Trying and Teaching

三人行, 必有我师

Yesterday, I began three weeks of volunteering by teaching English at a local grassroots community center to 1st and 2nd graders. Corinne, the founder of the non-profit I am volunteering through, drove us to the site, since she coincidentally had a meeting with the site coordinators at the center as well.

As we drove there, I noticed the large lots of dirt and rubble on the side of the narrow road. Corinne told us that it all used to be housing for migrant workers, but it got torn down over the last few years to make room for “development.” What sort of development, I had no idea, but it would only mean the displacement of the rest of the migrant community living in the area, since the land was bound to be extremely valuable.

It was quite clear that the road we were traveling on was meant for foot and moped traffic, since the car that Corinne was driving, which was small to begin with, barely fit. We passed by a few “roads,” trying to determine which one was the correct one, since none of them were marked and they all had the same rocks and weeds.

We came across the center quite suddenly, since it was hiding behind the only other building on the right side of the road. It was a small two-story building, with one big classroom and two smaller ones. We parked in the dirt yard and met Ms. Cheng, who I suppose is the supervisor of the community center. We were pretty early, so most of the children were not there yet, so Ms. Cheng told us to wait in the big classroom while she was chopping up some pork ribs.

10 am came around, and I went to the classroom for first and second graders. The first through fourth graders were all in one room when I got there, and Ms. Cheng quickly split them up. Parents started to move some of the tables into the classroom I was in, and quickly arranged everything.

“Do you need a whiteboard?” one of the mothers asked.

“That would be nice, if there is one,” I responded.

“Okay, I’m going to find one for you.” I was touched by how eager the parents were to help me. When I asked if there were markers, one mother came back within a minute with a damp rag to wipe the board with and two black markers. I could tell that they were very happy to have us come teach their children.

The three children I had were all in second grade, and they seemed a bit suspicious of me, I assume because I don’t look like a foreigner who knows English. They have probably had their fair share of teachers who are not the most qualified to teach English at their schools. However, I was able to confirm that I am indeed a native English speaker very quickly and told that I have tutored students in America in math, French, and other subjects. They looked at me for a bit, and one of my students asked, “Are you a mingshi (famous teacher)?”

I laughed and said, “Of course not, but I am here to help you be better at English. Okay?”


Tomorrow I will be going to a government-sponsored community center, putting on a similar program for migrant children and local Shanghainese alike. I am curious to see what the differences in facilities and resources are, because I do think there will be quite a difference.


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