher would help me, and that when it comes to that age group, you can always just put on songs and sing with them in a pinch.
While that was far from the best class I have ever taught, it was good for me to get thrown in so quickly. I covered a few classes my first week, and then I was given my own classes to teach, of all different age groups. With the help of my Chinese teaching assistants I got to know the children in classes quickly and found that I was good at adjusting my lesson plans to suit their needs during class.
One of my classes had a “Parent’s Day” about a month after I started teaching them. This is when the school invites the parents to watch about thirty minutes of a class so they can see how the teacher interacts with their children. I was pleased that the majority of the parents gave me very high scores and no one gave me a low score.
The most common question I get from friends back home is “how do you deal with the language barrier?” This is most challenging with the youngest children, of which I only have one class. It involves a lot of TPR (Total Physical Response), repetition, and sometimes the Chinese teacher has to translate for them. Many of the children at that level have also never been to school before, so they aren’t used to following a teacher’s instructions, so you have to teach them that. This is when the Chinese teacher was very helpful, because even if we try to avoid resorting to translation, they can model following the directions so the children can copy their example.
In my classes of even slightly older children, their English level is high enough for them to understand basic instructions. My Kindergarten and First Grade level students can carry on a basic conversation, and they understand classroom instructions. The Chinese teacher is available to help them if they are trying to make a sentence and they don’t know one of the English words they want to say. For instance, my Kindergartners were practicing asking “Do you like…?” and they understood what the sentence meant, but sometimes they would want to ask the question about a word they didn’t know, so the Chinese teacher could help them with that.
Don’t Be Afraid to Jump in!
My advice to any other new teachers who have limited experience with kids would be to just jump in. You will learn best by doing it. While my training with my school was informative, it only prepared me so much for what teaching children would be like. By jumping in and just starting to work with the children, as well as observing classes and talking to other teachers, you will adjust to the new environment quickly and have a great teaching experience!