It’s Friday night, and as I sit here in the silence of my apartment accompanied by the warm hum of the refrigerator and the USB plug in fan beneath my laptop, it’s time once again to brave the fearsome Beijing rush hour and join yet another soon-to-depart expat friend for a farewell dinner. Annoyingly, just as I was being a good housekeeper and washing the dishes before doing the laundry, I got a sudden inspiration to write this piece. Much like my previous mentioning of the gym and it’s wonderful ability to clear my head and come up with genius blog posts, it seems consistent house work also gets the creative juices flowing. I’m quite the catch it appears.
Anyway the point of this piece is very much related to the title (look up). Like many of my expat friends have been doing with China, I’ll be making my heartfelt farewell to the wonderful and wacky world of teaching English as a foreign language. At least that’s the plan. Who knows, after Christmas when I get back to Beijing and I’m sitting in my dressing gown at 4am having rewritten my CV for the 56th time and am hopelessly writing countless cover letters for media jobs, I may just fall back and do at least what I guess I’m employable for.
It’s been a fun three and a bit years though, and I want to draw the attention of this post solely to my teaching work in Beijing, as it was here, and at my current and soon to be ex-private training centre, that I came into my own as a teacher-entertainer extraordinaire and professional child creeper-outer. The CV is looking promising already. Anyway, throughout the last few years I’ve met some pretty awesome and interesting people who have taught and lived in much stranger places than China. It was through meeting such people that I was able to develop my skills as a teacher and learn countless ways of injecting creativity into the classroom through use of various games, activities and teaching methods, without which I would have been pretty hopeless at the job. As a TEFL teacher, there’s always a good joke to be had about something funny a student might have said or how terrible the execution of a certain speaking activity was in front of a group of hopeful and highly expectant parents. I sometimes wish that I had kept a log of some of the things the kids came out with at times, and this wasn’t just through pronunciation mistakes or bad grammar, many had wonderfully creative minds and knew exactly how to play around with the limited English they had, and this for me is what I’ll remember most from my time as a TEFL teacher.
There is a one particular child who personifies all this and breaks down all the boundaries and stereotypes that the rote teaching based Chinese education system often conjures. Her name, is Jenny 2. Not Jenny, as there was already a Jenny in her class before she joined up, so she dubbed herself “Jenny 2”. Jenny 2 has been a constant source of comedy and creativity in this particular class ever since she joined, and she knows it. She knows she’s special, but not in a “ooo look at me I’m a princess kind of way”. Her mother calls her “crazy Jenny”, and shows signs of mild concern when I advise her to encourage what to me is, yes, eccentric, but wonderfully creative behaviour which I have never seen in an 8 year old student before. It would do her poor justice to describe her personality, so I have decided simply to write a list of some of the things she has said or done over the past, and let you get some idea of her character.
- Upon entering the school, I greet her with a “Hi Jenny how are you”, she replies by walking up to ear and shouting “TENNIS RACKET!! In an enthused manner.
- Upon teaching adverbs of frequency, she asks quips: “How often do you drink volcanoes?”
- “I ate my grandfather’s legs and eyes” Upon being asked what she did the previous day.
- “High Jenny!” I greet her upon entering the classroom, which she responds by getting down on her knees and praying Muslim style for a good few minutes (this admittedly was a little strange and awkward though deserves a mention as to get a picture of her character).
- Draws a picture of a what appears to be a bridge with a person underneath it. “Who’s that Jenny?” I ask, she replies “your aunt”, and then looks in the teacher’s eyes with a devilish smile shouting “BOOM!!!” as she screws up the paper and throws it away. (This was from a friend who taught her one to one)
There were more and like I say I only wish that I’d written them down. Anyway, as a teacher laughing at and encouraging such behaviour could be viewed as supportive or immature, depending on your perspective. It was, however the “Spirit of Jenny 2” shall we say and other instances of similar obscure expression of English creativity in other similar students (and there were many) that kept me going at the end and made the job a whole lot more fun. That and the student pizza bar conveniently placed down the road from my school that we frequented until the early hours of each Sunday night.