Thursday, October 13, 2011

A break before continuing with Shanghai...

...because I am PISSED.

It's been one of those days where China decided to throw all of its wrath upon me.

I started out my day pretty good. I actually had a lesson plan for the first time since returning from Shanghai that didn't include hangman, I had two cups of coffee for breakfast, and I had gotten to talk to Blondie on Skype.

Then I walked out the door.

For my first class this morning, I had Junior 1s. That means that I'm their first foreign teacher, and for most of them, their first introduction to English. Naturally, they are very reluctant to speak English, especially in front of the class. A huge part of most of my lesson plans is just making them feel comfortable speaking English, because they learn to memorize a large amount of English words in their English classes with their Chinese teachers. They just don't know how to do anything other than write.

So, I absolutely hate all of my head teachers. They get in my way and make my classes more difficult and stressful. Sometimes they literally make children bleed in my classes, but most of the time they just stand in the back and stare disapprovingly every time the children talk -- even when I explicitly ASK them to participate.

Today, I had the pleasure of not only having the J1 C16 head teacher in my class, but also Mr. Dong. Mr. Dong was "observing" our classroom and then offering criticisms afterward. Cool, except I had to go to another class right afterward.

So, today in class, I wrote on one side of the chalkboard: "Jobs", followed by a list of 10 professions underneath. The other side said, "What do they do?" and had a list of 10 definitions, in mixed order. (Definitions like, "teach class" and "cook food" and "take photos".) The kids had to write them down on a piece of paper and then try to match each job with its description. This took longer than I expected for them to write down, and most of them didn't know the definitions. I thought this was interesting, because up to this point, they had already gone around and said what their parents did as a job. Anyway. Whatever. After they finished guessing on their paper, I did it on the chalkboard after having them call out what letter they thought matched each job. As I went down the line, I heard many, "Ohhhhs!" as things clicked into place. Since I don't have a printer or a projector to use, I have no way of putting a picture or any other description up for them to look at.

Next, they all wrote down the answers to the questions:

1. What does your mother do?
2. What does your father do?
3. What job do you want to have?

I asked volunteers to write answers for the first two on the board, and then we went through the class, 6 at a time, and had them write what they want to do on the board.

At the end of class, they all turned in their papers so I could see the sentences they wrote, correct them if needed, and give them back next week.

Mr. Dong found me after class, looking unhappy. (I'm not on his good side, since I badgered the dates for break out of him by shaming him into it.) We sat down so he could give me some "criticisms", which was fine, and I told him it would have to be quick, since I had another class right after the break.

At first, his criticism was helpful. He said to give them a list of words the week before for them to look up the definitions of on their own, using their English-Chinese dictionaries. I will do that in the future. Coming off of that, I decided to tell the kids to practice writing and spelling the words I gave them today, because they are going to be the spelling test next week. He also suggested playing Hangman or some other type of game to help with memorization, which I did do in my next class.

Note: I'm the type of person that, if I'm having a conversation with someone about making something better, I will explain my reasoning to them so they can see where I'm coming from. I'm not making excuses, but I will say something like, "What I was attempting to do with this exercise was have them use their dictionaries to look up the word in Chinese, and then find the association between the job and the definitions on the side. After, we were going to go through as a class and connect the dots together. That was my reasoning, but I can see how it can be confusing for them, and a word list will be something I can use in the future in addition." Apparently, though, I wasn't supposed to comment, I was just supposed to sit and listen.

Then, he basically told me that I should embarrass my kids in front of the entire class if they got a question wrong. Some of the kids would write, "I want to be teacher" or "I want to be an lawyer" or something similar. Since the kids get so easily embarrassed, I don't see any merit in having them stand in front of the class while I correct what they wrote on the board. Instead, I'm using the chalkboard time as a way to get them to feel comfortable writing in English and being in front of the class. I had them turn in papers so I can write on them and correct them, and it's something that they can hold on to if they need to look at it. Mr. Dong told me that I needed to make them stand in front of the class while I corrected them. I told him I didn't see any reason why I should embarrass my kids in front of their peers when the papers they turned in served the same purpose. He said, "I don't think they will get so embarrassed by it." I responded, "In my other classes, when I have made minor corrections, they have gotten embarrassed. The point of me being here is to make them speak English; they won't do that if they are scared. I have never seen any point in public shame in education, especially with a foreign language. No one is going to speak or write perfectly in a foreign language; what is most important in your first year is feeling comfortable trying to speak and communicate. I understand that is the way teachers teach here, but I will not be doing that in my classes."

Yes, it was blunt, and bordering on rude, but it's my class. They invited a foreign teacher here to teach the way they do in America, and in America, we don't use physical violence or public humiliation as teaching mechanisms.

Anyway, he didn't appreciate my answer and told me, "You need many improvements."

After my classes, I came home and wrote an embarrassingly whiny email to my dad (sorry) about how much I despise Mr. Dong. Then, I got to talk to Russell and calmed myself down a little bit.

Then, my next surprise came. I got a phone call from Chinese Fed Ex. Here we go again.

The lady hardly spoke any English. "Hello, is this Muh..Mer...Mayy.."

"Meredith? Yes, this is."

"Ohhh, hello. I have package for Chinese Fed Ex. It in customs. It denied. We need your passport."

"Wait, what? Denied? What is the problem?"

"We need your, uh, passport."

"Yes, I have sent Chinese customs my passport photo already for my last package."

"We need your passport. My English is not so good."

"Okay, okay. Do you have an email for me to send my passport copy to?"

"Yes, yes. Then someone who speaks better English will respond to you."

She gave me the email, leaving me wondering why the person in the office who speaks English wasn't the one to call me.

I emailed them, to get the following message:

To the Chinese customs declaration needs to know what your package is, to declare the specific number. what is your personal items?

If that isn't an email that was typed into Google Translate, I don't know what is.

I emailed them back, telling them that, since I was the recipient of the package, I didn't know what was included in it, but I would get the list from my parents. I also asked why they didn't have a list already, since Fed Ex in the US (and the last time I got a package) includes a packing list in pretty much every damn box they ship.

Still waiting on a response.

Then, I went to my afternoon class.

Class was going fine, until a man walked into my classroom about halfway through. The kids were being kind of noisy, because it was the time where they were writing on the chalkboard. I figured he was a head teacher coming in to glare at them/me. Nope, I was wrong.

He was an "electrician". I say that with quotations, because he is quite possibly the dumbest man I have ever laid eyes upon.

He walks into the classroom with a long white bulb, the kind that goes into the long light fixtures on the ceiling. He kicks one of my kids out of his desk in the back, and uses it to teeter on while he attempts to take down what I assume is a burnt out light fixture. Instead of doing that, he sends this HUGE, long light bulb crashing down onto the floor, barely missing the heads of three of my students.

Then, instead of cleaning it up, he just leaves. Just leaves, and leaves broken glass to a classroom of 6th graders to clean up.

He was gone up until the last 5 minutes of class, when he came back with a screw driver, took the light cover off the front switch, and started playing around with the screwdriver. While he was doing this, the lights were flickering everywhere, because apparently he didn't turn the electricity off before PLAYING WITH ELECTRIC CORDS WITH A METAL OBJECT. I was having vivid mental images of having to explain to my children why there was a crispy dead man in their classroom.

Thankfully, he lived. Hopefully, he hasn't reproduced.

Oh, also, I'm pretty sure their head teacher is going to be really pissed at me when they get back after my class. As punishment, two of my boys were made to just stand against the wall during class. I was like,  you know what? I'm not dealing with this. I told them to sit down.

"No, no, we can't! We were bad."

"You know what, guys? You haven't been bad in my class yet, so for English, you will sit at your desks and participate."

I heard audible gasps from the students. I don't care. These head teachers do everything in their power to undermine the foreign English teachers, and I wasn't in the mood to deal with it. On Sunday, one of my head teachers told two of the girls in my class to decorate a board at the back of my classroom while I was teaching. I'm over it.

Anyway, rant over, because Emily just knocked on my door and delivered my package from Russell!!!!

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