“Oof” Isn’t A Strong Enough Word

, , , , , | Learning | March 18, 2021

I am an American teaching English in China and my current class is a small group of preteens. One of my students is an eleven-year-old boy who is legally blind. He sits at the front of the class, I reverse the colors of the digital whiteboard to white writing on a black background, and he can more or less make it out.

I’m playing a game where I quickly ask the class questions on something we just read and call on students to answer them. When they answer correctly, I toss them a piece of candy.

Me: “What was Moe’s secret ingredient? [Blind Student].”

Blind Student: “Salt!”

Me: “Very good!”

I toss him a wrapped candy and he makes no attempt to catch it. It bounces off his face and lands on the floor. He fumbles around for a few seconds until he finds it while I stand there frozen, contemplating what I have just done.

Me: “Perhaps I should not throw things at blind children.”

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This Material’s Not Too Hard To Grasp

, , , | Learning | March 8, 2021

I am an American teaching English in China. During this hour, I am teaching a class of students in one of the upper levels for the seven- to ten-year-olds. At this level, they can have some intermediate-level conversations but nothing too in-depth. This unit, they are learning about different materials and describing them — i.e. “It’s made of metal,” and, “It isn’t sparkly enough.”

I’m going over the material vocabulary by showing them some items. I hold up one of my boots.

Me: “It’s made of leather.”

Class: “It’s made of leather.”

I hold up a coin.

Me: “It’s made of metal.”

Class: “It’s made of metal.”

Since they seem to have a good grasp of the grammar point and the assigned vocabulary, I decide to throw in an extra term for them.

I pick up one student’s backpack.

Me: “It’s made of nylon.”

Student: “What’s nylon?”

Unfortunately, a lot of students in China are afraid to express confusion and will often pretend they understand something when they don’t. I decide on a whim to test if that is happening here, so in my best EFL teacher voice, I say…

Me: “It’s a synthetic petroleum-based polymer.”

The student gives me a forced smile and nods.

Student: “Oh.”

I chuckle and take pity on her for that and I break my no-Chinese rule to tell her what nylon means.

Me: “Nílóng.”

The student’s eyes light up with understanding.

Student: “Oh, nílóng! Nylon!”

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But Did You Win?

, , , , | Friendly | May 14, 2020

I’m an American working as an English teacher in China. I’m a somewhat small man of only 5’5″ and 155 pounds… Wow, that’s a lot of fives. Anyway, I am a tiny, tiny man and one of my coworkers is a very large Romanian man who is a big fitness buff. He is strong enough to lift me up with one arm without any difficulty.

I decide to joke around with him in the office one day. I put my left elbow down on the desk.

Me: “Hey, [Coworker], let’s arm wrestle.”

He looks at my poised left arm.

Coworker: “I’m not left-handed.”

Me: “Oh, good! Then I have the advantage!”

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Getting An F-Grade

, , , , , , | Learning | January 19, 2020

I am an American working as a foreign English teacher. Most of the two-hour classes for the three older age groups are done by two teachers. One teacher teaches the first hour, and then there is a fifteen-minute break followed by a second hour with a different teacher. 

For one of my higher-level classes for the seven-to-ten-year-old age group, I am the first teacher; however, my co-teacher is unavailable this day. This is not uncommon, and usually, another teacher would be assigned that slot to substitute teach for that day. However, in this instance, I am the only teacher who has that hour free and is qualified to teach that level. As such, I find myself in the rare position of covering my own class. 

The students are not informed when they are having a substitute teacher, so after my hour is done, I gather my materials for the second half of today’s lesson. I walk back upstairs, open the door, and see seven surprised and confused faces wondering why I have returned when they were expecting my co-teacher. One of my ten-year-old students decides to vocalize his surprise with a western colloquialism he has picked up.

“What the f***?!”

Well… at least he used it correctly.

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Something Fishy About That Name

, , , | Learning | November 27, 2019

(I am an American teaching English in China. Sometimes there are extra one-off classes that parents can sign their children up for outside of their regular classes. I am teaching one of those this morning. For regular classes, I have a roll sheet with all the students’ names. This is very helpful when I cover a class for another teacher. Unfortunately, the one-off classes do not come with roll sheets, so I have to ask the students for their names, which I write on the board. This one-off class has a range of kids from different classes in the lower to middle levels for the seven- to ten-year-old classes. One of the students has recently started the first-level class for that age group, so he only knows some of the basics and his pronunciation is not always very clear.)

Me: “What’s your name?”

Student: “Salmon.”

Me: “Salmon? Your name is Salmon?”

Student: “Yes.”

(A lot of parents pick strange names for their kids. I’ve met Run-Baby, Dinosaur, Lemon, the list goes on. So, I write Salmon on the board and continue on. During the class, I ask the students about his name.)

Me: “You know salmon is a kind of fish?”

Student: *doesn’t seem to understand me*

Me: *brings up a picture of some salmon on my phone* “It’s a salmon.”

Student: *looks surprised* “No fish! No fish!”

(I chuckle and move on with class, but for the remaining of the hour, when I call on him, before he answers, he always first says, “No fish!”)

Me: “I know. You are not a fish, but your name is a fish.”

Student: “No fish!”

(The class ends and I gather my materials for my next class, which is a first-level class for the same age group which I am covering for another teacher, so this time I have a roll sheet. I walk into class, and to my surprise, who do I see there? Salmon! I realize something is not right, because I would have remembered seeing a name like Salmon on a roll sheet of ten students. I look down at my roll sheet and see a single S name: Simon.)

Me: “Oh! Your name is Simon!

Student: “Yes!”

Me: “Not Salmon.”

Student: “No!”

Me: *face descending into my open hand* “That’s why you kept saying, ‘No fish.'”

Student: “No fish!”

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