Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Thoughts on teaching

Update on the school nurse situation: Unfortunately, I was correct. There isn't a school nurse. When I asked Mr. Dong what I'm supposed to do if there's a sick student in my class, he just told me to send my classroom monitor to get the head teacher and they will "take care of the problem". I asked if there was a nurse or an office to send them to, and he looked at me quizzically and said no. Cool, China. Real cool.

Mr. Fu hit a child in one of my classes. With a book. Over the head. Last Friday, I was trying to teach my class about American middle schools, and get their opinion on what I told them. Then, I was trying to stage a mini-debate, where people thought of good things about Chinese schools and good things about American schools, etc. After making their lists, I asked people to share. Apparently Mr. Fu decided that children aren't supposed to talk in my ORAL ENGLISH class, and hit one of the kids in the head with a book.

Mr. Fu is quickly becoming my enemy.

Every Monday, we have a meeting with Mr. Dong, where we can ask him questions and tell him problems we're having with our classes or our apartments. This week, Mr. Fu decided to share some of his "observations" from watching our classes last week. This is a quick summary of the conversation he had with Emily:

Mr. Fu: "I noticed you were using big words that the children do not know. In the future, you should not use words the children do not know."

Emily: "...but I was teaching them the new words."

Mr. Fu: "If they do not know these words, you should not use them."

So, apparently, we're not supposed to teach them anything new.

After our meeting, we had Chinese lessons with Mr. Fu. And by lessons, I mean Mr. Fu read to us from a text book and wrote on a dry erase board with paint. Yes, paint.

We were in the calligraphy room, so each desk had a paintbrush and paint on it. You know, to use on paper. Well, about halfway through our riveting lesson, the dry erase marker ran out. Being the wonderful problem solver that he is, Mr. Fu decided to dip the dry erase marker in some of the calligraphy ink and write on the board. Even though we told him that it would stain the board because it was paint, he proceeded to write on the board with it anyway, and then point at it to show us how well it showed up. Well, yes. It was all fun and games until he attempted to erase it. All face has been lost.

Okay, enough about Mr. Fu. Some notes on my classes:

Last week, the Junior One classes didn't have lessons with foreign teachers, so it's been a while since I've been with my J1 classes. Spending all of last week with just my Junior Two classes really spoiled me. I kind of forgot how little English the J1 kids know. We attempted to play Jeopardy, but it took me at least 15 minutes just to explain the directions to them. After that fail of an afternoon, I decided to make what I'm going to call "Pronunciation Bingo" games.

Plus side: I'm using words that are harder for non-native speakers to distinguish between (pea vs. be, etc.) so the students can get used to hearing the difference. So, instead of calling out numbers to have them mark, I'll be calling out words...except most of the cards will have 2 or 3 words that may sound similar and the kids have to learn to differentiate between the two.

Down side: If we want photocopies of anything or to have anything printed off, we have to tell Mr. Dong a week in advance. Plus, we can only have 30 copies at a time. That works really well when my smallest class is 45. So, I decided to hand-make my Bingo cards. Actually cutting them and putting the words on them wasn't too bad. The only problem is that these kids are little destructive machines. If you give them a piece of paper, don't expect it back without it being torn, wrinkled, crumpled up and smoothed back out, or written on. In order to preserve my hand-made Bingo cards for use in multiple classes, I decided to "laminate" them using packing tape. Let's just say I spent at least an hour on them, and I only got through 12. I need these for Thursday morning. It's Wednesday afternoon. Should be a fun night!

My J2 classes this morning were awesome! I was a little hesitant about using the American middle school unit on them, because it was kind of hit and miss last week, but they were really great about it. It also probably helped that there were no head teachers in these classes.

These kids were really interested and they asked me SO MANY questions. There were some bizarre ones, like, "How much do Adidas tennis shoes cost in America?" and, "Can you draw a map of the United States?" and, "Do you play World of Warcraft?" but other than those, I had some really good questions:

1. What is the difference between public and private schools?
2. Do kids in America have to wear uniforms?
3. Do American middle schoolers have any important tests? (Meaning like the exams for college - I told them about the ACT/SAT.)
4. How many kids are in a class?
5. Do American middle schoolers have to take math class every year?
6. What kinds of things do they do in PE?
7. Why is lunch so short? Do they not have time for a nap? (This one was one of my favorites.)
8. What do kids do after school, since they get out so early? (They were fascinated by the idea of playing a sport for the school).
9. Why is passing time so short?
10. We talked about how American kids change classrooms and the teacher stays in his/her room all day - it's the opposite of China, pretty much.
11. How much homework do Americans have, and what type? (They were really jealous that we get to write papers in some classes instead of just tests - haha. Really, though, I do prefer papers.)
12. They were really fascinated by the idea of American kids being able to use the internet after school, and kept asking me what they did. Do they have QQ? Do they play games?
13. How often do they go to the library? (This one really threw me for a loop, because I'm pretty sure no American middle schoolers go to the library to study, other than maybe during study hall.)
14. Do American kids have to take Chinese? (They really liked it when I told them that Ankeny High School just started a Chinese program -- or is going to next year? I may have my facts wrong, but I know it's at least up and coming.) A lot of the kids are really jealous that we get to choose what foreign language we want to study, even though our only options are usually French and Spanish. That really put things in perspective for me, because I was always upset that we didn't have enough options for foreign language.
15. Do American kids study Chinese history? ( be honest, uh, no. But I said that we usually study the history of other countries in high school - not a lie. We have European History. Crap.)
16. Can you teach us the history of the relationship between America and China?

They also wanted me to tell them the history of America, about September 11th, and about American holidays - especially Christmas. I promised them that I would make a powerpoint about each of those topics, which they got SUPER excited about. My 4th period class was so enthusiastic about asking me questions that they kept going, even after the bell rang. After I said class was over, at least 10 of them swarmed my desk to ask me more questions. The girl who had asked me about September 11th came up and told me, "I am sorry if my question made you sad, because I know it was very sad for your country." I told her that it was a very good question and that I was going to make a presentation about it so I could answer her question better.

Other notes on teaching.

They don't get the point of spelling tests. I have each of my classes do a spelling test at the beginning. I don't keep a record of their grades or anything, but I do correct them and give them back. The point of these is just so they can hear me saying the difference between words with "th", "s", "ce", etc. If they don't know the spelling of a word I say, though, they always say, "Teacher! Teacher! Can you tell me how to spell number four?" Then, when I tell them to guess how they think it sounds, they look confused. After I collect the papers, I write all the words on the board and we talk about their pronunciation. Today, the most difficult word was "force", because they all wanted to write "fourth". So, we practiced saying the difference between force, fourth, and false.

I'm currently making all of my classes practice pronouncing "th". If these kids learn nothing else from me this year, they will ALL be able to make that noise. Apparently, the Chinese English teachers tell them NOT to put their tongues in between their teeth when they said "th". I'm highly confused as to how anyone is supposed to make that noise without doing that. Anyway, I stood at the front of the class and told everyone to stick their tongues out at me. Of course, everyone looked very nervous and hesitant because it was quite the odd request. After I stuck my tongue out at them, however, they were much more comfortable doing it. Every time I put a word with "th" on the board and have them repeat it, I remind them, "Stick your tongues out at me!" They caught on to making the "th" noise surprisingly fast.

That's all I can think of to talk about now, and I should really get back to making those Bingo cards!

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