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I had my first foray into Chinese medicine on Tuesday.

I had unfortunately contracted a sore throat. Not one of those sore throats that sounds bad but isn’t too bad, but one where it hurts if you try to talk too much above a whisper, and with a voice to rival Andrew’s.

Anyway, I decided this would be the ideal opportunity to experiment with Chinese herbal lozenges of various descriptions. Judi personally recommended ‘Golden Throat Lozenge’. Even though she smokes and is pushing the range of a contralto due to a couple of vocal cord nodes (and the smoking), I was keen to try them.

The conclusion is that they are quite effective at soothing a sore throat, and give a slightly numbing effect. They don’t taste offensive, either. What with talking almost constantly, I decided that a five minute interval between lozenges was more than sufficient. My Kindy bilingual helper said, ‘You’d better go easy on those things’. When I asked why, she replied, ‘too many can make you high’, after which we established that they contain a stimulant. This was news to me, since I was fighting drowsiness, but I was more moderate in consumption afterwards. )

The lady very kindly bought me what she said the Chinese use for sore throats; a ‘24 medicines’ in a drink-mix (no more than three a day - I asked ) ), honeysuckle leaves (to infuse), and ‘fat sea’ something, which are like small dates that swell when you put them in water.

On Wednesday my throat wasn’t quite as bad, and Thursday it was much better, but correspondingly later in the week I had a runny nose etc, so I’ve been looking forward to the weekend for a bit of a rest.

Hi again all, this is the second installment of my first day at school, namely teaching the Year 8s and 9s in the afternoon. Basically, they amply made up for the frustration of the Year 7 class. Both classes are an absolute pleasure to teach. Yes, I am still getting the hang of the multiple ‘bell’ system (fragments of Muzac, especially the first section and 1/2 a bar of Mozart’s Rondo alla Turka - not the end of the phrase) to indicate the beginning and end of the lesson, and associated teacher protocol (another post), and they are likewise coming to terms with my class requirements, but they are doing a very good job of trying to understand me, and I, them. Basically, they’re good kids. Ok, a few are a little too sprightly at present, but it’s not malicious or trouble-making in any way, and they’re learning to settle in Miss Gail’s class (the other teachers are miss xyz, regardless of marital status).

With the Year 8s, I spent their first two lessons introducing the ‘writing prompt’, ie, ‘Write 5 sentences in English on, “What if… you were the leader of China for a day?” They hadn’t done anything like that before, and I think most were focussed on, ‘What is the right answer? What answer does the teacher want?’, so introducing creative/ free thought, which is part of the activity, is perhaps harder than the actual writing. It took 2 lessons, including one failed attempt (’what do we know about fish?’) and one successful attempt on the board, but they’re getting the hang of it. At some stage one of them is going to have an ‘ohh!’ moment when it finally clicks. Groupwork is also a foreign concept, as are mind-maps (brainstorming on the board using linked circles and lines), which we’ll have to lead up to; not too many new things at one time!

The year 9s are gorgeous. There are only 3 or 4 boys in an otherwise all-girl class, so they are very social and help each other, but are still focussed on their work; after all, at the end of this year they will take their big English test to decide on their high school and therefore job prospects, so they’re working hard. They also understand groupwork. ) The year 9s also come with questions, and have both the language skills and confidence to be able to articulate what they want to know.

Since I only see the year 7s on Monday, Thursday and Friday, I have been sitting in on Mr Chen (Erik - ‘not a fish’)’s classes with them, and finding out what he’s been doing, and more importantly, at what level he’s teaching them. Their language is quite rudimentry, and they need a lot of repetition. He also uses a bit of Mandarin in the class, which I won’t be able to do. There are only 11 kids in the class, but it’s still the most intensive class for me. It has helped, me sitting at the back of the room and sometimes assisting, as the kids now are used to me, and no longer see me as a white, scary foreigner who talks fast and is harder to understand than the Americans, so I think they’ll really try. I’m trying hard to learn their names. I’ve also organised to have a text book for them which should come in on September 1 and not before, (why would the supplier possibly think we could need it before, since Sep 1 is officially the first day of school? - Government departments. ) ). That should really help, since I think the kids are still at the age where they really need something in front of them, rather than only arbitrary exersises in a book.

So the first half-week at school has been exciting and nowhere near as bad as normal first weeks. - I’ll need to start with the kindergarten after Sep 1, though, which should bring its own challenges. I’m really glad we haven’t had them this week, since I’ve been coming to school for 10 days already. It’s not that the work has been hard, it’s the emotional burden of the unknown classes that’s mainly been the problem. It’s going well.

Hark, I hear the dulcet tones of (James Galway, I think?) playing the ‘it’s nearly the end of the lesson’ cheerful music. Again, it finishes on half a phrase. I wonder if they do requests? )

mY fIRst Day aT SkoOl

Hi all, I know lots of people have been interested and (very kindly) asking after when I start classes at school (that may be an American expression; I don’t know. All the teachers use it. Let me know if it is). Well, the day has arrived and at present it is the lunch break/ ‘lunch and then sleep’ break. The school virtually shuts down over lunch, and people either sleep or read quietly or do some quiet activity. I will ask for a snoozing mat, and make myself at home in the airconditioned (yay!) English office. It’s a good time to do lesson planning, but that’s a bit hard for reasons I will shortly go into.

By the way, we received our schedules this morning. On the first day of school. I have to admit, that was the one thing that was bothering me. It shouldn’t have been, but it was.

I had my first lesson this morning: Year 7s. They have had many different native English and Chinese English teachers and teaching styles over the past few years, which has drastically influenced their learning. They are also the first class of the middle school, and many of them have the pubescent ‘I’m too cool for this class’ mindset, which I’m sure creative and interesting lessons will work wonders for. It also doesn’t help that their written and spoken English is very poor. I suspect there may also be accent and speech speed issues.

The main problem for me is I don’t know what they know and what they don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever had such an unresponsive class. I suspect their written English is ahead of their spoken English. They didn’t have any books. During the first lesson, I think all they learned was the rules. I’m liasing with the other English teacher to reiterate the rules and requirements, so there’s continuity between us and so the students learn them properly. It’s worth spending the extra time on them up-front. I find their Chinese English teacher, Erik (not a fish ) ) quite hard to understand, and I’m sure it’s most mutual, judging by previous difficulties. But I’ve helped him understand how important it is for us to work together, and briefed him on my class this morning, and what I’d like him to add to his.

For the next year 7 class, I’ve photocopied a comprehension unit, so they have about a week to get books and dictionaries. I think it’ll also help to use some printed, written materials and have them as a platform. It should also make them more comfortable with expressing what they can do. I strongly suspect they may be bluffing a bit (insert raised eyebrow at this point), because when I said they couldn’t leave until their homework was written down, most wrote it down awfully fast. How about that, eh? It will help to co-teach some lessons with Erik, or at least us both be present, especially initially.

So that’s how the first lesson went. The Year 8s and 9s are after lunch, and their spoken English is a lot better. A huge hooray for that!! I’ll have the comprehension sheets, and also what I planned for the Year 7s, so should be covererd for minimal/ high English abilities. )

School’s Back - nearly

Well, the first of September is nearly upon us, which, as any good little Chinese student knows, marks the beginning of the school year. The past few days I have been meeting with the other English teachers at the school I will be working at this year, both foreign and Chinese (ie native Chinese who teach English). The conglomerate of foreign teachers consists of an American and Canadian, Judi and Erika, both of whom are returning, the Head of English, Mary Ann, who is also American and fluent in Mandarin, a new San Fransiscan teacher, Kathleen, who sounds very different to the others, and Yours Truly, who obviously sounds different to everyone.

We met as a faculty a few days before the rest of the staff, to bond, discover and learn. ‘Chubby Bunnies’ was possibly more cheek-stretching than ice-breaking, and I felt well and truly stretched before its end. ) It was quite fun, and since marshmallows are thin on the ground over here, we stuffed our cheeks with turgid, red grapes (which were quite nice, by the way). The game continued so long that some of them split and the juice gently trickled into my mouth. Kathleen was the second to last to bail, and so I won by default. To be fair, I don’t think I actually won, more tied, becuase of the said attrition rate of the grapes, and I didn’t pop in any more after her. So I’d say we tied.

We did a lot of communal work, where Mary Ann directed discussion on where we wanted to go as a faculty, and what we wanted the students to achieve by learning English. Highly worthwhile.

Schooling in China is very, very different to the West. It’s very adult-centered rather than child-centered. It’s also exam-focussed. At the end of Year 9 students sit an English exam, the results of which determine what high school they can attend, and therefore what jobs they will probably be eligible for once they leave school. So from an early age a lot of their future choices seem pre-determined. Since the schooling is so exam-focussed, there is much going over previous exam papers, to the detriment of new knowledge.

A large part of my job is working with the middle school (years 7-9) and supplementing the Chinese English teachers’ lessons with my own, more creative lessons. When you think ‘creative’, don’t think too hard. There won’t be frequent dancing, painting with fingers or pottery.

The Chinese English teachers are a product of their own education system, and think that a strictly followed book of comprehension exersises is racy enough. When I realised this, I thought of the fable of the crab and her children: a crab was telling her children not to walk sideways, but to walk forwards like the other animals. They said that they were willing, if only she would give them the example to show them how it was done.

There is not a lot of supplementation of a book with worksheets or many (any?) aspects of non-linear thinking. My job is to expose the kids to a lot of different English mediums so they can see English as a rich language that is present in many forms; so they can hopefully learn to think in English, not just think in Mandarin and do a direct word-translation, or be able to dissect a sentence on a page, or fill in the missing word in a sentence. I’ll help them express themselves in English, and improve their reading and writing. In reality, this will be a mamoth task, considering where they’re coming from, but we’ll take it a few steps at a time. After all, they have to start somewhere. I’m a bit nervous, of course, but - bring it on. )

There is a general perception that a student who is not achieving is lazy, and if they would only try harder then they would achieve. This is very much a cultural idea, and one that is still held by a high percentage of all Chinese teachers, unfortunately. Yes, some kids do need to try harder, but others simply need knowledge gaps plugged and for still others, they are coming to the school and being exposed to English at, say, year 4/5, and expected to immediately be where the rest of the class is, who have been learning English since pre-school.

Parental stresses can be fearsome. Many force too much homework on the kids, so they don’t have time to simply be kids; I’ve heard of stories of children staying at school for extra hours after final bell, just because they will be forced to do nothing but homework while they are home! The pressure on these kids is amazing; each one carries the hopes and dreams of two parents for a better future, and who realise that education (read: English) is often the way to be sucessful.

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