A year ago, I wrote a post about September signifying the beginning of a new school year every year of my life since I was five. This year is no different as I am currently settling in at my new school. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m sure it will feel quite strange if I’m not starting a new school year come September.
When I first accepted this job, I really only knew that I’d be a teaching assistant at a British run primary (elementary) school in Tai Wai, Hong Kong. After a week of preparation and a week of classes, I now have a much better idea of exactly what it is I’ll be doing.
First of all, my job is to help out in the P2 class, which consists of twenty-one children born in 2006, currently ages 5 and 6. Instead of a September 1st cutoff date for age, in Hong Kong, it's January 1st. My duties include keeping the children on task, giving individual help to those who need it, and making the lead teacher's job easier in whatever way I can. And starting this week, I will teach an after school club on a subject very dear to my heart, baseball. Besides myself and the lead teacher Ms. Katie, our class also has another full-time teacher named Ms. Ada who is mostly focused on one boy with special needs.
During my first week of classes, I felt utterly exhausted, but I hope this was simply because I still need to fully transition from my slow vacation pace to fast work pace. The class is funny and charming but we certainly have to work hard to keep them focused and under control, even with three adults in the classroom. Despite their occasional wildness, it’s pretty amazing to see twenty-one kids, all of Asian ethnicity—mostly Chinese and a few Japanese—speaking and understanding English so naturally. For almost every single kid, English is not the native tongue. If I ask in English how to say something in Cantonese OR Mandarin, they are usually able to answer me with no hesitation. Trilingual is the norm.
The school itself is quite professional, something I am very pleased with. The teachers are all talented, easy-going people and many, like me, have just started out at the school. This is not due to high turnover but because the student enrollment has gone from thirty to ninety students in a year’s time. Last year was the primary’s first year of existence so there were only two classes: P1 and P2. This year, there are five classes going up to P3, so the faculty has naturally grown as well. By the time the school reaches full capacity in a few years, it should hold some three to four hundred pupils, at least by my calculation. Perhaps at that point I won’t be the only North American to have worked there. My coworkers come mostly from Britain, but also Hong Kong, mainland China and South Africa.
My general philosophy is not to look much more than a year into the future, but it’s certainly nice to have a solid option to work at this school for longer, should that be something I want to pursue. I have certainly considered and been offered the possibility of working towards my teaching credentials while employed at this school in the future. It’s right next to my house and so far, seems to be a good fit with my educational thinking. But as I mentioned, one year at a time.
Working with primary students is a brand new experience for me. After only a week, I have an infinitely better understanding of the way they interact, what makes them tick and what makes them laugh. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking back to my own wonderful elementary experience on Bainbridge Island at the Island School. Surprisingly, I still remember a lot about that time, especially my friends and teachers. It was a pivotal six years in my life and I hope that I can positively influence these kids the way my teachers and teaching assistants influenced me back in the 1990s.