By Jonathan Caulk – 120-hour TESOL certificate
When I first stepped into the classroom in China, after tripping over the metal threshold, I felt dizzy and panicky. I hadn’t taught anything to anyone in my life. The closest thing to teaching on my resume was a promotion gig which involved standing in the parking lot of an amusement park, promoting a brand of drinkable yogurt. But, here I stood behind a podium which was about a foot too short for my skinny, 191 cm frame, about to teach a class of twenty-eight Chinese college freshman! What did I do? Well, I pawed at the first page of the first lesson with my sweaty hands, and…
Five minutes into the lesson I saw that students were whispering and exchanging grins as I shakily moved through a teacher to group question and answer repetition, “T: Are you teachers?” A: No we aren’t, we are students!” It was as funny to them as it was useless. Their speaking level was higher than I’d anticipated! Frustrated, I felt an urge to stubbornly slog through to the end. Instead, I found myself tossing the lesson aside and saying, “I’m sorry, would you like to ask me anything?” This opened a floodgate of inquiry. Some wanted to know what I did in my spare time, some where I was from, others if I had a spouse. I was so relieved! My students were friendly!
In that moment it dawned on me that oral English classes had to be met and interacted with, just like an individual. I had to take their English measurements before handing them an English shoe. This class of freshman from Northeast China had probably never met a foreigner before. I looked strange. I talked funny. My mannerisms were unfamiliar. At the end of class, all the students lined up and one by one and all twenty-eight took a picture with me with their cell phones. Wow! I was being treated like a celebrity. In that hyper inquisitive atmosphere I realized, “Hey! Teaching English in China is much better than promoting yogurt at amusement parks!”.