Day 1 Teaching Surprises (2009)

“You must go to class, now!” Richard said to me in a rush.

I was then grabbed and rushed down the outdoor hallway.  It was my first day of teaching, and my first class was supposed to begin in 15-20 minutes.

“But, my first class isn’t until next period.”

“No, you must go now!”

“Did they change my schedule?”

“I don’t know.  Maybe.”

“Well, at this point, I can’t teach a full lesson, Richard!”

“Just go in!”

I burst through a door and look into the eyes of sixty 15-16 year olds staring at me in awe.  I didn’t have any time to process what was happening, I was too distraught and disheveled to take in what they must be thinking.  A different man came in and helped me post up my useless sheets of papers that I had scribbled rules and consequences onto.  I would never use those sheets again.

I was fifteen minutes into class when the bell rang.  What now?  I was supposed to go to my “real” first class.  But…wait, what?  I had only gotten through a third of my lesson.  Next thing I knew, the class from next door came rushing through both doors, holding their chairs over their heads.

All I could think to do was laugh.  The kids who had been sitting there in the correct classroom stared at me in awe as I began laughing like a madman.  Meanwhile, the new kids were situating themselves in every crevice around the already cramped rooms.  60 kids in one of those rooms is inconvenient.  120 is just plain wrong.  Take a look for yourself:

First class I ever taught at Cili Yi Zhong

So how to go about the lesson now?  Where should I pick up?  The new kids had no notebooks or anything.  The old kids had already made their name tags and were mid-lesson.

I began the lesson over.  I tried to incorporate new examples and bounced around like a fool trying to maintain attention.  Thank god it was the first day and most of them hadn’t even seen a foreigner in real life before because otherwise I’m sure I would have had no control.  There was still whispering going on here and there, of course.  How do you not talk to the person sitting on your lap for 40 minutes?

When I finished class, I walked out and sighed.  Welcome to teaching, Frank, I thought.  Only in China could this happen.  I left class and went to eat lunch.

For the next two hours, I wondered what was going to happen 5th period.  5th period was the time I was actually supposed to teach the class that I had been thrown into with only 15 minutes remaining in the period.  I asked Richard, my liaison, why that had happened.  He had no reason, nor did he care.

“Well, am I going to have to teach that class again, Richard?”

“I don’t know.”

“They’ve already sat through over an over of me today.  What should I teach if I have to teach them again?”

“I don’t know.”

“Can you find out if I need to teach them again?”

“I don’t know.”


When the time for the class came, I waited outside, anxiously awaiting their other teacher to arrive.  He/she never arrived.  I called Richard again, but you can only imagine how helpful that phone call was.  Consequently, I walked into the class and looked back at the class that had already put up with way too much of me for one day.

“Today, we are going to learn some new words about feelings.”  I decided to teach them one of my lessons that I had prepared for a smaller class two weeks earlier during my training.  If I could go back, I wouldn’t have taught them anything.  Little did I know at the time how much leeway I would have with teaching.  But, on my first day, I was determined to give both my students and the school a good impression of me.

The projector didn’t work for class, and I was stuck trying to teach a lesson solely based on pictures I had acquired with a blackboard and acting.  Thank god I had experience with acting in high school.  (Yes, I was Rumpelstiltskin )

Anyway, I got through the day, and with the exception of one day, that was the roughest.  Still, even when it happened, it was fine.  It was exhilarating in some bizarre way.  It was almost fun not knowing what was going to happen next.  What would I have to do to get through this obstacle course?  I always loved obstacle coursed in PE class when I was younger.  And this was like an obstacle course made for the adult, teaching life.

So, as my first day of teaching a new group of students in a new school in a new city, I can only imagine what surprises are in store for me.  The best thing about these surprises in China is that they are never explained.  My first day still remains a mystery to me.  Why did they say I had to teach that class?  Who knows.  And honestly, who cares.  That class became one of my favorites.  Until the final day, they would greet me as if it were still day 1 – with smiles and “HELLO FRANK!”s that made my ears bleed.

2 thoughts on “Day 1 Teaching Surprises (2009)

  1. There are a lot of native English teachers who have similar experiences in South Korea (where I’ve been teaching for the past 5 years).

    Korean English co-teachers can be abysmal to sometimes good/sometimes useless to amazing–I don’t know if that 1/3 ratio applies to Chinese co-teachers but I imagine it probably does.

    My girlfriend and I are coming to teach in China in two weeks and I’ve been following your blog for about two months now. It’s very good.

    Good luck with your teaching.

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