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Adventures with Alisha

Teaching English vs. Special Needs

CHINA | Tuesday, 2 August 2011 | Views [774]

As you know, I came to Xi'an to teach English at Xi Kai Bao Yu Yuan for the summer.  My school closed this past Friday for summer break and I got relocated to a special needs center for my last few days of my stay.

First, let me say, I loved teaching English.  Even though I definitely did not understand a lot of the kids, and what they were saying, I loved teaching them English by teaching them duck-duck-goose or other fun word games like Hangman.  And the kids were insanely cute and I always could make them so happy by playing with them.  Some of them even coul tell me a few sentences in English after I taught it to them!  Furthermore, I got to know a lot of cool teachers that were always so interested in what America was like and interested in me and my plans for the future.  As egotistical as it sounds, it's nice to be able to talk about yourself and what you want to do and get a totally foreign perspective on it.  And I was practicing Chinese.  Overall, it was a great placement, and I am sad that it's over, but it was wonderful while it lasted!

On the other hand, special needs is much more challenging in different ways.  There are fewer kids by far.  The center has only about 10 children.  While I was teaching English, I had at least 25 kids per class and I had four different classes.  However, special needs children are high energy and maintenance and they are not easily disciplined.  In the kindergarten, the kids would listen to the teacher immediately and even clean up on their own when they heard their "clean up" song being played on the piano. They were well trained and more or less really smart 4-6 year olds.  Special needs?  Not so much.  They don't listen and they can become violent.  On my first day, the child I was working with hit me a few times across the face because he didn't want to do any more crunches.  Instead of teaching English, I help them to exercise and eat and control their muscles.  It can be frustrating work, especially when you feel like it's something kids should learn on their own, but then, special needs children often cannot play on their own.  In the end, both schools have a different teaching method for the different kids. 

The one thing both programs have in common though is that it's a gratifying experience to work with children.  Since I spent so much time teaching English at my old school, I became attached to the children and the teachers there and ended up making some great friends that I hope to stay in touch with.  While my time at the special needs center will be short, I am still happy to be working with the children and seeing their progress.  And this whole experience and being around kids all the time has helped me to understand how kids function and think about whether I want kids or not in the future.

Ultimately, if you want to volunteer abroad and do programs teaching children or high school students, I would highly recommend it.  Yes, it's challenging and different and times of frustration are guaranteed, but overall, it's worth it.  Even though it may seem you aren't making much of a difference, you probably are without realizing it.  And even if that doesn't matter, the amount you yourself will learn about a different culture and what values are important in a foreign country is invaluable knowledge that you can't learn anywhere else.

Tags: china, kids, special needs, teaching english, values

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