Part 2: Holidays, Field Trips, and More about my school
Why is that when I was in school it was a struggle trying to stretch an essay into 1000 words, but now that I’m writing for fun I have to split up articles because they’re too long? I had originally written one really long blog about Kindergartens, but once I passed 6 pages I knew no one wanted to read that much in one sitting!
Part one focused on the day-to-day routine of kindergartens in China. If you missed it, you can find it HERE. Part two is about unique experiences I’ve had at the school I work at. I’m sure other teachers in China have similar stories, but within private kindergartens there is a lot a variation in how they operate.
For schools with an English program, it’s not unusual to celebrate Western holidays. At my school the days leading up to the holiday will have crafts and songs, then we have a celebration on the day of. So far I have celebrated Halloween, American Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Thanksgiving basically consisted of making turkey crafts and unfortunately did not involve any turkey-eating or mashed potatoes, but the other holidays were lots of fun.
I was strongly encouraged to dress up for Halloween at the school, but since I had only been teaching here for about a week I didn’t have anything prepared. I made a last-minute costume and did skeleton make-up.
The build-up made it sound like everyone went all-out, but that was not the case. None of the Chinese teachers had costumes, and the other foreign English teacher just had a mask and a cape. I was the only person with make-up on, and had the only costume that wasn’t store-bought. The kids were really impressed with my costume though, so it was still worth the extra effort.
The kids all had costumes, but a lot of them consisted of a cape and a witch hat. Some students had a mix of costume items that didn’t go together at all – like a Spiderman outfit and a pumpkin mask. It was very entertaining. My favourite costume was a girl dressed up in a Christmas dress with antlers. Every year I was to be an Elf for Halloween, but as I usually don’t make plans I haven’t needed to put together a costume in a while.
The kids went trick-or-treating around the school, but instead of just receiving candy they had to exchange. Each kid brought a bag of candy from home, which they would trade with each other to get more of a variety. We spent the whole morning taking pictures, trick-or-treating, and playing games.
Christmas was a much bigger deal at the school. Weeks of Christmas music leading up to the day (and even for a few weeks afterwards). The kids dressed up more on Christmas than they did on Halloween. If I had known what to expect, I would have put a lot more effort into dressing up. Everyone was in red and had a Santa hat.
The kids did a gift exchange within their classes. They all brought one present and traded it for another in class. Once everyone had swapped, they put their presents in their backpacks to open when they got home. From what I understand, this is the usual practice for opening gifts in China.
I accidentally got included in a gift exchange with one class, despite not bringing a gift to swap. The teacher gave me a handful of candy, and one kids swapped my candy for his gift, which I then traded for another present. I had no idea what the present was, because I didn’t open it until later that day. I feel bad for the kid that only got candy, but I ended up with a pretty sweet yoyo.
One girl brought me an apple as a present. I think that officially makes me a teacher.
I had the honour of dressing up as Santa during the morning activities. The other foreign teacher didn’t fit in the costume, so I was volunteered for the role. Lucky me. There was a giant Santa head I had to wear, which had tiny eye holes that didn’t like up properly with my eyes. I couldn’t see where I was going, and the boots were so big that I had to kick my feet out to the sides when I walked. I definitely knocked a few kids over who were only trying to hug me. The worst part was that they all saw me putting on the costume, so instead of yelling “Santa” they were all shouting “Erin!”.
After the hour of pictures, we heading to the music room for the sing-a-long. All the classes had learned the same two songs: Jingle Bells and We Wish You a Merry Christmas. First we sang the songs all together, then each class took turns performing the same two songs. All 10 classes. I usually have a very high tolerance for Christmas songs, but it was tested that day, that’s for sure!
With the company I work for, teachers generally teach at a few different schools each week, spending one day or a half day at each school and travelling around. I, on the other hand, am at the same school all day everyday. One of the perks is that I get to go on field trips with the students.
So far, I’ve gone to a small city museum about the development of Hainan province, which was exclusively in Mandarin but had pretty pictures. The other trip I went on was to the local fire station. This was an experience I would never have had if I weren’t a teacher here. Regular fire station visits are mandatory for students in China.
In some ways it was the same as what I’d expect from a fire station visit in Canada; they showed us the trucks, and timed how long it takes to put on their fire gear. In other ways it was very different. For example, they did a demonstration using a fire extinguisher by lighting some kind of very pungent and probably toxic chemical on fire in a barrel. A bunch of the teachers, including myself, got to use the extinguisher to put it out.
Apparently, some years they even hook the fire hoses up and shoot water down the street to show how far it goes. They don’t concern themselves with what’s on the street at that time or who happens to be walking by, they just fire away!
Based on what you just read, I’m sure you can guess how high of a priority safety is. Though if you asked any of the teachers I think they’d say it’s one of the top priorities. I think they just have different ideas of what is safe. The school is completely fenced off and has 24/7 security, which is common in China. I’m not entirely sure if this is for the children’s safety, or to protect the property. The school is located on a quiet side street, and China is generally very safe.
In Canada I feel like we’re a little overprotective with our kids, but here there are times where I don’t think they’re cautious enough. For the most part during outdoor exercises, kids are allowed to run around and do what they want. They can do anything from climbing a pile of tires to swinging on a rope ladder. I can’t even count the number of times I say “be careful” in a day. A few of the kids have even started repeating it, though I don’t think they know what it means.
There are two rope ladders on a large tree in the play area, and the kids like to pull the ladder over to a raised fence, where they can step into the ladder and use it to swing towards the tree. All the kids do it, and the teachers don’t seem concerned. The whole time I just picture the kids slipping and cracking their head open on the short wall that the fence is on.
My school has chickens. The numbers fluctuate, but I’d say there are usually 20-30 at a time. One day, within my first month here, I was walking by the chicken coup and there was a car parked close by. As I walked toward the back of the car the trunk popped open, so naturally I glanced inside. I will never forget this picture. The trunk was full of chickens. Some of them were in large bags, and a few were casually walking around the trunk.
When one of them escaped from the coup and walked up and down the fence line, I couldn’t help taking out my camera to get some pictures. The other teachers were all laughing at me; I guess it’s not an unusual sight for them. I, on the other hand, am not accustomed to being around chickens, and I found it quite entertaining.
More About the Kids
It’s funny how some of the kids that were irritating at first are now some of my favourite students. The ones who would throw foam blocks at me, or go out of the way to act out, for the most part, just wanted more attention. One of these such kids, Jason, is now one of the best students in his class. He participates in class all the time and his English has improved a lot in the few months I’ve been here. Everyday at lunch time he asks me where I’ll be sitting so that he can sit beside me, which is quite adorable.
The kids are generally well behaved, to the extent that you’d expect from 3-5 year-olds, anyway. There are a few ‘bad seeds’, though. It seems to be the kids that the teachers are afraid to discipline because they know the parents will complain.
Parents are a little strange with their young kids in China. Parents and grandparents tend to dote on the kids, and spoil them often. A lot of the time they let them do whatever the want, without any discipline. I went to a restaurant with a woman and her son and he was climbing all over the tables around us and hitting balloons around everywhere, and not once did she tell him to stop. If I had tried that when I was a kid we would have left the restaurant.
Another time at the movies there were kids climbing over the rows of seats during the movie and the parents said nothing. Now imagine trying to teach these kids and you can appreciate the amount of patience these teachers have! Thankfully, I always have a Chinese teacher helping out while I’m teaching English classes.
Once kids leave kindergarten, their lives get more stressful. School is taken very seriously in China, and there’s a lot of pressure on the kids. You don’t see too many older kids or teenagers around town because school is their life. After school they have extracurricular activities, then hours of homework. If they don’t finish their homework by the next day, then they have to do double the amount the next night.
I’ve heard from a few parents that schools here mold the kids into the ‘ideal student’, with little room for individuality. I think the same can be said for schools all over the world, though. It makes me sad knowing that after this year I won’t see these kids again. I’d really like to know how they grow up. Their personalities shine through right now, and I’d hate to see that taken away through strict schooling.