Your classroom will be arranged in rows of desks. These rows will have two desks right next to one another in one long column of about 10 to 15 desks. There will be about 3 to 4 rows like this. At the head of the classroom there will usually be a slight riser that you can stand on, operate the computer from, and write on the blackboard at. There will be one large table or cabinet here that holds the computer and your teaching materials. Off to one side of the room, usually in a corner, there will be a large TV monitor that can show the class what’s on the computer.
If you want to walk around your class you’ll have to do so by walking up and down the aisles of desks. Most classrooms will have two doors, one in the front of the classroom and one in the back. There will also be a small closet with mops and a sink. Oftentimes one whole wall will be covered with windows, and sometimes there’ll be a large curtain you can open and close.
Teaching in a class of 40 to 60 students is nearly impossible. I’m tempted to say completely impossible, but that just wouldn’t be the case. I spent 2 years teaching in that setting, and for 1.5 of those years I really put forth an effort to teach English and show the students a good time. There were several ways I did this, often with varying results.
- Books: Chances are you won’t be using a book. All of your students will of course have English study books, probably 3 to 4. But those are for their ‘Chinese’ English classes, not yours. You’re free to use them, but your students won’t like that idea much, and your Chinese colleagues even less. They go through the books slowly, and even if you review the information you’ll find it won’t take up the 50 minutes or so of class you have. You’ll also be taking away whatever their regular ‘Chinese’ English teacher was going to use that week. I’ve done it before, but it just doesn’t work that well. Your best bet is to take the vocabulary and grammar from those books and use it for your warm-ups, activities, and games. The books your students are using can be a great resource if you take the time to adapt the target language and structures. Make sure you get a copy or copies of the books your students use as soon as you start teaching.
- PowerPoints: By far one of the most effective ways at keeping students’ attention and reducing behavioral problems is by showing PowerPoints. The nice thing about teaching English with CTLC is that you’ll only have the same class of students once a week. You might even have them less than that; my first year I had grades 4, 5, and 6 and I would only have grade 4 and 6 students every other week. That meant I only needed to come up with a new PowerPoint every 1 to 2 weeks, and just recycle it over and over again. This got quite boring for me after awhile, but those PowerPoints would get me through a good 30 to 40 minutes of class most times.
- Games: Your most effective method for teaching English, keeping Chinese in check, and maintaining decent behavior is to play games. You’ll be limited in the types of games you can play because of the technology. You’ll have a blackboard, maybe a whiteboard if you’re lucky, but I’ve never heard of a public school with an Interactive Whiteboard (IWB). With those you can do a lot more, but oh well. There are many great blackboard games you can try, and you can find them on a lot of different websites, including my own, esladventure.com. Another great option is to develop some PowerPoint games. I didn’t start doing this until after I was teaching in the public schools, but boy do I wish I would have. It would have made my 2 years so much less stressful.
- Pairs: You’ll quickly find that all of your students aren’t interested in learning English. In fact, you’ll probably be lucky if half of your class is, or even a quarter. I soon found out that there were about 20 students satisfied with working on their homework for their other classes, 10 to 15 interested in misbehaving and talking with their friends, and about 10 to 15 who were actually interested in learning English. Putting those that are interested in learning into small groups or pairs is a great way to let students work together on something, like a dialogue or story, while you try to keep the behavior of the rest of the class in check. This option doesn’t always work, but it’s best to give it a try; believe me, you’ll be reaching for anything that might help you.
- Videos: Chinese students love watching videos, and the funnier you can make the videos the better. When you get to China you’ll quickly find that YouTube is of little use to you. I was lucky enough to be able to use it when I first arrived in China in 2008, but by my second year it was banned. I didn’t know what I’d do, and it really made me come up with new ideas on my own. Even if you use a VPN, your school won’t, and your laptop will simply be too small to accommodate so many students in such a large classroom. That means you need to find the Chinese sites that show videos. Youku.com and Tudou.com are your two best bets, and you can find a lot of great videos. My favorites were those involving bike and skateboard accidents; the students love them.