What a Year at Beijing Normal University Taught Me
Near the end of my senior year at Oberlin College in America, I was selected to participate in the Oberlin Shansi Fellowship at Beijing Normal University. The main goals of the fellowship were to increase my Chinese language proficiency and to teach English to master’s students in the department of Chinese Language and Culture. Reflecting upon the experiences that I had this past year has illuminated many things that I would like to improve upon as a teacher next year and has reminded me of some of the key moments that inspired me to continue teaching.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Andrew B. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
Start of My Career
When I first came to Beijing, I was very much unaware of what my teaching responsibilities would look like just as the semester was about to begin. Even though I had gone through a two-week TESOL training course provided by the Shansi Fellowship, I still had an overwhelming sense of unpreparedness and was not sure how I would handle classes of up to forty students at a time. Despite my intense feelings of intimidation, I knew that I would have to try my best on the first day of class to set the tone of my classroom environment and clarify my expectations as a teacher. I was overall very satisfied with the results of my first class, however; the completed needs assessment revealed that my large classes all had quite the disparity in the language levels of my students.
Change of Approach
How I would come to address this large gap in language ability is probably where I would like to change some of my tactics for my next year of teaching. I still tried to pay close attention to making sure that there was a variety of exercises employed in my class that could be suitable for a range of language levels. Group and partner activities were also frequently used to encourage student participation. I even made sure that there was some variety in the conceptual difficulty of the lessons so as to satisfy the interests of all learners. The largest challenge in all of this, however, was tackling the students’ motivation level for the course. My course was mandatory for students in that department to complete. Because of this, many students did not necessarily have a strong desire to take the class very seriously. Being more prepared for future semesters, I now would have made sure to start with more simple topics and employ exercises with varying levels of difficulty for students with more advanced levels of English. This approach would probably have made it easier to simultaneously engage students from both extremes of proficiency as compared to the “staggered” approach that I initially used.
Why I Decided to Stay
Apart from the initial challenges of my position, there were still many moments with my students that encouraged me to pursue another year of employment at Beijing Normal University. The moments of spirited engagement and debate that occurred in one of my critical thinking classes left me with an overwhelming sense of achievement and satisfaction. Also having the opportunity to be introduced to such a vibrant international campus was helpful as it allowed me to learn about the broad spectrum of needs that learners of English possess. I am very much looking forward to the next year to further improve my English pedagogy and put into practice everything that I have learned from the last year and through this course.
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