Thursday, March 13, 2008

Getting a Job: the lesson

The idea was for me to teach the kids a few animal words. The cousin, Tina, had brought horse, monkey, and panda cut-outs and a panda puppet. Then she told me that games would be good for keeping the kids' attention. What confused me was that the games didn't have to do with the animal words. The games were songs with actions and vocabulary, like "Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes." I tried to think of some activities to interact with the audience, but it was tough.

As you can tell from the word "audience," I half saw this as a performance, only I didn't have any of my juggling equipment. When the time came to do the lesson, though, that's what it looked like.

We were in the playground, because the school was shaped like a horseshoe and the playground was right in the middle. There was a row of chairs that they formed into an arc, each one with a little kid sitting in it. And then I was told that since it was so late in the day, and this was like an extra-curricular activity (or something like that) for the kids, that their parents would be there too. So now only did I have a ton of kids who I couldn't talk to and their stern, Sichuan parents in the background carefully watching to make sure the foreigner did a good job instructing little XiaoXiao. Moreover, Tina, who acted as my helper, and I were both equipped with wireless mics so everyone could hear us.

Tina started warming up the crowd by giving them familiar instructions in Chinese. I led them in a song about their nose and mouth, trying to make sure that they could understand it and not just mimic it. All the kids were really good at mimicking, so if I said something, they could repeat it back pretty well. That level of knowledge seemed to satisfy Tina, but I wanted them to actually know the words. When we started going over the animal names, a few of them already knew the words for horse, panda, and monkey, but others weren't as knowledgeable. I tried to do this game where I laid the cut-outs on the ground, closed my eyes, and as I walked around had them tell me which one I was near, but it was only mildly successful.

I kept making up games, trying to drag out three words into half an hour's-worth of instruction. I was in full performance mode at this point, so when I thought of acting out the part of the animals, and started scratching at my armpits pretending to be a monkey, it didn't even bother me that all the well-off, respectable parents were standing there with their arms crossed attentively watching me leap around the stage.

Finally the lesson was over and I said goodbye to the kids. I asked Tina how I did, and she said, "Pretty good, but next time best job," or something like that. Mrs. Xiong also said I had done okay, and tried to tell me how to improve, but I didn't understand what she was saying. I feel a little stressed out going into it again not knowing what they want out of me, but there's nothing really I can do but keep trying and observe how Tina does it. They said that the parents thought I had done a good job, though, so hopefully I'm not too much of a drain on everyone's resources.

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