A Day in the Life of a 外教 – Wàijiào (Foreign Teacher)

Do you remember my “Day in the life” post from back when I was living in Espain?

Thought I’d do another one, but in China! Funny to compare the two!

7:55 I wake to the sound of Chinese music and a strange counting routine going on outside my dorm. The combination “Yi Ar San Si Wu Liu Chi Ba Ar Ar San Si Wu Liu Chi Ba” (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 ,7, 8, 2, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) will maybe forever be burned into my Chinese memory. No, I’m not at military school, but a public Elementary/Middle school in Southern China. If I were to walk outside onto the dorm’s balcony I’d see my kids below doing their weird morning exercises.

Guess what! I did just that and here's the pic to prove it!
Guess what! I did just that and here’s the pic to prove it!

8:00 My alarm actually goes off now. I never really have to worry about oversleeping thanks to morning exercises that happen daily just before I need to wake up anyway.

8:00 – 8:45 I have a leisurely breakfast feast on overpriced western food I order off an English website that delivers to my school gates. I could just roll out of bed and walk the 20 steps to class in the morning, but this little morning ritual helps me prepare for my big day of 2 hours of teaching. (don’t be so quick to hate me. You’ll feel sorry for me soon enough)

8:55 – 9:35 I arrive to my first class of 50 (yes FIFTY) students. It’s third grade and I’m not required by contract to have a helper in the class. When I walk in they’re screaming and cheering “Waijiao!!!” (foreign teacher) as if I haven’t taught them for 6 months already. I put on my microphone (yes, I have a portable waist pack one), we start the class by signing part of the Beatles “Hello, Goodbye” together and then we go into a game of hot potato with their beloved classroom pet, Teddy, a small, filthy stuffed bear I have on a key chain. When the song ends the student who is holding Teddy must answer a question or do a dare from a small cardboard box full of scraps of papers with questions or dares written on them. This unlucky boy pulls out a dare. “Dance like Michael Jackson!” I do a little moonwalk as an example. At this point every single boy in the classroom is standing to do a moonwalk and I have to yell at them all to sit down. Of course this boy refuses because when it’s their turn they freeze and when it’s not they want all the attention on them. Once we’ve finished hot potato it’s time for the actual lesson. I have a cool powerpoint prepared, but since they’re so young and only speak so much English it’s hard to hold their attention. I scream the classroom call to attention maybe 7 times today. That’s under 10! My idea of a successful day! At the end of class a group runs up to me and screams “Cacha Cacha!!” Trasnlation: “Teacher, may we take a picture with you.” I pull out my iphone and we take a series of ridiculous selfies until I can’t take them pushing up against me or touching my face any longer and so I put my phone in my bag and run away screaming “Bye bye! Bye bye!”

he's actually Teacher's Pet
he’s actually Teacher’s Pet

9:45 – 10:25 Sixth grade! My favorite class! These kids just get it. They want to hang out and chat with me (the cool teacher :P) We have this nerdy little inside joke where they add an S to my name and drag it out like “Good Morning Miss Brittssssssss” Much to their delight I fake shock and rage when I hear them add the S and in retaliation say “Good Morning Studentssssss” For the older classes I write QUIET on the board and whenever they’re getting too noisy I erase a letter, each being worth 1 point. When they reach 25 points they get a “party”. Today is their “party” which means I throw on an episode of Mr. Bean. The kids love him and there’s barely any speaking, so everyone can understand the episode. Knowing that I’ll probably have to show this episode 4 more times to other classes I don’t watch it beforehand. Big frickin’ mistake! I thought Mr. Bean was always a safe pick with it’s dumb slapstick humor, but not this episode! Mr. Bean locks himself out of his hotel room completely naked. I’m sitting at the back of the room literally sweating bullets hoping it doesn’t show his pubes or something. Thank god it only shows a little ass crack which the kids produce an overly exaggerated reaction for anyway. Just as the episode ends the bell rings and I smile knowing I already have a powerpoint game I got off a Korean ESL teacher website based on this particular Mr. Bean episode. In fact, all my lessons are from this website. Sunday nights at 9:00 PM I spend a half hour looking over the forums and finding ready prepared ppts that’ll work like gold in my classes. Again, don’t hate me. Prep time is breezy, but actually in class teaching is not for the faint of heart.

10:35 – 11:15 I make my way down the stairs and head to the row of 2nd grade classrooms. Within seconds I’m already bombarded by a child mob wanting high fives, hugs and challenging me to rock, paper, scissors wars. I say, “Good Morning!” and they say, “Good Morning!” I say, “How are you?” and they say, “I’m fine thank you.” I say literally ANYTHING ELSE and they look at me completely dumbfounded, say something in Chinese and then run away. If I could name anything so completely unique to teaching in China as opposed to teaching in Spain it’s hands down not having a clue what’s going on around me. They’re probably saying something stupid like “Are you from England?” but still it’s such a surreal (confusing, funny, sad) experience to not understand anything they say. Just before class begins I get a drawing, a keychain, a mini eraser and a small plastic diamond as a gift. One girl even gives me a hard boiled egg with stickers on it thanks to my Easter lesson from the week before. The classroom monitor (bangzhang) gets his stick and starts banging on my metal desk screaming in Chinese. It’s a scary sight to see this 7 year old walking around like a military dictator giving the naughty kids a swat on the head, but I must say his methods are quite effective. Just when my little sergeant gets the class in order for me my required by contract Chinese classroom helper arrives. The kids both fear her and respect her mainly because she’ll hit you if you’re bad or give you a sticker when you’re good. This class is a breeze because she handles all classroom discipline for me, of course doing it in Chinese (something they obviously respond to better than some white girl shouting in English they can’t understand). Today I teach the kids a summer camp song that they absolutely shit their pants about. As much as I love being able to converse with my students I have to admit to loving how easily entertained these munchkins are. The bell rings and they start these strange eye exercises where they basically take a break from studying to rub their eyes in sync with that flippin’ counting song that plays over the loudspeakers. Time for Miss Britt to say “Bye bye!” Yup. My work day sometimes ends before noon. Hey! I CHOSE this program based on how few of hours I work per week (10). I did a lot of research before moving to Asia and this was one of the highest paid gigs for the least amount of working hours.

Watch the Grade 3 kids do it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=usL66tU7EbM

my Easter egg present

12:00 All the kids go back home for their 2.5 hour ridiculously long lunch break. The teachers all eat in the cafeteria. I, being a new vegetarian (woohoo!) and just mostly grossed out by Chinese food in general at this point in my stay here, have opted out of this lunch and must now make my great escape from campus. By missing this lunch I don’t have to awkwardly hob knob with my Chinese coworkers (frenemies?*) who will undoubtedly comment on my weight, how tired I look or my startling ability to successfully use chopsticks. Even though I don’t have any more classes to teach it’s not seen very well that I leave campus before school is out since all the other teachers must stay ‘til about 5:00 PM. #foreignprivilege I make my way down the path and a pack of wild students blow my cover shouting “Miss Gritt!!!!! Miss Gritt!!!” I power walk away, wave bye and unsuccessfully sneak out to grab lunch in town. *Sidenote: I call my coworkers my frenemies because they are so brutally honest with me, once telling me to my face (and in front of my mom!) that she was prettier than me, a healthier weight and had nicer, lighter eyes. In China it’s common to critique one’s friends seeing it as a chance to help them better themselves. So if I remember that tidbit and recall all the times they’ve helped me with navigating my life in China (one even held my hand while my kidney stones were being blown to smithereens with a shockwave) I have to admit that they’ve been amazing friends to me and I’ll miss them when I’m gone.

coworker friends :)
coworker friends 🙂

12:30 – 14:30 After 15 minutes on the bus (I live in one of the inner districts, but sadly not near any subway station) I arrive at one of my favorite Western restaurants. Yep, I’m that foreigner abroad… but in CHINA. Tapas in Spain? Hell yes! Coxinhas in Brasil! Sim, por favor! Grease soaked vegetables and meat chopped up with all the bones still inside in China? No, thanks! This luxury is a HUGE expense and budget ruiner being that Western food is obviously the most expensive here in WhiteRiceLand, but it’s SO worth it for my sanity. I chow down on a lentil salad and spinach wrap with hummus and red pepper along with an iced coffee. I at least ordered the food in Mandarin, so I get kickass foreigner living in China points for that, right?

15:30 I arrive at the building where I give private tutoring lessons. This is where I make the dough that I can rationalize eating Western food and going on weekend romps to Hong Kong. Just to show how valued and sought after learning English in China is: an hour of private English tutoring in Spain, Chile and Brazil costs the individual student just about $20 USD. In China that hour costs them $43 USD or $64.50 USD for 1.5 hours (all my classes are 90 minutes). With a group of 6 I’m paid $86 USD per hour or $129 for 1.5 hours. Are you starting to understand why I moved here? BUT like I said before, if you’re like me and want to enjoy your time in China and maintain your sanity, you’ll spend a huge chunk of these under the table earnings on eating out, traveling and going out to expat bars or Hong Kong. A very strict and adapted expat could potentially save 10K (maybe more?) in 10 months. Although I am keeping a savings, sadly I haven’t had THAT much discipline and will undoubtedly have to earn my accommodation and meals working at hostels or wherever I can while on my RTW trip I’m planning post China. I blame Hong Kong, Zara and Wagas in that order.

18:00 – 20:00 Done with private tutoring I make my way to my fancy Western gym. Are you seeing a pattern? I meet my friend Jill who has also joined the gym and we sit on our yoga mats and swap classroom stories/disasters. Yes, a kid really did shit on the floor in my class. Yes, the bell had just rung so I did run away pretending I hadn’t seen a thing leaving it for another teacher to take care of. Our convo ends short as our girl crush instructor, Melody, strolls in. *sigh* Melody. She’s pretty much the only Chinese girl I actually think is cool. My coworkers are sweet, but Melody is just a chill girl. She doesn’t fan girl on us white girls like so many Chinese girls do. She’s tough but serene and even though she teaches her class 95% in Chinese I still love it and have learned so much from her. She’s the one who threw my legs against the wall and made me do my first ever headstand. Recently I did one off the wall in her class and I held it for as long as I could until I could hear her “Awesome” of approval just wanting to please her. #wannabeteacherspet

20:30 After some relax time in the sauna and a quick shower, I head to the subway station instead of the bus stop which would take me home. Tonight’s trivia night at one of the expat bars downtown. I arrive and meet up with a group of 5 or so teacher friends. We order wine or beer, chat about teaching or upcoming travel plans and sometimes eat an overpriced cheeseburger and fries or in my case a blue cheese and pear salad. These little “weekday nights out” are another sanity keeper for me. Living at my school and only interacting with my Chinese coworkers and students can get lonely. Being able to hangout with a group of friends from your home (or at least that can speak your language really well) is so important to living abroad and something I’m sure everyone takes completely for granted until you do actually move to a foreign country.

22:30 Uh oh! Trivia night isn’t over, but if I want to catch my bus and not pay the $12 cab fare I better get moving. I say a quick goodbye and go running for the subway station that’ll take me back to where my gym is and the start of my bus route. I get there huffing and puffing at 10:55 (5 minutes before the last bus leaves) find a seat and bury myself in my kindle during the entire 45 minute ride home.

23:15 Home sweet on campus dorm! I trudge up to my school’s gate and get waved in by the security guards who must think I’m mentally challenged being that I’ve locked myself out of my dorm over 10 times by now. I flop onto my couch and switch on my VPN in order to access facebook, google, gmail and let’s be real…most importantly – netflix. It’s really that simple, ya’ll. So many people ask me what it’s like to live in a communist country with such harsh censorship. Sure, my coworkers won’t know about some major events happening just over in Hong Kong and there are certain things I should DEFINITELY not discuss (e.g. Tiananmen), but if you get a VPN you really won’t live such an exceptionally different life as many would think.

0:00 Although tomorrow’s classes start at 9:45 I decide to call it a night and slip into bed knowing that around 8:00 AM tomorrow the whole day will start over again with “ONE TWO THREE FOUR FIVE SIX SEVEN EIGHT TWO TWO THREE FOUR FIVE SIX SEVEN EIGHT THREE TWO THREE FOUR FIVE SIX SEVEN EIGHT” (but in Chinese)


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