For the past 7 weeks I’ve been preparing as much as possible for these upcoming months teaching in China. It’s a strange feeling to say the least, but I think I may be able to share what preparing to teach in a new environment feels like by comparing it to something else I love doing, cooking.
Imagine you were told you had 7 weeks to come up with a plan to cook daily meals for 66 people that you have never met. You know their previous cooks, but their cooking style and even ingredients are different to yours and well, the idea is not to repeat exactly what was done before. You’ve cooked many different kinds of meals before, but you’ve never had to leave your kitchen and cook in someone else’s space, without all your trusted regular ingredients at hand, and to such a large group!
But back to these unknown (lovely) people you are about to cook for --or actually, with-- for 4 months. You wonder, “What do they eat? How many will have special dietary needs? How many meals can they share so I don’t have to cook so many different dishes in one day? How much should I involve them in the kitchen? Will they like what I come up with?”
If you like planning meals and cooking, then you are probably following my analogy. I like thinking of teaching English as being similar to cooking. Food, like language, is not only an enjoyable aspect of our lives; it’s essential to living!
Everyone has their own preferences (both cooking and eating), but even then, most of us tend to mix a lot of different flavors and types of dishes together. To me, teaching efficiently requires being able to incorporate enough of what your students enjoy doing (learning styles, topics, activities, tasks), as well as taking the lead and bringing new plans they may feel apprehensive about but come to love, or at least appreciate later ---like trying a new type of food or dish we wouldn’t have tried if someone hadn’t motivated us to do.
My biggest worry right now (and for the past 7 weeks) has been having enough materials out in China. I am not talking about textbooks necessarily, but certainly not having a main textbook to follow has made me more aware of all the resources I generally use to supplement, like texts for listening and speaking and ideas for communicative and collaborative practice of vocabulary and grammar. The challenge here has not been so much pulling materials together but rather wondering, “how will I do this with a large mixed-level group? How do I (or should I) incorporate Project-Based learning (PBL) without knowing how the students will interpret my ‘inviting them into the kitchen to cook their own meals’? If PBL is all about learning by doing, then certainly I need to do a good job at guiding these students, helping them discover a passion for learning, and organizing our shared learning space (guidelines, feedback, etc.).
I’m excited about living temporarily in another part of the world and learning about the preferences and views of many young people who will probably move to this side of the world in the near future. I have two more full days to prepare before I finally get on that plane to China and take my tools and ideas to a place that many people have described to me, but I have yet to experience on my own. I wonder about how the mix of my style and theirs will make this learning experience look like for all of us involved. All I know for now is that I am taking my best tools and heading with all the desire to be flexible, to adapt, to listen, and to ultimately learn as much as I intend to teach.