Seth Barham Design
Minimal and effective design, inspired by culture.

Spartan Wanderer

Ramblings from the road, gear reviews, design trends, and whatever else happens to be on my mind.

Top 5 Moments in Class

Kids are hilarious. This is one solid truth that TEFL teachers from all stripes will most likely agree with. Having been a TA in the US, I can say this is pretty much a universal thing, but toss in some language and cultural barriers and you've got a recipe for chaos and blog posts about funny moments in class.

It's been six months since Kate and I both left normal Western life as we know it to become English teachers in Daqing, basically Nowheresville, Heilongjiang Province in China. I have to say, I'm not a career teacher. Similar to probably 75% of the other teachers here, we're exiling ourselves by choice, opting out to opt into a different culture and see what it's all about. The teaching is a means to an end. Not that we don't enjoy it. There are some moments that, as they happen, will forever stand out as an irreplaceable and unique event that we wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else for.

For the next two weeks, Kate and I will be featuring the best of the best, the funniest of the funny, the grossest of the gross. If you're on the fence about diving into this hot, confusing mess that is China, take a look. Kate's up first:

1. What colour is it?

Top of the list, without a doubt, happened whilst I was teaching the sentence 'What colour is it?' I looked expectantly at the children, waiting for someone to reply 'It's blue/red/green/pink'. Ken, my smiley and always happy student, suddenly turned pale and projectile vomited across the classroom.

The kids looked horrified. I started laughing because a light bulb went off in my head. I asked loudly 'What colour is it?' and the whole class chimed 'YELLLLLLOW.' Giggles spread like wildfire. It was a rare moment without language barriers here in China. As I turned to my right I saw Susan, the brightest girl in my class, turn sour and also proceed to throw up all over the floor. She must have got a whiff of that break-time sausage Ken ate 10 minutes earlier.

2. The curious case of appearing snacks.

At some point during my six Saturday classes, without fail, one of my hundred or so students sneaks a Chinese candy into my bag. I don't know who it is, or which lesson it happens in, but I will always find a small sweet treat in my school bag when I arrive home. Actually, once it was dried seaweed (not as bad as you think). I'm always too busy to try and catch the culprit, so the mystery remains!

3. Please don't die in my classroom.

Jason is a sniffly kid....he's always coughing up phlegm and generally looking sickly. However, his thick black rimmed glasses, Dumbo-esque ears and dribbling mouth are, in fact, very endearing. This day he was particularly snotty and, as usual, he was more interested in his pen with a small toy car on top than in my lesson. I tapped him to answer the topic sentence 'What clothes do you like to wear?'

He began to say 'I like to wear.....' and abruptly cut off mid-sentence. He was clearing his throat and I could hear the gooey snot gathering in the back of his esophagus. I'm waiting and waiting. He says nothing. 'Jason are you ok?' He's moving his mouth side-to-side trying to dislodge the sludge from his throat. I'm laughing at this point (his animated actions are pretty funny to all the other kids, too) but it's been a while since he spoke. He starts to bang his chest. 'JASON!!? ARE YOU OK?!??'

I shout to Jack, the Chinese teacher, 'He's not ok!' and I start banging him on the back. Jack says in bad English 'He's no ok?' and meanders over slowly. I keep banging. Jason coughs loudly and then swallows. He takes a deep gasping breath and splutters....'I like wearing trousers' in perfect English. The Chinese teacher asks 'Were you scared?' as if I was completely irrational. I realise then that no one in the room or the school has first aid training. Ah, China.

4. Bean Bean

Now I'm sure you're aware that how you say a word (i.e. tones) affect the meaning catastrophically in China. For example, 'mā' for mum and 'mǎ' for horse. I have a two-year-old tutor named Duo Duo. She's too young to speak Chinese let alone learn English, but that's beside the point.

My boss told me that at home the little girl had insisted her mum call her 'bean, bean.' When asked why she said 'because my teacher Kate calls me bean bean.' Apparently, I had been saying her name incorrectly and calling her "bean", or 'dòu' in Chinese. The nickname stuck and she is now cutely called 'small bean' during my lessons.

5. I'm Boring

I always open my higher-level classes with the question 'How are you?' Whoever gives the best answer gets a sticker. A favourite moment is when one of the very naughty boys stood up and proudly said 'I'm boring'. I spent the next 5 mins explaining the difference between bored and boring whilst the class laughed at him.

Never a dull moment

Moments like these make even the days that begin by hitting the snooze 9 times, absolutely dreading a room full of shouting children, at least mildly worthwhile... Stay tuned for my Greatest Hits next week, same time, same place.

Support Spartan Wanderer via Amazon