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Day 274: Tribute to Eighth Grade

Nimenhao!

The fastest week of our time in China has now (already!) passed, and we officially have one week of school left. This means that as of 4:10 this afternoon, I will never teach my eighth grade students again.

So, to honor all the fun (and patience-trying lessons I learned) experienced in my classes, here’s a tribute post to the eighth grade classes at the Hebei Baoding Eastern Bilingual School in the 2013-2014 school year.

J2 -2 (“Alisha” has to get in the picture too!):
J2.2

J2 – 3 (some of them, at least):
J2.3 - Version 2

J2 – 4 (half of them; this class definitely knows who Cobe Bryant is – they may or may not be under the impression that I personally know him…):
J2.4

J2 – 5 (happiest class who no matter how hungry they were, would not let me send them off to lunch early):
J2.5

J2 – 6 (those two in the front, may have the best English in their grade):
J2.6

J2 – 7 (some of them saying goodbye):
J2.7

Next week, we might only have Monday – Wednesday classes because of Children’s Day Festival celebrations (plenty of pictures are sure to come from that – of us and by us) and then we’ll be leaving the following Tuesday. 17 fun-packed days until we’re on a flight back home…

Thank you and until next time,

Alyssa

(Happy 100 posts!)

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Posted by on May 23, 2014 in Baoding

 

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Day 106: You Should Try It

Hello everyone!

Another week has flown by without a hitch and we are both very happy. We have seen none of the winter weather that the States have experienced this week but I’m sure it will get here soon enough. The frigidity of the wind we experienced a couple of weeks ago has yet to return and though still frequently chilly, it has been rather pleasant outside when we’re all bundled up under the blue skies. When we arrived in Baoding we were warned that the smog would be at its worst in the winter, and though still very possible, we have seen more blue skies and good-weather days since it officially became winter than at any other time since we’ve been here. Hopefully this isn’t a fluke and the nice weather will continue.

Time has slowed as the routine has settled in. A day feels like a day and a week feels like a week and what was rapidly changing excitement as been quietly replaced by contemplative observance. But having said that, I must remember not to take life here for granted. I have been slacking on the upkeep of this blog because of the regularity of the routine we have settled into (and the boredom that has accompanied this routine) but I am going to try harder to be more frequent with my posts.

I have frequently noted the dirtiness and filth of Baoding as a constant presence in our lives. The dust and dirt that fills the air, coats the walls and floors, and invariably, settles into our clothes (and our lungs). Do not mistake this constant filth, however, as a sign that no cleaning happens here. Constantly at the school there is a cleaning lady mopping, kids sweeping, and men raking leaves. Out on the streets of Baoding there are cleaning people in the street and on the sidewalks sweeping up trash and dust; there are even big trucks that just circulate the city spraying water on the streets and attempting to collect some of the ever-present dust. All of this “cleaning” however seems to be as futile as attempting to pick up a bucket of water using a snowflake.

This week we found out that before our teaching schedule ends for the semester on January 10th we are expected to give all of our classes an exam of sorts and to turn in the grades to the school. When I informed by eighth graders of this in classes this week, they refused to believe me. Up to this point, my class has been characterized in their minds by the absence of repercussions that would make good behavior and attention to learning completely unnecessary. When I told them that in January they would be given an oral exam by me, they flat-out refused to believe me as if it was some trick I was pulling over them to try to get them to behave. Even after explaining that this week’s class would be spent practicing the questions I am going to ask them for the exam and while I was walking around the classroom asking individuals questions, they did not take me seriously (one kid tried to cut my hair while I was talking to the kid behind him and several other kids emptied two bottles of lotion so they could make little toilet paper pelts to throw around the room).

Despite these usual frustrations resulting from the discipline problem (that all and only foreign teachers experience in China), I enjoyed talking to some of my eighth grade students with high English abilities. One boy and I had a rather humorous interaction in the middle of class while he was trying to learn the word “latte” in English by repeatedly demonstrating the mixture of milk and coffee. When I told him that’s just called “coffee with milk” he told me that was a bad name and it needed a better name. When I asked him if he meant “na tie” in Chinese he got excited and was thrilled to learn “latte”. His favorite drink is a latte.
Another girl, with a very high English level, asked me if I liked “bad students” and when I said no, proceeded to point to one boy in the back of the classroom and tell on him: “That boy is doing his homework in your class. He is a bad student. We don’t like him. Do you like him?” I told her that it was ok, seeing as he was doing his English homework and he wasn’t being disruptive to the class. She refused to accept this and was astounded when he was able to answer a question of mine with very good English when no one else could. At the end of class she came to the front of the room as I was packing up and said “I love you, teacher” in English and then speaking as fast as she could in Chinese. When I imitated her by saying “shenme, shenme” (“what, what” in Chinese), the whole class laughed and I got a hug from her and a resounding “good bye, teacher” from the class. My eighth grade students proved to me this week that they don’t dislike me; they just find English class boring and pointless (and one class even told me as much at the beginning of class).

My eighth graders’ daily class schedule:
classschedule

Early this week our motorbike, Kuai Long, got a flat back tire. After leaving it at QLH for a couple of days because we didn’t know where to take it to get it fixed, Johnson and Samantha asked a pharmacist next door where to go, and it turned out some guy on the street corner next to QLH repairs bikes. While we were there waiting for him to repair the whole (which only cost 5 Yuan/ less than $1) a group of older guys had congregated and were playing a local pastime, mah jong. Though the picture isn’t the quality I would have liked and I was unable to capture the best moment, when they all broke away from the game laughing and wishing each other farewell, this shows a bit of what life is like at night for local friends:

mahjong

When we went to the covered alley for dinner one night this week, our bread lady told us we were her favorite laowai and we also discovered a new kabob place. You go up and pick the kabobs that you want and put them on a tray, the guy sticks them in a vat of boiling water, seasons them, and hands them over to you in a bag. The vendor we went to was super friendly and we have since been to visit him twice.

kabobs kabobman

Here are some decorations in our apartment for the holidays (thanks to Duncan’s mom):
window stockings

Some students from Duncan’s high school sent our students handmade Christmas cards. Here are two of our favorites:

youshouldtryit santa dontbemad

We also found out that we are about to have a lot of days off for the holidays, and as soon as we get those dates specified, we are going to do a lot of traveling (which will, hopefully, lead to much more interesting and exciting posts).

Thank you for reading!

Until next time,

Alyssa

 
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Posted by on December 7, 2013 in Baoding, Uncategorized

 

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Day 92: A Lesson in Gender Relations

We’ve officially been here for three months! This week may have been the fastest week yet! We had a normal schedule and I taught all grades, including eighth grade.

I’ve been thinking about why my eighth grade students have been so difficult to deal with in a classroom setting and began to put my class in perspective with the rest of their lives at the shuang yu xue xiao (Baoding Eastern Bilingual School).
Every day, students wake up at 6 and spend the rest of their highly regimented day in class, doing homework, or cleaning the grounds until 10pm when they must go to bed. They keep up this schedule every day for 11 days straight until they get to go home for a three-day weekend every other week. My class is the only class in which there are no lasting repercussions for misbehavior nor is there any incentive to pay attention and learn since my class has no grades. When I put my class into context with the rest of their schedule and when considering their average age of 13, it’s no wonder they don’t seem eager to sit and be quiet through my class. There is no excuse for how rude and disrespectful they have been to me but I can understand their reluctance to sit through another class (also making it their second English class for the day).
With all of this in mind, I decided to take my eighth graders outside for class yesterday. Rarely do they get to go outside and I figured all the normal behaviour, which is so frustrating in the classroom, would not be an issue outside.

After threatening them with homework from me if they did not behave, we wandered outside and spent most of the class period playing games. After playing we all went inside and I went around the room individually giving each kid an English name. All of this went very well and I finished Thursday afternoon and Friday, after a total of more than seven hours of running around with and managing over 350 eighth graders, happy and exhausted.

One of the best things about playing outside with these kids was my discovery that opposite genders absolutely will not touch each other. Girls will hold hands and climb all over each other and boys will do the same, but if I tell a girl to touch a boy they repel each as if they were like-poles of a magnet. I discovered this in my first class when I divided the class into mixed-gender groups and told them to hold hands to make a circle so that I could teach them the human-knot game. Once they realized they would have to touch a member of the opposite sex they absolutely refused to play the game. Once I divided them into groups of girls vs. boys, everything worked much better.
In the human knot game, you have students make a circle shoulder to shoulder, link hands with the people across from them, and then untangle themselves without letting go of each other’s hands. While the girls worked out how to untangle themselves very methodically and reasonably, the boys, completely directed by their hormonal teenage brains, threw their bodies at the human “knots” as hard as they could until it broke, and ending with most of them in a pile on the ground.
The second game we played involves everyone making a line by linking hands and facing the same direction with one end of the line holding onto a tree or a pole and then everyone going through the arches to make a looped interlinking line that can then be untwisted once everyone is done looping. Again, I could only play this game with one line of girls and one line of boys. The mixed gender repulsion was so strong that when I was trying to get a boy to hold my hand to demonstrate the second game, some boys were running away from me to get as far away as possible while other boys were throwing their friends at me as if it were some kind of punishment. In a couple of classes I managed to get one or two boys to hold my hand long enough for me to demonstrate what was going on so that I could get all of the kids involved in racing boys vs. girls. The girls, of course, with their absence of awkward teenage pent-up physical aggression, always won. In only one class was I able to get a boy on one hand and a girl on the other so I could get the entire class to participate in one interlinking loop line (this line fell apart before it was completed because of the kids’ intent to throw each other all over the place, but we had a lot of fun).

I’ve been really intrigued by the gender relations here in China. Now that I’m here and observing people, there is a lot more separation between genders than I was expecting. Rarely, at least from what I have seen in public, are there groups formed of mixed sexes. Men seem to stay together and women seem to stay together. Whereas in the States it seems to be a constant battle for some to keep the genders separated (which invariably makes them want to get together even more) the separate genders seem to want to avoid one another. Maybe this is one of the reasons teen pregnancy isn’t a problem here.

Imagine if I were to tell a group of 13-14 year old boys to hold hands in the US – there would be as much aversion to touching another guy as there was to coming into close physical proximity with the opposite gender here. And if I were to tell an eighth grade boy in the States to hold my hand, they’d be fighting each other over who gets to stand next to the young teacher they’re all simultaneously frightened by and in love with.

Public displays of affection, from my experience in China, are rare and when seen, almost always in younger couples, it is strikingly apparent due to its rarity. This is something I was not expecting to notice. PDA, though still somewhat frowned upon in the US, is not something I generally notice in the States because of its “normality”. Here, though, I notice any kind of physical contact a lot more. The equivalent here of holding hands in the US is the male holding the back of the women’s arm above the elbow, neck, or opposite shoulder. Holding hands as I am accustomed to seeing is rare and when seen is more likely to be seen between two girl friends rather than a romantic couple.
Even married couples don’t seem to touch each other. Some friends of ours are married and yet I have never actually seen them touch, nor sit next to each other (even at dinner). While the woman will link arms with me while walking around (and tell me she loves me in very broken English), I have never seen any hints at physical affection between husband and wife. The aversion to mixed-gender interactions really makes me amazed there is an over-population problem in China at all.

The daily life in China is pretty boring. Now that we’re in a routine, we’ve stopped noticing the unique little details of daily life in China which has left me with less to write about – actually, there’s not less to write about it, there’s just less I’m noticing as different now that my standards and expectations have adjusted. The people who pass us on their bikes singing no longer make us think, “wow! If someone did that in the U.S. we might think they were crazy!” and instead we just smile and appreciate that little freedom people feel here.

We discovered another alley selling street food over by He Da (the closest University to us) and right down the street from QLH. It’s actually not an alley but an indoor market with vendors and mini restaurants. The hustle and cheerful bustle in their covered marketplace is intoxicating and quite a lot of fun. We’ve made friends with a couple that sell a bread dish we like and we are quickly becoming regulars with the vendors that sell a combination of our two favorite street “sandwiches”.

We have no plans for this weekend other than some grocery shopping and relaxing. We made a visit to the newest Starbucks in Baoding and had a taste of the seasonal specials – outrageously expensive but a welcome reminder of holidays at home.

To end this post, here is a video of some of Duncan’s second graders singing before class.

Have a great weekend and thank you for reading!
Alyssa

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2013 in Baoding, Uncategorized

 

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Day 78: Baoding in Teaching (Teaching in Baoding)

Hello everyone!
I can’t believe we’ve already been here for 78 days and have completed our tenth week of teaching.
This week’s classes were a lot of fun! We had fewer classes than usual because morning classes on Wednesday for primary school students and Friday morning classes for middle school students were cancelled because the students had exams. This meant that I saw only one fifth grade class on Wednesday and only taught five eighth grade classes this week.
My lesson for the sixth graders covered months, seasons, weather, appropriate clothing, and seasonal things to do outside. Though most of the vocab was review, they seemed to enjoy learning “swim suit” (which they would not stop calling a “swimmy suit”), “umbrella” (aka “umbreller”), “rain boots” and “rain coat” (which they called “rainy boots” and “rainy coat”).
The past several weeks I have been teaching two or three different lessons to my seventh grade because cancelled classes have made it so that all of the classes have not had my class the same number of times. For some classes this week I combined two lessons and for other seventh grade classes I just played games all of class to try to get everyone on the same page. All of my seventh grade classes have now had the same material, but because of the class cancellations this week (and last), now I have one fifth grade class ahead of all the other fifth grade classes and another class two weeks behind the others (on top of them already being the class of transfer students that have a lower English level than the rest of the grade).
I played the same game with all of my classes this week just at varying levels of difficulty appropriate to the most recent lesson material and grade level. It proved to be a very successful game that I will definitely play again in the future. I divided the class into three or four teams depending on size and divided the chalkboard into sections according to the number of teams. I then wrote down some words that the students had to unscramble into a grammatically correct sentence in order for their team to get a point.
Before I played the game I was doubtful that they would see the game as fun and would see it more as a classroom exercise, but their enthusiasm (in all classes) astounded and encouraged me. My most advanced seventh grade class played it almost the entire class period because they were enjoying it so much. It really seems to be a great game because the entire class gets engaged and really into telling their teammate at the board how to write the sentence correctly and they all end up speaking in English without even realizing what they are doing. For this reason, I used more practical sentences for my eighth grade (such as “I would like a ticket to Beijing, please” and “I am learning English”) to give them practice saying phrases they are likely to use in real-life rather than the lesson-appropriate sentences I used with my sixth graders (“Fall is cool” and “I like to go swimming in the Summer”). One of my favorite moments from this week’s game was when I had the students unscramble words to form the sentence “Alyssa is my favorite English teacher”. As I went through checking each team’s sentence I said, “thank you!” as if they had done it on their own and they all thought it was very funny.
On Wednesday when I had my one fifth grade class, the Chinese teaching assistant never showed up so I taught the entire class by myself. I was very proud of my students for how well they did understanding what I was saying and participating in the class without relying on a Chinese translation. When I started the class with my usual routine of asking them what they did over the weekend, one girl told me that it was her birthday. After she sat down, another girl stood up and said in front of the class that she went to her friend’s birthday party. It seems like a simple situation but keep in mind that these are 10 and 11 year olds telling me in correct English about their weekends. They really do astound me.
I’ve started hanging out with my students in their classrooms in the breaks between classes rather than reading in the hallway or in the teacher’s offices and this has proved to be very valuable and a lot of fun. During this time, I always have some girls messing with my hair, some boys pointing at different things either around the room or in books asking me for the English words, and other students just trying to tell me different things in English and Chinese. I get so encouraged by my students’ attempt to speak in English with me about normal everyday things rather than just following a memorized script or only talking in English when they have to in class. The more relaxed interactions with me in between classes rather than just with me as the English teacher at the front of the class is probably more valuable than anything I could teach them as a class.
My eighth grade classes, usually a source of much worrying and anxiety for me, were hugely successful this week and I couldn’t be happier with how they went. Some of the students are still troublemakers and seem to spend the entire class talking, throwing things, or messing with people, but as a whole they were all great. Because of the game I played with them, even the kids that normally sit in the back scowling at me with teenage angst came to the front, participated, and did really well.
I had a lot of funny moments happen in classes this week too. One eighth grader kept trying to flatter me however he could in English so that I would give his team more points and another kid’s voice cracked so loud and high that it scared me and I jumped. One boy, rushing back to his seat after writing on the board, slipped and fell on his back in the middle of the aisle in between desks as if he had slipped on a banana peel. And in another class, in the middle of the game I heard a loud pop like a mini explosion from the back of the room and I couldn’t figure out what it was. There were a group of students (where I suspect the noise originated) that kept looking at me and telling me “don’t worry about it” while all the kids around them were staring and pointing at them. I asked what the noise was (assuming a stool had broken, but no one seemed to be missing a stool) but I still have no idea what happened. It was pretty funny though.
I am so excited about this week because it seems I finally learned how to connect with my older students and play with them at the level they want to play at while (sneakily) forcing them to use English. Next class I am going to take my eighth graders outside – an option I gave them at the end of class that immediately made their eyes bug out of their heads and get super excited and become well-behaved.

For non-teaching news, it’s really cold here. I clearly wasn’t using my brain when I packed because I left my smurf suit (a blue wool body suit), leather gloves, and long underwear in the States. It seems that I forgot I was moving to the North of the globe when I was packing and, for a reason I cannot explain, decided it was better to pack a couple of sundresses rather than my winter coat. I’ve always thought I was a good and practical packer but after this oversight, I’ve decided I’m never allowed to pack by myself again.
But, we do now have heat in the room and it is the most amazing thing I think I’ve ever experienced. We were getting so cold at night before our heat was working that we were genuinely concerned for our safety come winter. Our washer was also fixed this week and now we can do a load of laundry in half the time and without the bathroom flooding because there is no longer a missing pipe on the underside of the sink (you have to turn the faucet on to get water in the washer). We discovered how to dry our clothes fast when we moved the drying rack by the window in our living room and turned on a fan that sucks air out of the room (like bathrooms in the States).
And though happy baozi man still hasn’t returned, as we’ve seen more and more street vendors disappear with the changing weather, we have become more confident that we will see him again in the Spring.

We’re spending the weekend in Baoding again just resting and staying warm. Soon, I am going to make another post about cultural differences I’ve noticed and more about what it’s like living in China as a meiguoren (American).

Have a good weekend and thank you for reading!

Alyssa

 
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Posted by on November 9, 2013 in Baoding, Uncategorized

 

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Day 50: Dinosaurs & Popsicles

Hey everyone!

Another week of teaching has flown by and we’re spending the weekend in Baoding. The weather (in the classrooms) is no longer the stifling heat it was the first couple of weeks we were teaching and is progressively getting cooler. Though not time for our winter coats just yet, the evenings (especially on Kuai Long) necessitate a little something more on our arms.

Remarkably, we still haven’t found facemasks yet. You would think that with the smog being so bad so consistently that they would be easy to find and relatively cheap but this is, unfortunately, not the case. In the near future we may be pooling our money with two other friends to buy a case of high-quality masks off of Taobao. We just can’t go the entire year without facemasks of some sort (especially considering the smog gets even worse in Baoding winter).

Low lying smoke in the field next to the school:
IMG_1986

My eighth grade classes were enjoyable this week – something that I’m very relieved about. I taught them the same Hoobastank song lesson that I used on my seventh graders and it seemed to be successful. I also learned that the students are much more engaged in class if I begin by asking them personal questions such as “How was your holiday” and it encourages them to use their English in a natural and individually constructed way rather than just using the memorized sentences they’ve learned in their classes. I’d like to believe that it will encourage them to want to talk to me and in turn will motivate their English learning.

The Hoobastank “The Reason” lesson:
IMG_1976

I was certainly encouraged when in several of my classes, some students took the conversational style I started the class with and were asking me how to say certain words in English. I’m not exactly sure what was going on but in one of my eighth grade classes, students kept drawing turtles on their paper and asking me what the English word was. As soon as I told them “turtle” they all immediately pointed to one kid in the back of the class and said, “his name is turtle!” Right after that, they spent the next ten minutes trying to figure out how to say, “Dinosaurs with small eggs lived in a big forest”. (I figured this out through pantomiming, drawing on the board, and having students write the desired characters in my phone’s Chinese-English dictionary.) They seemed quite content when I wrote down the dinosaur sentence so I assume that’s what they were after though why, I have absolutely no idea.

When I asked another class what their favorite music was they kept telling me about some artist that is very popular in China and in Korea. They did not, however, know the English word “Korea” and so they pulled out a map and started pointing to Korea over and over again. And, again, another class, wanted to know how to say “Popsicle”.

After one or two classes, I realized that asking the kids what their favorite music and computer games are at the end of class was super successful and I did it with all my classes, including some seventh grade classes. I was very amused by the favorite music answers I got in every single class of eighth graders – Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga, PSY (Gangnam Style), Backstreet Boys, and Avril Lavigne. Who would have thought that Avril or Michael Jackson would have been on their list of favorites. Their favorite computer games were always – LOL (a DOTA game), CF (Cross-Fire), Angry Birds, and Plants vs Zombies. I was surprised that none of them knew what WOW (World of Warcraft) was seeing as it is pretty popular in China as a whole.

After classes were done for the week, we went out for dinner with a whole bunch of other foreign teachers at a restaurant called “Philly Story”.

The GIANT pizza from Philly Story (one pizza took up one whole table):
IMG_1989

It’s so much fun to hang out with this group because we have Americans, a British guy, an Australian guy, Chinese people, and one Chinese guy that has lived in New Zealand, South Africa, and, of course, China. It really is an outstanding group of people with so many interesting stories to share and with such great perspectives on life. Really, it is a unique type of person that decides to embark on an adventure such as this and as I meet more and more interesting people doing the same thing as us, I’m encouraged to think, “Hey, maybe we’re interesting people too!”

But speaking of food, earlier in the week we found a new restaurant that ended up being pretty cool! It’s a hot-pot place, which in our book is always a good thing, but it ended up being a nontraditional hot-pot place which was even better They take a glass hot-pot dish, stick a melon inside of it, and then they put all sorts of delicious meats and vegetables inside the melon. The one we got came with chicken and celery inside the melon but we also ordered a side of mutton slices to cook in the hot-pot. If you put the meat inside of the hot-pot dish, it takes on the taste of the melon but if you put the meat inside of the melon it, interestingly enough, takes the flavor of the meat. We will definitely be going back there again!

Melon Hot-Pot:
IMG_1975

Today started out as any normal Saturday in Baoding should start – with coffee and fireworks. We slept in a little bit and headed to QLH planning on having a quiet day of planning and hanging out when all of a sudden we hear what sounds like the rope of a bomb going off and then hundreds of fireworks exploding. We look out the window and, sure enough, people down the street are setting off these fireworks on the sidewalk in between cars (because the sidewalk also means the parking lot in China). The best, though, was when one guy had a whole roll of firework tape that he accidentally lit all at once, and he threw it and ran across the street before it started going off. You could see his eyes from down the road they were so big!

Fireworks, of course:
IMG_2001

And for one more food story, tonight we went out to eat at a Sichuan style restaurant we frequent. We ordered our usual stir-fried green beans and rice but we also decided to try a new meat dish and they brought us “hua cha” (flower tea). The meat dish and the tea was good and the green beans were great as usual. Last time we went we got a “special friend price” (a discount they gave us because we’re frequent patrons), but this time I got a juice box with my change! It seems to be a normal box of peach juice but the lady behind the counter looked so pleased with herself I couldn’t not take it. Maybe it will be a midnight snack.

For some unhappy news, happy baozi man’s food tent and neighbors have been missing recently and we’re quite saddened by our lack of baozi from him. We do, however, believe he will return and when he does we will tell him “we missed you” and “women hui lai” (we have returned!)

For some happy news, Duncan has started drinking coffee with me, which is a dream come true for me, so to celebrate (and to prepare for the coming winter) I bought a coffee maker for the room! I also got a “special friend price” on it from QLH because I’m probably keeping their business alive despite the new competition down the road.

To everyone in Asheville, go up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and see the leaves for me before it starts getting too cold. I hear Nutcracker rehearsals are starting soon and, with me already missing dancing, I’m sad that I am not there to participate. If anyone knows of some phenomenal Nutcracker ballets to see here in China, let me know. I need to continue my annual Nutcracker tradition even if it’s just as a spectator.

Have a lovely weekend!
Alyssa

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2013 in Baoding, Uncategorized

 

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Day 28: Kids & Bonfires

The eighth graders are still my worst students. Despite my planning and my mistaken belief that I had figured them out, my class activities for the eighth graders yesterday did not keep them engaged and their behaviour was worse than before. It seemed that there were students continually throwing chalk at one another and then feigning stupidity when I confronted them about it and told them to go pick it up. When I was going around the room helping students to understand what they were supposed to be doing, a group of boys called me over just so they could try to stare down my shirt. Several other students threw books at each other from across the classroom.

Afterwards, I tried to ask some other teachers at the school for advice and they just thought the students didn’t understand me, which is why they were acting out. I thought that last time I taught them but well-behaved students in the classes this week taught me otherwise. Some students understood everything I was saying and were actively translating it into Chinese for the other students. Those who weren’t too busy acting out because they believe they can get away with it because I’m the foreign teacher, did a really great job and I was very impressed. This time, I tried more actively to positively reinforce the good behavior by thanking the good students.

My eighth grade classes in the afternoon were so bad I completely forgot about the great seventh grade classes I had in the morning. I returned to our rooms completely broken down, exhausted, and dreading today’s classes. I had planned to just go out and stay out in a quiet place until curfew.

But then we were invited to a “party” at the school to celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival so we decided to go check it out. We went to the soccer fields at 6:20, as the “invitations” (weird pink slips of paper) stated, and found 20-30 mini-bonfires surrounded by chairs and all of the students in grade 6 and below scattered around the fields. As Duncan and I walked by the different classes we were greeted by children screaming “HELLO!” and waving as hard as they could to get our attention.

Duncan being swarmed by some of his kids:
IMG_1760

We wandered around for about half an hour just saying “hello” back and greeting all of our students before one of the Chinese English teachers found us and told us “you can come over here so you can see everything better”. By this, it turned out, she meant, “come sit at the table next to the headmaster during speeches so a billion pictures can be taken of you”, which we did. After the hoards of pictures, we were told we were allowed to wander around the field and so we left our picture booths and joined the children at their bonfires.

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As we joined different classes of students we were bombarded by the children, feeling free to interact with us in a non-classroom environment and we spent another hour just giving kids high-fives, playing and dancing with them, and getting Duncan’s very little kids to show me what they have already learned from him (“Hello”, “How are you?” and “I’m fine, thank you. And you?”). All of the girls wanted to touch my hair and the boys kept asking Duncan if I was his girlfriend. One little kid came up to Duncan and I, poked our cheeks, and told us, in Chinese, something about big noses. We think he was asking why our noses are big compared to his. Some kindergarteners, after I said hello and sat next to them, would just start rattling off in Chinese to me to which I could only respond “bu zhi dao” (I don’t know), which made them giggle even more.

The field:
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The excitement from the kids really turned my whole mood around and made us feel really good about our involvement here at this school. I know we made the kids’ night, but I wish they could know they made our night too.

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Today, I had four classes of eighth graders again. The two classes in the morning were no worse than the classes yesterday but the two afternoon classes, which were my worst Friday classes last time, were my best eighth grade classes this week. I changed the games around slightly for the two afternoon classes and that seemed to make a lot of difference. There still was a lot of chalk throwing and ill-disguised misbehavior, but I ended up having a good time in my afternoon classes. I rewarded one kid in my second morning class for being amazing by handing him my iPhone and letting him listen to an American song (Dog Days are Over) at the end of class and I had another kid in one of my afternoon classes convinced his task in life is to teach me Chinese but other than that nothing notable happened.

I’ve been amazed by how much Duncan has already taught his little kids (most of them started the semester without any spoken English ability) and I want to start seeing evidence of teaching new material to my kids. This weekend I will be focusing on creating lesson plans that teach the kids useful everyday English rather than textbook English. I’ve considered using American music in my seventh and eighth grade classes to keep them engaged and excited about English class.

For dinner we decided to try Mai Dang Lao (McDonald’s) and it’s just as bad here as it is in the States. It might be worse here because at least when you eat it at home, you don’t expect it to fill some American food void in your belly. We managed to find the only streets in Baoding that are still crazy busy (most of the traffic is gone for the holiday weekend) but we eventually made it to the coffee shop to begin our weekend quietly.

We ended our evening practicing the violin and eating moon pies. We don’t have any plans for this weekend so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens!

Zai jian! (Good bye!)

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Day 13: Eighth Grade

My eighth grade students are evil spawn. They would not be quiet; they would not listen; I had several students get up and leave and come back with more people in the middle of classes. They wouldn’t attempt to speak English. They complained when I told them I don’t speak Chinese. They were a nightmare.
They appear not to understand spoken English despite the 8 years of English classes they’ve already had. They know how to read words, but they do not seem to understand the meaning behind those words. So I wrote down the rules on the board and they were able to read the words, but then completely lacked any comprehension of what they had just read or said aloud.

Games that were great successes in my 5th grade classes were complete failures in my eighth grade classes and I was left, after 20 minutes in my first class, without teaching materials or ideas because my expectations were apparently too high. So, I came up with a “game” which basically just involved me writing a category on the board, and having the kids name things within the category. The second class had only a few participants, but the third class, the most advanced, really enjoyed it and got very excited to continue playing. Their excitement boosted me up as well and I look forward to doing the same thing with my four eighth grade classes tomorrow.

Fortunately, I only have the eighth grade classes once every other week. Unfortunately, my English classes with these students may be the last time they are ever required to take English and thus some of them have no enthusiasm to participant or take anything seriously. Add on top of that, their general hormonal eighth grader mess, and it becomes frustrating chaos. But now I know, and I am more prepared for tomorrow’s classes and for the seventh grade classes next week. (I was supposed to teach seventh graders this morning but they have no classes all week this week because they have military training instead.)

We went out to the coffee shop this afternoon after classes and met another foreign teacher from England who we talked with for about 2 hours. Though pleasant and frequently helpful to talk to other foreign teachers, those conversations quickly become dangerous traps focused on complaining rather than on positive experiences.

Duncan and I are trying to remember that we are still in the adjustment period and we have not yet established a set routine we can get comfortable in. Once we are more established and settled the days will be easier and more enjoyable. We are very much looking forward to our trips outside of Baoding once we get our residence permits (which should hopefully be soon).

Though not particularly exciting or uplifting, that is all I have for today. I’m learning a lot from teaching and I can tell I’ve already done some personal growing from this experience. While I’m here, I’m also thinking of focusing on learning a new skill such as learning Chinese, playing the erhu, getting really good at jump-roping, becoming successful at braiding my own hair, and (if I get really bored) studying for the GRE. 😛

Regardless, this truly is going to be an adventuresome year.

Thanks for reading! 🙂

Also, if you have any suggestions for my seventh and eighth grade classes, I would be so happy and appreciative to hear them!

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2013 in Baoding, Uncategorized

 

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