About 15 years ago, while living in a tiny town, before my parents moved to the East side of the Greater Toronto Area, my family started fostering young children. After moving across the GTA, this continued and the first kids we took in were these two young brothers. Several years after we started fostering them, they were adopted. Having arrived at our home when the younger one was just a few weeks old, and now he's a pre-teen meant I was involved in various parental aspects of their growing up.
During the time I was living at home I was required to occasionally help take care of them. This taught me a great deal about parenting, managing rowdy kids and how to mentally manage myself when dealing with children and pre-teens.
While going through my interviews for finding a teaching job here in China, I leveraged this experience to get the position, and it worked! Unbeknownst to me, it worked for a reason -- teaching children English is a lot like raising them!
Regular readers will have an understanding of how my kids are affectionate, energetic and are really close to me. I believe this is the result of my approach to my role as the English lǎoshī（老师 or teacher) which has elements of how my parents raised me, my worldview, being an older brother, and engaging with them as if they were my own children/siblings.
Each class I have starts fresh, and I make a strong effort to be energetic, passionate and instructive to and with the children. One of the first things I do as part of the class structure, is to do a self-introduction. This is typical, however, I have taken some specific action to expedite the confidence the kids have while simultaneously developing unspoken relationships with them. Being as tall as I am, I deem it a little disconnecting if the child stands beside me, or alone, in front of the class while trying to remember the few words they use to introduce themselves in front of 11 others. To help them not feel alone in front of everyone, I pull up a chair (meant for kids) and sit behind them. I spread a few cards out in a semi-sphere in front of me, and invite the kids up. Because of my height, my knees rise fairly high, and for the kids, they are a perfect spot to rest their hands/forearms while introducing themselves. While they stand between my knees, I'll lean my head over their shoulder and carefully listen to their pronunciation (they're usually quiet and the room is loud), and it's a little less embarrassing for them when they need help with a word, I simply whisper it in their ear. My kids will put my arm around their stomach to feel safe in front of the class, or they will play with my arm/leg hair. They also like to trace my tattoos when they don't know a word, where they lower their head and do anything to distract from the obvious.
I believe this simple act of being physically close, helping discretely and being actively playful with them throughout the class, creates an environment most feel safe, comfortable and supported in. Are you starting to see the similarities?!
In less than 4 months, the kids run and jump into my lap/arms when I call them to come up (amongst other times)! Teaching children who don't speak the same language requires flexibility in my teaching tactics and consistency in my outlook for their well-being. I give off strong vibes of how I'm feeling and it's important the kids continue to feel such positivity from me.
Parenting requires diligence, consistency and flexibility; teaching young children does as well. In order to assist children to develop into mature and well rounded adults, it is crucial they have interactions with someone who is at this time (a young adult) in their life right now, and someone who treats them as young adults.
In China, it is very common for parents (and especially grandparents) to treat the children like babies for a significant portion of the time they live at home. I've seen parents take kids from my class and spoon feed their 5 year old child! Or similarly, I've observed grandparents holding cups/bottles while kid drinks out of it... Kids who are more than capable of doing so themselves. This is usually the result of grandparents living with the parents and helping to raise the children while the parent works. In some circles it's also how the children pay back their parents for raising them (yes, some parents expect to be paid back, this is usually done so by living with their adult offspring).
The exposure of learning English, from a foreigner, is great for children. English a skill they will need for university, especially since most will attend schools overseas. If the family has enough resources to put their child through private English school for several years, they likely also travel more often than those who aren't and as a result, knowing English will greatly help them.
Throughout the rest of the class, I will tickle the kids, play games with them, lift them up and have them sit on my lap during break time. Balancing the line between parent and brother to these kids is not overly challenging because I don't speak Chinese to be really involved in small components of their lives. However, seeing them regularly, instructing them on the words, insistence (on proper pronunciation), breaking up fights, keeping them on a schedule and being firm when a child misbehaves are all pieces which good parents/older siblings would do while teaching a child English, or any other skill.
The job presents a variety of opportunities to learn and develop by dealing with a wide range of children who each have different skills and personalities. As this year progresses, I trust I will remain open minded to observe and realize such opportunities. This experience of moving abroad and living here has already taught me so much, I am happy to take in more and continue my own growth.