(9/16) Teacher Becca 老師 I love you

As of today, I have completed two full weeks of teaching at Fu Shi School. Every week I teach 13 classes: eight English classes and five music classes. In addition to this, every Wednesday all of the ETAs in Hualien travel to remote schools outside of the city in groups of three or four and set up English camp. This 2-4 hour program takes place in the afternoon during the weekly teachers’ meeting at every elementary school in Hualien. Students at these remote Fulbright-affiliated schools have the option to return home at the early release time or stay for our English program. We rotate between different schools every Wednesday so I see students at Feng Bin school and Zhe Xue school biweekly.

One of the biggest challenges I’ve encountered since starting to teach at Fu Shi and at my English camp schools is finding ways to connect with my students both inside and outside the classroom. This can be attributed in part to the language barrier between myself and my students, but also because I am clearly an outsider in their community and I think they feel intimidated approaching me. They are especially hesitant to speak to me in English because I am a native speaker. However, I can tell the students are very excited to have me as a teacher at their school by the way they peek through the windows of the teachers room or follow me down the hallway at a distance of at least 10 feet and wave. Within the first five minutes of being at Fu Shi school I lost count of the number of times I would hear a loud “helloooo!” from down the hall. The majority of the time when I replied with a quick hi or hello, the students that were speaking to me would immediately shriek and sprint away. Sometimes in class when I ask them a question in English they will climb underneath the desk so they don’t have to answer me. They call me “Teacher Becca 老師” (lao shi) because in Chinese sentence structure states a person’s name first and then 老師 (teacher) after. It’s quite funny to be called a double teacher but I try not to laugh and gently correct them when I get the chance.

I’ve decided that the best way to try to overcome the communication and relationship barrier is to work to befriend my students outside the classroom. Starting this past week, I have been eating lunch with a different grade every day to try to learn more about my students. The first day was somewhat of a disaster. I started eating with the 6th grade class. When I first came in, they all immediately started laughing. I looked around thinking I must have been missing some funny joke but quickly realized the source of the laughter was me. I asked them what was so funny and after about five minutes of whispers, one girl informed me that the bowl I had purchased to bring to school everyday for lunch was actually a cup and it was very strange to be eating rice and chicken out of a cup. For the rest of lunch they couldn’t stop giggling about my cup/bowl. The next day, I ate lunch with the 5th grade class. This went a little bit more smoothly because the teacher helped facilitate and played Adele for the duration of lunch so we mostly talked about music. But they also found my cup/bowl quite amusing.

I had the most fun with my 3rd grade class. The homeroom teacher left when I came in and the students immediately crowded around the teacher’s desk. They were asking me questions rapid fire in Chinese and although I understood only about one question out of every ten, they were quite patient with me. After we discussed my strange cup/bowl, we moved onto different questions like “Why are you so tall?” “Why is your hair blonde?” “What happened to your eyebrows?” “Why aren’t you eating a hamburger like other Americans?” “Do all people in America have blue eyes?” A person favorite of mine was, “How do you get back to America at the end of the school day?” Although I hardly had time to eat a bite of food and they laughed every time I mispronounced something, I could tell they were starting to open up to me. They taught me a dance to the Drake song “In My Feelings” which is very popular in Taiwan.

The next day I ate lunch again with the third graders because they begged me to come to their class. In both music class and and English class, my co-teacher Demi and I had taught them a chant where they would clap and say on the beat, “My name is               what’s your name?” I had helped them choose English names so they always asked me to help them pronounce their name. Besides “Teacher Becca, Teacher Demi, hello, good morning, and goodbye,” this was pretty much the only thing they knew how to say in English after only a few days of English class. At lunch, they wanted to sing the chant over and over again. To my surprise, one girl who had been too shy to speak a word of English before opened up and started to sing the chant! My plan to connect with my students seemed to be working. After the chant the third graders showed me the dance they had learned to “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” After eating, all the third graders went outside to brush their teeth, something all students do in Taiwan. I quickly chowwed down my food and took a few seconds to breathe in the spare time. After about five minutes they came sprinting back in. They ran up to me and dragged me out from behind the teacher’s desk. Then, all eight of my third grade students surrounded me in a giant hug and shouted, “Teacher Becca 老師, I love you!”

I was very surprised that they knew how to say these words in English. I was so touched that I started to tear up and quickly replied, “I love you too!” I found out later that while brushing their teeth, they had asked the fourth grade homeroom teacher how to say I love you in English. I would have understood these words in Chinese and my students knew this. By telling me in English, my students were showing me that they were not only excited to learn English but also that they wanted to connect with me using my native language, that is share their feelings with me in a way that proved I was more than just a strange and interesting foreigner in their classroom. As time goes on, I look forward to building more personal relationships with my students and learning to love each and every one of them for their own unique personalities.

 

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