It turns out that you CAN teach an old dog new tricks!

As a teenager my career goal was to be a teacher, actually a High School RE teacher but whatever, teaching was something that I thought I might enjoy. During my third year at university I came to the realisation that my hearing was going to be a problem, Back then I didn’t have my trusty hearing aids and I struggled with hearing in general. I knew that it wasn’t fair on a shy child asking a question if I couldnt hear them properly. So I gave up on that idea and turned to librarianship instead, which as anyone who works in the profession knows, isn’t as quiet as everyone thinks!!!

In actual fact librarianship did satisfy my ‘educator’ needs as I have spent much of my career teaching library skills to various levels from Toddler through to Masters students. I am even quite happy standing infront of groups of adults delivering papers at conferences or running training sessions but one thing that I have never done is be a classroom teacher.

So, when students began to return to Concordia this summer there were some tongue-in-cheek comments about me helping out with Grade 4, but in actual fact they were well covered and I just went in to deliver sessions on Primary and Secondary Sources. (I should point out here that all school libraries are closed by government order. Staff can go in but no children. I have to go out to them).

Then to everyone’s surprise the government announced that Grades 1-3 could return at the beginning of June (in Imperial that means Years 2 – 4). Our school starts the year early (mid August) so finishes earlier than most on 10th June. In normal circumstance this would be wonderful as we could all start the holidays when the prices are still cheap. Starting the kids back then hardly seemed worth it for what would effectively be a week but there was considerable merit in allowing the children to come back to see their peers and experience some sort of closure of the school year. Parents too were VERY keen that we do this. I got the distinct feeling that there were many frazzled people out there.

In our Elementary Division we have 21 classes across four grade levels and a number of our teachers were stuck abroad behind the international travel ban. They are desperate to get back to Shanghai but are unable to do so. So a general draft went out and it was all hands on deck. Administrators, principals, spouses with teaching experience and yes even the school librarian was called in.

It was a MASSIVE amount of work to design arrival and dismissal systems, lunch and recess (break) schedules as well as ensuring that lines of children stand 1m apart or sit separated at desks. All for one week. The management worked flat out to arrange everything so that it was compliant with the strict government regulations. Here, although things are relaxing elsewhere the government holds schools to a higher standard so, for example while the wearing of masks is no longer compulsory on the streets, it is for us in school.

I was allocated a Grade 2 class and had 12 children. Some of the class were also stuck abroad and they continued with Home Based Learning, but some parents elected not to send their children in and one was recently returned but in quarantine. I would guess that across all the classes we had approximately 2/3 of the children back. For my friends in the UK Grade 2 translates to Year 3, so bottom of the juniors and for readers outside education, it was a class of 8 year olds.

I was more than happy to be flexible and to help in this situation but if I am honest I was a little trepidatious. I had more than one night of insufficient sleep! On the plus side I knew the children from their weekly visits to the library and they all knew me which really helped. On the downside I had never before had to keep the same group of small people occupied for a whole school day.

As it turned out I needn’t have worried, the teacher that I was subbing for was so supportive and helpful. Each day I had a carefully planned out schedule with suggested activities but I had the opportunity to change or amend it if I wanted and as my confidence grew I did in fact do a couple of different things. Every afternoon we would meet after school by zoom and go over the plan and collaborate on it. Each morning she would zoom into the classroom and greet the children which they (and she) appreciated. It was quite emotional for her seeing someone else in her room with her group of children and I wanted to support her as much as she did for me. We ended up with a whole class international zoom on the last day where everone was able to say good-bye. Some children are repatriating and other are leaving to go to other schools in Shanghai so it was an emotional time.

Unlike normal school, each day was heavily structured around handwashing and one of the other Grade 2 teachers had put together a series of 20 second video clips of songs to help the children with the timing, but mine ended up watching the screen more than washing their hands. Hey Ho!

On day one the first thing that happened was that the children were given a safety briefing by the Principal. He said that they could ask their teachers if they had any questions. Back in my room I got

  1. Can we still play football?
  2. Miss, I have new braces…

And so the week went on from there…

We made good-bye cards, thank you posters and the children had time to be creative. The whole class went off twice each day, once to their Mandarin lesson and once to either Art, Music or PE which gave me a breather and chance to set up anything I needed to or to disappear down to the library to catch up on a bit of that work which still needed my attention!!! My two library assistants were brilliant at running not only our library but also the Middle and High School space as well as books in quarantine. I dashed in to put together the bags of books requested by parents each day and met with designers as we also plan a summer library refurbishment…

Back in the classroom, I did have to do some teaching; geometry and bridge design – both of which I had to quickly bone up on the night before!!! Bridge building has never been a particular strength of mine. The children had a STEM activity to build a bridge of 50cm which could support the weight of a small wooden block, using only material which I provided (or rather quickly scratched around to find). They achieved this with varying success but all enjoyed the activity. I read The Twits to them throughout the week and I thoroughly enjoyed the quiet reading time (it was bliss!)

Geometry was actually great fun. After discussing the names of multi-sided shapes and learning that a million sided shape is called a Megagon (thanks to Kevin for unearthing that fact) we made various shapes using geoboards (which I did not know existed before this) and finished off with me demonstrating the strength of a cardboard cylinder by balancing books on it (thanks to Martin Holbery for that suggestion). You can take the librarian out of the library but…

No one cried until one lesson when two girls were in floods of tears AT THE SAME TIME, one had been scratched by a boy as they both grabbed for the coloured pens (although I couldn’t see any mark) and the other had argued with her friend over what to draw. It was at exactly that moment that the Principal walked in to check how I was doing! Would you believe it!!!! I felt dreadful about all the tears but he was fine and said that I had seemed to be coping with it. Not a single person cried after that either. At. All. What are the chances that he would walk in just at that moment!

I cannot lie, it was an exhausting week. I probably worried more than I needed to and slept badly as my brain was fizzing about whether I had everything ready for the next day. Being a sub I didnt have a bank of tried and tested activities that I could pull out of a hat at a moment’s notice if things went pear-shaped. I also wasn’t entirely sure where everything was in all the cupboards and didn’t really want to root around TOO much.

The kids were great though and at the end of he week one of the girls said to me, “If we get COVID-19 again next year and have to do home-based learning again and then come back to school at the end of the year again and our teacher is away will you be our sub please?” Bless. I had obviously made an impression.

The school year finished on Wednesday 10th June and I waved everyone off only to turn around and go to a planning meeting for our Summer Program. Most schools in Shanghai are offering some sort of Summer School or extended learning activities. We were asked to volunteer (technically we are on holiday) and we get paid extra so I decided to help out once again. Kevin and I cannot leave Shanghai without going through a 14 day quarantine on our return so we are basically stuck here. I might as well earn a little more and build up our ‘Travel-Again’ kitty.

We have a bank of outside vendors such as Mad Science in and there is a range of options open to the children such as Basketball, Coding or Around the World geography

I was asked to help with a Reading & Writing Program for Grades 1 and 2 (7 and 8 year olds) which was taught between the English and Mandarin teachers. There were 6 of us, three Mandarin and three English speakers. We each had a group of approx 12 and we decided on themes together. We each taught for half the morning and then swapped the children over so they got the same or similar things in both languages. Each day has a fun, creative activity and then one day focuses on reading and the next writing. I said that I was happy to help so long as someone tells me what they want me to do. I will just do it. This seems to have worked OK.

Our themes were great Chinese Inventions of Dumplings, Chopsticks, Paper and Kites. The children modelled dumplings and set up a shop with signs and menus etc. They painted using chopsicks and cotton wool balls, built chopstick towers, made and raced paper aeroplanes and constructed Paperbag puppets after reading The Paperbag Princess, decorated and flew kites.

Paper plane competition

The summer school was slightly more relaxed than regular school e.g. no uniforms, no reports back to parents, no marking of work but teaching 3 hours straight with no TA assistance is tiring. Particularly when it rains and everyone stays inside. I learned very quickly to DREAD wet weather.

I was delighted that mask wearing rules are relaxing too. The children don’t have to wear them when seated at their desks or when they’re outside which is a huge relief to those of us who are hearing impaired but doing our best to help in these circumstances.

Dumpling Shop

Other things that I have learned during my brief career at the chalkface (or smartscreenface)

  1. Teaching requires the skill of leading a line of children down a corridor whilst walking backwards!!!
  2. Children are incapable of walking one behind the other 1 m apart. Seriously it just doesn’t happen.
  3. Social distancing is nigh on impossible to enforce in a classroom.
  4. Just when you want them to settle down to listen to you someone ALWAYS wants the bathroom/a drink of water.
  5. Constantly speaking above a room full of chatter gives you a sore throat.
  6. When you ask a group of 7 year olds to write about why they prefer chopsticks to spoons, inevitably one boy will say that chopsticks are best because can be weapons!!
  7. I suck at remembering names. This is really inconvenient when you need to yell at someone who has not been listening the first 10 times that you said something. To be fair I already knew that I am rubbish at names but when they are wearing masks it is especialy hard. I think it is my advancing old age…
  8. Silent reading is BLISS!
  9. Silent reading doesn’t last for long enough.
  10. When you see a child get an answer right or understand something you have been explaining it is the best feeling in the world.

One of the most fun activities was kite painting then flying. These kite kits were only 50p each including paints and brushes.

I survived. I fulfilled a chidhood ambition of being a teacher. I’m shattered now and can confirm that techers TOTALLY DESERVE their long holidays. It has been good to get to know some of the children a bit better and I might even remember some of their names when they come in the library next year (when the government restrictions get lifted)

What a tumultous and challenging time it has been! And what a way to end my first year in a new school and a new country! But first, to catch up on some of that missed sleep…