Open Days

Being now the only foreign teacher in Montai, the buck has fallen upon me to pick up a lot of the slack that can only be fulfilled by being a foreign teacher. I am their dancing pony, their trump card, their ace up their sleeve, and as such, I am trotted out on all occasions that they deem necessary, even doing the dreaded overtime.

In fact, I accrued so much overtime that I got two whole days off just before New Year’s; they couldn’t pay me for the overtime, so I got time off in lieu instead. And here’s how I did it, although it is just a short episode this time.

First, I was told that I had to work on a Sunday morning in November as an open day. The school’s year of not being able to recruit new students, because of The Salmonella Incident was finally over and they were going into overdrive to make up for lost time. It was only when I was told about this, that I realised that this was the reason for the smaller and fewer classes. There is only one KC class when last year at the beginning on the year, pre-Salmonella Incident, there were four KC classes and a BB class. And I’m their shiny toy that shows that this school is better than the other schools, so I had to be there and do a demo class for the prospective new students.

This meant an entire day of planning the class and making sure it would be really good. I then was asked to do a trial run with our single KC class, which was never going to be an accurate representation of the demo class at the open day, as these children have had 3 months of classes with Zoey and so were a) better at English than any of the prospective new children would be and b) would not be afraid to get involved in class, as they’d been doing this for three months already. I was convinced that this whole thing would be a failure and yet there was nothing I could do to stop it, as my concerns, like many other times this year, were ignored.

But anyway, I did the practice class with KC, and it went relatively well. They knew the words I was teaching them, and they were confident enough to get involved in it. Connie, the head teacher, sat at the back of the class and looked stony faced for the entire time. After it was over, we went upstairs and she ripped into it. She thought it was too difficult, primarily, and we disagreed. We must have spent half an hour arguing back and forth as to whether it was too difficult or not. She also said some other stuff. I think. It was all in Chinese and apparently, she kept telling Zoey and Icy to translate but they didn’t because they didn’t agree with what she was saying. So, I sat there in blissful ignorance. In the end, we came to a compromise. We would do this lesson plan for the first demo lesson on Sunday, and if it seemed too difficult, we would have an easier backup lesson to teach.

We didn’t. Instead, we just plowed ahead with the original lesson, and it wasn’t too difficult, because the parents got involved.

I have to admit, I was pretty nervous about the demo lessons, and dressing as a princess on the day didn’t really help, except give me neck ache because my tiara was hefty (apparently it was also a cake decoration, but it looked like a crown so I rolled with it). I wasn’t worried about the difficulty of the lesson. I was confident that we could unroll the words in a way that meant the kids would understand enough. I didn’t have to worry about it though, because the parents sat behind the children and spoke for them, and I was able to get enough response that there weren’t any awkward silences.

In the end, the lesson wasn’t perfect but we made our own notes from it, and then in the second lesson of the day, improved upon it. Once that was done, I cleaned up the magic trick (yes, I did magic and Connie wasn’t even impressed. I mean, can she turn water multiple colours with no apparent source – hiding the blob of paint on the lid of course?), changed into my normal clothes and headed out to buy myself salt and vinegar crisps and cider.

We then had a two-week break, before we had any more demo lessons, and I, making an ass out of u and me, assumed that the next one would also be on a Sunday. I was a fool. Icy had said Saturday at least once, and on the Friday before said tomorrow, and I, being an ass, thought she’d got her English wrong, I was still in bed at 8.15am on Saturday, fifteen minutes after I should have already been at school when she called and asked me where I was.

I have moved that quickly very rarely in my life. But now I can tell you with absolute certainty, that I can get ready within 5 minutes, and the walk to school takes a mere eight minutes. I got off the phone at 8.17 and I was clocking in at 8.32. I’d arrived with time to prepare the magic trick and make sure everything was ready to go, and even quickly run through the lesson as well, before it even started.

Once again, I had two lessons, and they went better than the last time, even though I wasn’t a princess (it was too cold).

I had one more go at this and this time, I had three special guests. One was Zoey’s daughter, Jasmine, who couldn’t sit still and started crying a little bit in the middle of the lesson so Grandma took her out, and I also had a kid with the most impressive bump and bruise on his head I have ever seen. It literally looked like there was a golf ball stuck under the skin on his forehead and it was an impressive mottling of purple blue and black. What’s more, the kid didn’t even seem bothered by it, although I took efforts when I was gently bopping their heads as part of the headbutting to say hello part of my lesson, to bop him on the top of his head and not the forehead. And the last one was what I can only assume was an albino child, but I cannot be sure. He had blond hair, but his eyes were still brown. Admittedly, they were lighter than a standard very dark brown pair of eyes that are typical for Chinese people, but I was under the impression that albinism was an entire lack of pigmentation, so I’m not certain.

There were also a pair of parents, who may have been basketballers, or should have been. They were well matched too. The mother was at least a foot taller than me, and her husband topped her by a couple of inches. If you think that normal sized people sitting on child sized chairs is funny, this was even more humourous. Their knees were by their ears. It was a very exciting third open day.

Just before this, we were told that we only needed to attract a few more children and if we were able to, we wouldn’t have to have another open day. As it happened, we didn’t need another open day, so I guess we succeeded. I doubt it was me, although there are fewer actual foreign teachers in China at the moment, due to, ah, the, er, current pandemical circumstances. In the UK. China is fine and safe and very rigorous about making sure that it stays that way. So, they’re not letting UKish folks in anymore. Apparently, there was a 2-month window, and I squeaked in. If I’d try to come 2 weeks later, I wouldn’t have been able to. Yay me.

The entire time this was happening, there was some concern about whether or not I would get paid for it. I wanted to be paid for it. This was my precious weekend I was giving up. It finally turned out that I wouldn’t be paid, but I took take the time off in lieu later, which was fine. I ended up banking a whole day and a half, and combining that with the half day I worked on Christmas Day, I banked 2 days off. But that’s for my next post, where I depress you with the amount of socialisation I did with strangers over the holiday period.