Working with Young Chinese Kids, by Jenny Dewhirst

Before working at Aihua I didn’t have any real teaching experience with young kids. I’d taught adults and teenagers, but young kids were never really my area of expertise. At Aihua, foreign teachers can have classes of kids ranging from 3-13 years old, and I’ll admit when getting my schedule, I was silently praying to the teaching gods for some older kids. However, as luck would have it, as I glanced down at that ever-important piece of paper, I found four Big Fun classes (the youngest that Aihua offers). This would be fine, I told myself, I have three younger cousins I half baby-sit at home, how different could it really be? During my first week of teaching I soon came to the realisation that this would, in fact, be very different.

The thing with young Chinese kids is that they don’t have an awful lot of English to work with. This frustrated me to no end at the beginning, kids would come up to me and clearly be excited to tell me something and I’d have no idea what they were saying. However, one joy of this lack of English is the total nonsense ‘banter’ the kids like to come up with. At the start of the lesson they’ll introduce themselves saying ‘Hello, my name is Jenny, I’m 22 years old’ and the whole class would erupt into the silliest giggles. Sometimes kids will change their names to ‘cat pizza’ or purposefully say the wrong vocab word and think this is the height of comedy. I have one six-year-old kid who has permanently changed his name to ‘Gooliga’ and often pretends to fly around the classroom chanting ‘I am bat!’. Honestly, I’ve gotten to the point where I genuinely think this stuff is hilarious.

Another big challenge for me was discipline, how can you get eight sugar-filled 4-year olds to listen to you if they can’t even understand what you’re saying? I soon realised that my Chinese co-teacher Nicole was going to become my complete partner in crime. We spent a few weeks fumbling over each other, words were lost over shouts of ‘lǎo shī!!shén me yì si??’ which translates to ‘teacher what does it mean?’ (a phrase permanently etched into my brain). However, after a few months we became almost extensions of each other, I’d be demonstrating a game and Nicole would be zipping over to Ivan, who, once again was aiming the sticky ball at Angel’s head. During CT time (where she’d translate the lesson for the kids in Chinese) I’d be rallying a rogue Joshua, who had decided to go for a light stroll around the classroom, promising him a star if he sat down with me. These days we barely have to look at each other to know when to step in and help each other out.

Overall, I think my favourite part of teaching small kids is how much fun everything suddenly becomes. Something as simple as writing the letter ‘b’ can become more competitive than the Olympic 100m sprint. Any activity big or small is somehow the most exciting thing in the world and will invite a chorus of ‘teacher teacher let me try!’. Big Fun classes have been simultaneously the hardest and most rewarding classes I’ve taught this year, and frankly I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.

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