I turned a new leaf in my work history as I joined Aston School in the town of Donghai in China. September 2012 - a new starting point in my teaching career. This is equally a starting point for my boss, Mr Zhao (pronounced like Joe) whom I named Joe once we became more acquainted, for whom this is his first educational enterprise.
Saturday 8 September 2012, my first day of teaching is approaching quietly. I'm inspecting the schedule: there are 4 levels of teaching (from kindergarten to grade 5), giving 3 hours of work per week. We have 5 students in total! On questioning the viability of this, I'm told that we need to do a lot of promotional activities and gradually increase the number of students. I'm also reassured that my contracted salary will be paid in full regardless. Having noticed that my colleagues, as well as my boss, have a poor level of English, I'm thinking I should put my unused hours towards a good cause and teach them some vital working jargon in English..
They're treating me like a sister and I want to return their kindness. However, this is not equally applied among all the employees. On the 4th of September, 4 short days before starting our classes, my teaching assistant was instantly dismissed, she called me in distress on my new mobile. The same afternoon Joe presented my new colleague replacing Lily - just 4 days before starting our classes that Saturday. The new problem was that her level of English was extremely low - she couldn't understand me and she was struggling with basic words, such as 'tell' and 'ask'. I was speechless and saddened by the whole affair. It took me a good couple of weeks to reasonably share this with my boss.
As time went by we pulled through somehow, improving our communication slowly, slowly. She convinced me how much she wanted to work with me (going through financial hardship as well, for the priviledge), precisely in order to improve her English and to be able to advance her teaching career as a result.
Looking at it on the whole, I must admit I admire her determination to stick with it, in spite of other kind of hardship she had to endure during her contract, due to Joe's greed (which escalated to unacceptable levels within months) and lack of integrity. We're now approaching the end of May and she's facing a tough exam this Saturday, for becoming a primary school English teacher which is her dream for ages now. I'm helping her prepare for it, especially by training her in Whole Brain Teaching - the method she likes so much, my favourite.
A course in Chinese (at least 4 hours per week) is a perk with my
contract and this was a big factor in my decision to accept this contract and not go with another school. I have a strong interest in both teaching English over here as well as in learning Chinese, as you might imagine. This would be my 8th language to acquire, albeit I'm not speaking all of them fluently and I'm not speaking my Danish and Swedish at all by now, for lack of opportunities to practice them.
However, November is here and there were no signs of anything being organised. I must learn some Chinese, by hook or crook, so I arrange for an hour of Chinese in return for an hour of English with my assistant teacher's sister. But she doesn't speak English, so we make do with a number of pronunciation classes. 3, to be more precise... But this is not a solution and I keep pushing for my official course. This started finally, on the 29th of November, with a new teacher who would offer an hour and a half of her time per week. The rest of it I need to arrange on an unofficial basis with Linda, my second new teaching assistant.