PEACH Foundation Experience
By Kenji Arai
When I first went to the PEACH Foundation I was told not to expect very much from my students. I thought they would be shy, reserved, and may even be somewhat timid due to their limited ability to speak English or limited contact with the “outside world”. Since I did not have a strong command over Mandarin I was very concerned about the English proficiency of my students, to which I was assured at least a conversational level. This was a big relief. Before I entered the classroom for the first time I began to plan some mildly challenging vocabulary for the supposed level of my students, and began developing several plans.
On the first real teaching day -not including the game day- which was considered day one, I walked in with a rough plan, which started with a short evaluation: I started with the alphabet, expecting perfect answers. I was only mildly surprised when I walked around the classroom and found a couple missing letters on a few students’ papers. Undeterred I made a couple corrections and continued with simple words and phrases. It was at this point that I realized that these students were not anywhere near the English competence that I had been banking on.
I somehow managed to get by day one without running out of ideas (I can thank my ADHD for that), but I began to question my competence in teaching English as a second language. After dinner the teenagers, led by Aunt Peggy, had a short meeting about what we did and what we planned to do, which greatly helped in my own planning.
Again on the second day I ran into roughly the same routine: I would have some plans to fill the three hours of the day, but it would all be completely in approximately fifteen minutes into the first class. (These kids always seemed to be far above or below the level I thought they were at). This would be followed by a short period of time struggling to think of what to do, ending with a brilliant idea, and not enough time to execute it. On the third day I finally got a grasp of things; I saw my students more as individuals than a mass body, and I no longer struggled to make plans, and just let one thing lead into another. The class began to flow much more smoothly, and the students actually seemed to be enjoying themselves. I also, sadly, realized I was half way through the week, and had to perform three pieces in an end of week show; let the panic begin anew.
The end of week show was made up of four parts: An English recital, an English song, a talent show, and a Chinese recital. I only had to worry about the first three. The English recital idea came fast: We could use Fire and Ice, by Robert Frost. For the talent show I had the students pick their own song. I then continued my class as normal: first hour singing, second hour grammar and sentence structure, and third hour games. That night I did more planning than for any other day: I spent hours searching and downloading for songs and lyrics. This would have been much faster had the internet been more cooperative, something I always took for granted at home. The next day I found that the students had picked “心愿” for the talent show. I let them pick from several of the English songs I had prepared. They picked “Falling Slowly.”
When it was time for the show we were all prepared, and actually had a bit a free time to play games for the last class period. I sat by watching all the students perform; I was very proud of my students’ pronunciations. When it came time to perform “心愿,” the one piece I had not been a major part of in class, my students wanted me to perform with them! Now I had absolutely no confidence in knowing even half the lyrics, but I had encouraged them to sing in a language they were not confident in, so what excuse could I use? As it turned out I somehow was able to keep up and sing, not just lip-sync like I planned. It was a truly memorable experience.
It was not until the end when it was time to say good-bye that I really found how strong of a bond I had built with my students. There are no words to describe this type of bond. Although I only knew them for a week, I felt like they were all childhood friends. Even the quieter ones, who may at first glance seem disinterested,would not let go of me as the teachers were making our way toward the steps leading out of the school. It took us a long timeto walk from the auditorium to the front steps, a mere 15-foot distance. And once I got there, I kept wandering back toward them, and they would keep coming back.
Eric and I went back to the auditorium after the group farewell and we were the last two people to leave. We waited through the speech the students were given and said one last good-bye when they were leaving the auditorium. After the last person had left I found myself alone as I finally headed down the steps. I did not see Eric, and assumed he had gone down before me. (As it turned out Eric was still at the school, and took a taxi to the hotel later.) I walked slowly in the dark using my phone as a flashlight. During the whole walk back I stared at a picture of my students taken on the second night at dinner.I realized I have learned more from them as they did from me. They are all so strong, filled with optimism and energy. Each of them had to overcome many challenges just to have an opportunity to be there yet my father had to convince me to come initially. Meifeng, Fangmei, Caiyan, Wenliang, Laijiu, Amy, Caiyan, Lifu, Xiuying, Jan and Yangfun, you will always be my friends, and I hope to see you again next year.
If I could do this over again I would have thought through my first couple days of teaching more carefully. I still feel like I could have done more with those first few days. Next time when I go there I will bring more English materials, and have learned more Chinese to make explanations quicker and more effective. I really hope I can see at least one of my students next year.