On Teaching and Leaving Your Comfort Zone

Today was my first really good class where I felt like I was actually teaching. This was a late afternoon class, and earlier in the day all the teachers and most of the assistants from the Shane Schools in Wuxi assembled at the main school downtown for a teaching workshop on activities for teachers to use in classes for young learners. There were about 50 of us in total, the whole thing took about 4 hours. It was put on in preparation for several short(i.e. profitable) and intensive summer courses: each two semesters, each semester lasting about three weeks, all aimed at 5-8 year olds, starting in a couple weeks. The short sessions go on top of an abbreviated regular schedule, so the summer will be busy and everybody makes a nice bit of extra cash in the end. Anyways, I tested the ideas from the workshop on the younger learners(preschool) I had that afternoon, little kids who at that age might as well be another species as far as I'm concerned, and to my delight the class went amazingly well. The students were engaged and energetic, we all had a lot of fun playing active learning games, and I felt like a teacher and not their white faced English talker for the first time. At the end of every class material is briefly reviewed and they all grasped the ideas and actually learned something, even this poor little girl who was new to the class, didn't know anybody and was completely terrified at first. She was scared and on the edge of tears which made me scared on the edge of tears, but by the end of the class everybody was smiling and saying “bye-bye John”. An aside, it seems every Chinese person from birth seems to know the phrase “bye-bye”, it is the most ubiquitous English phrase in China. This somewhat prolix story leads to my next topic, comfort zones.

It’s manifest that moving to China and doing something I've never done before (teaching), with people I'm unaccustomed to (little Chinese kids), has placed me far out of my comfort zone, and that is a good thing. Leaving your comfort zone is neutral, not a good thing or a bad thing, it is what we make of it. Adding risk and the unknown to your life pushes you to improve yourself and become what you weren't just moments before. Now, I'm not talking about dangerous or ill-prepared risk, I'm simply talking about doing something new, something different, that is appropriate for your life. Everybody can't and shouldn't go to China and teach, it is unappealing or unrealistic for most. But what you can do are little things. Try that new restaurant that looks too unfamiliar and that you don't think you would know what to order, it might just be good. Watch a new movie, or an old movie you haven't seen. Cook something totally different, try a new jogging route or exercise routine or whatever fits your life. We are all habit forming by nature, it makes us more efficient and allows us to focus on other tasks. Nonetheless, the burden of habit that underpins our daily routine prevents us from branching out and trying something that might be more enjoyable or fulfilling. After all, wouldn't like to try what he's cooking just once:

 

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