Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Halloween!








I know I am LATE, but here are some Halloween pictures I've been wanting to post for quite some time! Not that I am super busy, but some new hobbies and my tutoring sessions have interrupted my extra time for blogging. I have some highly ENTERTAINING/EDUCATIONAL blogs coming your way.


We celebrated Halloween with these kids for a good hour. Most of them were dressed up in costumes. Some were bought from the store, others were homemade. I have a ton of respect for the student who hosted our celebration as Harry Potter. His English was impeccable. Funny note: I mentioned in an earlier blog that they usually learn British-English in Asia; so his Chinese-English has a British accent. It's adorable.



There were two speeches made about Halloween: 1) Harry Potter delivered a festive power point presentation describing the history of Halloween and cast spells on us all, 2) Vice Principal, Paul, gave a brief satirical speech on Halloween traditions. Both speeches were translated in Chinese. Candy was cast, spells were shot, and spooky music entrenched our souls. We made it rain, heavily.


                                                              MY COSTUME: Double Fail

Teachers did not really dress for the occasion. Many threw on costume extras from the students. I am pretty eccentric, BUT, I am just as much CHEAP. Ha. I do not condone spending x amount of dollars on a low-quality costume. I didn't have much to work with in my closet, so I turned myself into a nurse. Out of paper. I am THAT cheap! It was actually pretty awesome and saved me trips. My second graders just finished a lesson on JOBS so they all knew the English word/job nurse. Turned out to be a double-fail. 1) It was so hot that my stethoscope and first aid sign kept falling off (along with my sweat) and everyone kept asking me what the boo-boo was on my forehead (band-aid) 2) Besides my second graders, the kids did not know what I was trying to pull off (a red hotdog around my neck?). I THOUGHT the face mask would make it obvious, but they thought I was wearing it for the same reasons so many Chinese people wear masks on a daily basis (sad, right). Yea, fail.


My students



The common question: does China celebrate Halloween?

In short, no. In details, sure. It is slowly gaining popularity. It was appropriate to celebrate it in my school because they are international. Once that school celebration is over, that is it. No kids come knocking on your door. More commonly it is celebrated in bars or colleges. It is an excuse to dress up and party. America wouldn't know anything about that....ba-ha.

You can find costumes, but really only in larger stores such as Walmart or a popular city like Xienjekou (shin-jay-ko). Fashion Lady (a ginormous, electric underground shopping center) sold many costumes. Most of the costumes I saw were pretty generic, and in my opinion, overpriced. I am talking adults here. The kids costumes were adorable. Similar to home, but the material felt as if it wouldn't make it through 1 wash.

Browse through some pictures! It was a blast!




Give Kitty milk and she is happy!


Tiger (best name ever)


Harry Potter giving a phenomenal power point presentation on the history of Halloween.


Vice Principal making a speech on Halloween and (right) his translator


Goofy girl

Rita, the prettiest witch in Nanjing!

Mr. Potter himself (and his translator)


MIKE!

Amy
Little Japanese Rose



I respect the clown.


I thought that was me for a second.

Cody is a troop!

Little Apple


Preparing snacks

Sunday, 11 November 2012

My Side Job


Riding bikes with Jacky and Mary



About a month ago, I was approached by a Chinese man, Shaw (who I called Sean-whoops), while I was at the gym. He asked if I was interested in tutoring two ten year old children. Like anyone else who approached me in regards to tutoring, I gave him my e-mail and asked him to send me details. For the first time, I decided to meet with a family and give it a try. Girl's gotta pay her student loans.


I met with the parents of the boy, Jacky, along with Shaw at a Starbucks alongside our gym. The parents barely spoke a lick of English, so Shaw acted as our translator. We discussed salary, payment, and what would be expected of me. I already tutor four nights a week for JESIE. It is all lecture/game based and I am becoming tutored-out. To my luck, the parents did not want me to lecture their kids or prepare any type of lesson. Instead, they wanted me to simply hang out with them for two hours every Sunday. They plan on sending their kids to school in America in a few years, and want them to get used to speaking. Teachers and books teach most citizens British-English in Asia. Many parents do not encourage that and so these parents preferred that I teach their kids American slang (to fit in). Awesome. The travel time to get to their house and back takes up another nearly 2 hours of my day. Eh, I decided to do it. $30 an hour to babysit and I could quit at any time. Cash. I'd never have to touch my bank account except for bill payments. Plus, I’m tired of eating rice.


Little did I know that taking on this job would be one of the best decisions I'd make thus far. It went beyond "tutoring" and so far has been rewarding for me. I didn’t realize how much their entire family would teach me about Chinese culture. Working with them has not only educated me on their traditions, but has answered many of my questions regarding the way they do things.


Every Sunday I take the subway 8 metro stops from Gulou to Ruanjiadao. Over time, I would get lost because I did not realize I had to look at a screen and get on the right line. You could head to the Olympic Stadium or the Chinese Pharmaceutical University. Do you have any idea what it's like trying to explain to a person who doesn't speak your language that you're lost and you have no idea how it happened or how long it will take you to meet them? Keep in mind that on Sunday's the train station is packed to death with people (bags/bellies are cramming your whole body and
you cannot turn around). It was a nightmare and I was an hour late. I'd rather cancel than be late. I tried, but HE DIDN'T UNDERSTAND I WAS TRYING TO RESCHEDULE.


My first Sunday, Mr. Zhang (pronounced Jong) picked me up from the metro station so I could save time and money on a taxi. Sweet. Besides Val, this would be the first time I've been in a car, and a nice one at that. Everyone I meet rides motor bikes or takes the bus or train. Mr. Zhang drives some kind of black SUV and it's always shiny and clean. The beige interior smells of leather and was impeccable in maintenance. I have never seen a speck of dirt or trash. The back seat has cup holders, fashionable compartments for your trash, and a gold plated tissue box protector with an intimidating lion head on it. Mr. Zhang almost always wears a fresh suit or sharp blazer and looks clean. He and his car are analogous replicas of each other.


After a ten minute drive, we enter his gated community. We are greeted by a caretaker who always stands with his hand on his forehead and his eyes looking straight ahead. In front of the gate are two flowing water fountains. How do you ask "Got a penny" in Chinese? For the first time I saw houses. Upscale houses. They are not the type of single houses you would find in America. They are all enclosed somehow and are not nearly as wide as they are tall. Compared to the nicest apartments I've seen (and I've seen spacious and spectacular), their place is a mansion. I've been around with the kids and they are always happy to point out the different fruit trees and water fountains. Their community is very green and I've noticed a few foreigners in the neighborhood. Mr. Zhang tells me they are all Australian and European (mostly German).


Entering their home was like entering another realm of China. I was blown away by it. It was rich in Chinese culture and well maintained. Everything was shiny and breakable. Clean aromas filled each room. Every seat secured a leather tush-cushion. There was embroidery in the embroidery. For the most part, I was used to the poorer side of China. I would embark with this family a warmer, more comfortable side of Nanjing.


The first thing they would make me do that Sunday is take off my shoes. Luckily I wore fresh socks! They gave me pink sandals to wear around their home. Every family does this. I have never been given sandals or slippers that fit. My heels hang out of them which the kids were not hesitant to point out their first time meeting me. Their house felt toasty and cozy with a d├ęcor of beiges, whites, browns, and gold’s. The [wood, oak, idn] furniture shined like a new penny, and the classic-style furniture was fashionable. Everything was classic from the furniture to the paintings to the car models you’d find around the house. They even had a white and gold telephone that you had to wind the dials around. I haven’t seen one of those since I was a kid.


Upon entering their home my first Sunday session, I sat down and waited to meet Jacky. The maid offered me hot water or tea and delivered it to me in a cute little China tea cup. I want a tea set, I thought. Jacky was very excited to meet me. I was surprised at how well he could already speak English. He showed me pictures of his family and presented me with his goldfish while we waited for Mary. She also knew tremendous English (for a ten year old). They were so well behaved; I thought it was an act for their parents. It wasn’t. I learned through becoming pretty close with them that they don’t get much free time to play. Like all the Chinese kids I’ve met, their day goes by like a drill. They know exactly what is expected of them and what their consequences are if they mess up. They spend their Saturday's doing homework and Sunday's with me. My job is to play with them. They are very fair and would never go against their parent’s wishes. A part of me wants to argue that they are so spoiled by their family that they don't have to! Two sides of a family spoil one child. The lifelong effects from this are so substantial I am going to write a separate blog about it.


Jacky (not Jackie-he'll freak out!), 10, takes pride in the designs he builds. I’ve seen him recreate the Eiffel Tower and Tiananmen Square. His favorite colors are green and orange and his favorite holiday is Children’s Day. He loves robots and dominos. We love to act like Transformers. He is a growing magician. He put on a magic show for me and was kind enough to reveal his tricks. The three of us sometimes play games in his bedroom. This is something so innocent, but would not be acceptable behavior in the US. His room is so clean. I’m jealous of his high ceilings and chandelier. I told him how afraid I’d be to have it over my bed and I think I scared him. My favorite part about his room is his toy drawer. He has the coolest little gadgets. I would open a gemstone contraption and it would be full of rocks or colorful stones. He has little toy people I can whack with his nun chucks.


Mary, 10, is just as sweet as she is beautiful. She loves to draw and her favorite colors are pink and yellow. Mary's number one attribute is her adoration for Hello Kitty. Good girl. Her favorite holiday is her birthday because she can give presents out to all of her friends. In China, you either give your friends presents or treat them to dinner! Your parents can give you a gift. Which seems more strange: 1) you GIVE gifts on YOUR birthday, or 2) A ten year old enjoys GIVING so much, it is her favorite holiday? She has her own room at Jacky's house. They do not use the term “cousins” only brother and sister. This really confused me when I first met them. Her bedroom (she has her own bedroom in a house she does not live in) is pink and she has Hello Kitty wallpaper. She also has a gorgeous chandelier above her bed. On top of her dresser is a lovely porcelain ballerina, and the framed artwork in her room is outlined in rhinestones.


We do all sorts of things and talk about everything we are able to communicate. Many times our conversations get lost because we do not understand each other. We draw, play word games on Jacky's easel, and they show me computer games in their movie room. Yes, movie room. This room consists of 7 cherry-brown leather chairs, a big flat screen tv, 7 remotes, and different game boxes. They use their computer on the flat screen. I taught them how to play Bananagrams and Uno. Teaching these games took some time and practice, but now they can play and life is good. I never would have thought I’d be playing Bananagrams with Chinese children. We play random games in Jacky study. He has his OWN study and it is larger than my last two bedrooms combined. Two full bookshelves covers two walls. He has more pencils, erasers, paper, markers than I ever had growing up. I'm pretty sure I could sell his desk and pay off my student loans. He also has a toy room, but it isn't much. He has three crates of toys which are shoved in a corner and the rest of the room consists of a treadmill, grandmother's paintings, and beer. Oh, and he has to walk outside of his house to go in and the door is usually locked. It's also freezing in that concrete room for most of the year. Compared to home, that just seems a little backwards.


My favorite activity is rendezvousing outside. I ride a children's bike that is way too small for me and Mary sits on the back of Jacky's. We ride around their green development full of fruit trees and friendly residents. Once I ran into one of my male students and it was totally BIZZARE (1: it was so random 2: I was hanging out riding bikes with kids HIS age). I enjoy the looks I get when people see me riding a tiny bike with these two English-speaking Chinese kids. We will go over to ponds and feed fish raisin bread. We look around for cool rocks and try to catch fish with crippled fishnets we occasionally find. Once I tried to feed geese with the raisin bread and Jacky said, “No, ducks are angry at us. They will not eat.” I thought he was just scared of them. No plethora of geese I know from home would pass up on bread-and this was RAISIN bread. Fish and ducks were eating better than I was! The boy was right. The geese were scared of us. One of the geese wanted the bread  I hailed so bad, but would not eat it. I bet they thought we were hunting them.

Feeding fish with Jacky and Mary
Big Fish Little Fish

Pumpkin Mooncake




                                                                               Surviving the Table
This past Sunday the children greeted me with pumpkin mooncakes (I will add them to my pumpkin moon cake collection) and could not wait to play Bananagrams. Good thing I brought the banana. I could tell their parents were pleased to see how much their kids were enjoying our two hours together. Now, they would invite me to share a meal with them.



I did not see lunch coming. Had I of seen it coming, I would have reviewed the rules of etiquette/eating with the Chinese. I retrieved a few I read on my flight  and hoped they'd get me through this event without any "Alexa" moments or misinterpreted insults. I could very easily have turned a simple lunch into a circus show.


What arrangement laid before my eyes would have shocked me 2 months ago, but nowadays, seemed quite normal. If I was jolted by anything,it was the high quality of the table and chairs, and the metal chopsticks. I've only used wooden or plastic. There's a difference.


Occupying the center of the table was what we all know as a "Lazy Susan." The Chinese way is to share everything (which I am a huge fan). That's why it is so important to wash your hands prior to your meal. After a  portion of options are laid out in front of you, you slide the Lazy Susan your way to grab what you'd like. They eat plain (usually plain) white rice with every meal. You're supposed to eat the rice last; its point is to fill you up incase the the other courses do not. You grab one or two choices at a time, put it on your rice, and then you eat it. It's rude to just take everything and throw it in your bowl or plate. Equal amounts should be shared. Drinks are not present at any meal. Maybe hot tea...maybe. Instead, a very brothy soup is given. Some have it with their meals, and others save it for last. Even some restaurants will give you complimentary soup that you should "drink" with your meal.

A large bowl of beef (?) and shaved radish soup sat on a second level of the Lazy Susan (the first time I had seen a second level). Beneath it were seven separate dishes to choose from.  The presentation of the dishes was phenomenal. It was a perfect mixture of greens, reds, pinks, yellows, whites, and browns.


The first rule I recalled was to wait to be seated until the head member of the household told me to sit. It was me, the two children, Mr. Zhang, his wife, grandmother, and the maid. Mr. Zhang told me to have a seat. Only the children knew a fair amount of English. Mr. Zhang knew enough to spark a conversation, but not enough to finish it (which is better than none at all). After I sat, Mr. Zhang told me to wash my hands after telling the children. I should have known better! I knew that! There I was, washing my hands with the children; I felt no wiser. I sat down and waited to dig in until everyone else did. I was studying everyone's gestures/mannerisms. In China, you're welcome to put your elbows on the table and chew with your mouth open, but don't you dare let two chopsticks stand upright in your food (symbolizes death). I'm sure they would be understanding, but I still wanted to be careful.


The table looked at me to dig in first. There I was having my first meal with a real Chinese family and desperately wishing to communicate. I could only distinguish a mere fraction of the food I was about to embark on. I  felt so foreign.


I had my palm-sized rice bowl (fine China) in front of me and my thin metal chopsticks. Mr. Zhang asked me if the chopsticks were okay. I thought "sure, I got this" and picked up a red piece of meat. I made a fool of myself. Metal chopsticks are much thinner and make a dense clanking sound when you miss your target. The meat took me two tries, but the greens that were next to it took me three, and don't even get me started on the rice. I looked up many times noticing that they were acknowledging my struggle. Chinese would be uttered every few moments, but nobody would give a facial expression. They're so good at that. Maybe I was self-conscious, but I'm pretty sure they were making comments about me. At one point, the children's mother went to the kitchen and came back with a tablespoon and take-out fork which she unwrapped from its plastic home for me. I laughed off my terrible (metal) chopstick skills and thanked her. The whole table was amused that I now had half of their kitchenware sitting in front me.


I nonchalantly tried to watch how they ate their rice. I read that you're supposed to put your bowl to your mouth and scoop the rice in. Ooooh the slurping noise they make! I wouldn't dare do that until I saw someone else, but I didn't. I didn't see anyone take any rice, yet their bowls were emptying. I was so confused! I continued trying with the metal chopsticks. I grabbed the egg/cauliflower mix and skinned cucumber which was saturated in a sushi-tasting soy sauce (such a variety of flavors-this one tasted like what you'd receive when visiting a Japanese restaurant). The chopsticks sided with me, but when I got to anything thin or noodly, it was as if my chopsticks magnetically forced it away. I thought maybe the repellent force was a sign not to eat their food. Too bad I'm fat and would take my chances.

They wanted me to try everything. The appearance of their first offering looked like thick, shiny slabs of something brown. I asked Jacky what it was and he simply stated "meat." I asked him what kind of meat and, confusedly, he replied "bean." Bean meat? Then I recognized it from the cafeteria, or cantene, food at my school. I bit into it and was happy to recognize the taste. I gave the correct name: dofu. In English it's tofu. Their family all smiled and seemed pleased that I knew what it was. Score. That glazed dofu was one of my favorites. Every day I hope my school is serving it. It has a caramelized/brown sugary taste to it. This style of dofu is a light, spongy texture and sucks in all of the sweetness of the sauce it vacates in. I need the recipe.

They Lazy Susan'd me the tiniest bowl of all. I did not know if it was a vegetable or meat. In the bowl were red and green bits of something. I picked a red one. I always claim red is dangerous and so I should've taken my own advice and avoided the bloody thing. For once I received a straight-up answer as to what it was: pig's ear. It fell quickly from my clattering chopsticks. I stared blankly at Mr. Zhang as if I was not joking around and re-stated what he had just informed me it was. The table, especially the kids, roared at my reaction. They would not take no for an answer when they realized it was my first encounter with a pigs ear. I hastily gave a smile, looked at it, and just ate the thing. Suck it up! It was half the size of my pinky and it looked like an ear, but with a little twist to it. The edges were red and the rest was a dark pink color. The taste was not good nor bad, but the texture would take some getting used to. I could have chewed it 100 times, like an oyster, but it was much more rigid. It was not gooey. I could feel the  cartilage on my tongue....I do not know my ear parts well enough for details on this one. After I forced it's stubborn tissue-flesh down my throat, I said it was "alright" and followed my faint reaction with "yes, my first pig ear!" Nobody laughed, but just continued eating.


They were eating so much faster than me and I really was hungry so I switched to my plastic fork. Everyone laughed, as did I. I decided later that I'd just use my fork for the rice. Once again, they insisted I tried something else. There were 2 large meatballs (later I learned they were bean curd balls) in one small bowl. I had no idea what kind of meat it was. I would only take half so that everyone had a taste, though they nearly insisted I eat the whole thing. It was a big meatball! I didn't know what to do or how much I should take of it. I used my unused tablespoon to slice one in half. Nobody else had anything sitting on the table next to their bowl, so I thought maybe they would think it was dirty if I put my used silverware on the table, and then saw me eat with it moments later . So, I put the tablespoon in my rice bowl. Now I have a fork and a tablespoon in my small palm-sized rice bowl, and chopsticks in my hand. Not to mention the rice parade I realized I made on their table. Can a girl get a napkin? I was a mess.


Everyone had moved onto soup before me and filled up their rice bowls. I hadn't finished my rice. They eat so fast! I did not want to look like a pig. I keep forgetting eating quickly, slurping, and chewing/talking with your mouth full and open is socially acceptable. Thank the Lord I barely heard any mouth noises while they ate. I think they are reading my blog ;]


Jacky guzzled three bowls of soup and we all laughed at how we all knew what his favorite food was: meat. Not many kids reply with "meat." I wanted soup, but my bowl was full of rice and utensils. The kids got up, but their family insisted I have soup so their mother got me another palm-sized bowl. They looked displeased at the small amount I took. I took one piece of meat and 2 of the radishes. I mainly wanted  the broth. They all watched for my reaction to the meat (it looked like mutton). Depressingly, it was all bone. I said "bone" as I used my hand to take it out of my mouth (no tissue) and discarded it in my rice bowl. The #1 rule at all times is to keep your hands clean. Fail. Had that been them, I know for a fact they would have spit the bone right there on their table. It would look barbaric, but their hands would be clean. Not only that, I don't think they knew what bone meant, so I am afraid they thought I spit it out because I didn't like the meat. I just realized that "bone" sounds like "no" in Chinese (bu or boo). Man!

I'll end it with this: this family bought expensive duck from Beijing Duck for me AND grandmother made her own duck for me as well (all because I told them I hadn't tried duck before). Without telling me which was which, grandmother made me tell her which one I liked more. Jacky told me earlier (in English) which one was his grandmother's. Bahahaha. She almost cried of joy when I chose hers. SUCCESS!

The following Sunday I was invited to Mary's birthday dinner. Happy 10th birthday, Mary!
(Take notice there are no drinks, only a large bowl of soup to cleanse the pallet)
Jacky is lighting Mary's birthday candles-which is sung before we have dinner!
(Take notice of all my utensils, lol)


Mary, Me, Jacky





Follow-Up: A Rough Class

                                                              Post-Friday's Nightmare:
                                                                           Monday.


[HAD TO POST THE FOLLOW-UP to my Lava-Lexy mutation sit-che-ation...]


First thing's first. I spoke with the only two people who speak English in my school, one of them being the Vice Principal. I laid out all of the events that took place on Friday and urged I wanted letters sent home to every single student and a teacher's assistant in that class (as I was promised).

There's only so much I am willing to disclose online. I already got rid of some of what I blogged about earlier. Just know that the school seemed surprised that I had no teacher's assistant even though that happens every week; and I never did meet with the principal (yet). As soon as I said I wanted to send letters to all of the students' parents, eyes were rolled and that was unhesitatingly thrown out of the window. Kidding me, right? It wasn't even considered. I cannot imagine that happening in America. Trying to remain calm and collected, I put my foot down about the boy who grabbed me. Outcome: He was approached while I was teaching another class and I was told he didn't remember doing it and said he implied it was not on purpose. It didn't help my case that, overall, he's a good student. Finally, the Vice Principal made him apologize to me. I tried talking to him on my own, but he just kept looking around and it was just really awkward for both of us.

My collaborating English teacher did take it upon herself to tell the other teachers about how the student's are taking advantage of me and "touching" me where they know they aren't supposed to. I haven't blogged about it, but kids keep poking and grabbing my butt. Not just this school, but all of them. I smack their hands away and this and that, and they don't do it a second time. Now every class is being educated tomorrow NOT to touch me anywhere! Ha. Ugh, I feel like I'm in the twilight zone. 

Let's see
No letters. I was told I'm too nice. I actually agree with that and I am working on it. I've been in denial up until this weekend. The Vice Principal told me to throw their stuff out of the window to make myself clear. Apparently this class is not a large enough problem to be brought to the principals attention. Last time I checked, students not learning IS a problem. But hey, I finally got an attendance list of their Chinese/English names and numbers. Their number works the same as their name. They will respond faster to their number than their English name.




                                      Tuesday-1st Class After Friday's Freak Show

After walking in and watching them finish up with their usual teacher, I noticed they paid almost no mind to what happened last Friday and were their usual selves. I didn't expect them to; they're kids. I decided to relive that experience and remind them how inappropriate their behavior was.

I was very lucky in that Jessica, one of my favorite teachers here, walked in and translated (from the back of the class) everything I was disappointed to see the last few weeks. There were times she did not know exactly what I was saying, but she understood my body language, and already knew their class story; so she followed my directions on the board and translated them the best she could. She is known for not taking any nonsense from students. She is serious and not afraid to punish. Students are totally intimidated by her, yet she is a total sweetheart. She is my Chinese superwoman.

I do not recall smiling a single moment the whole class, even though they were angels. I gave them all name tags (for the second time) and used my class list (finally got it) to make sure 1) they all had English names; 2) would remember their English names; and 3) could spell their English names. I would not give them colored markers or allow them to draw on their name tag like the first time (woooo, it is on now chiclets). Some of them did not know their English name, and another one changed her name and nobody told me. The teachers changed her name on the attendance list, but did NOT tell the head English teacher. Lovely. Also, the kid "Leon" who kept tricking me into believing his name was Mike: HIS NAME IS MARK! When I was determined to figure out his name, I showed a picture of him to my collaborating English teacher and she told me his name was Leon. This whole time, to other teachers, I've been talking about my concerns with "Leon" and it was Mark. WHAT A MESS.

At first, as a classroom management strategy, I was using a gesture countdown to calm them down and gain their attention. (1)Hands on your desk, (2)feet straight, (3)look at me, (4)shhhh, pay attention. I also gave them three warnings. I learned that what works for other people will not work for you if you are not comfortable using it. I never felt comfortable with the gestures, but did it because it worked with other teachers. I went back to what worked VERY WELL for me with the 7th grade. I simplified it a bit for them. I wrote a 1 on the board and explained to them what that meant; then a two (star erase); then a three (big, big, big trouble-stand in the back of the room in front of the door where everyone will see you). They understood everything I was saying and I could see the disappointment in their eyes.

I talked to them about "earning" their games and fun lessons back, and even then, that I'd take them away if they ruined it for themselves. Three warnings turned to "If you do not listen the first  time, it's mine." I have enough paper airplanes to bring a tree back to life.

I finished class with book work and they were almost too well behaved. To not hear a peep from Winnie was completely unnatural. Even outside of the classroom, they were so polite. Normally they would jump on me, pull my arm, or scream that they were "very, very, very, very super!" That was okay with me, but this new 'respectful greeting' was a breath of fresh air. I know this profound behavior will not last forever, but I am off to a much better start right now than I was when I first started.

Regardless how well behaved they are, this and next weeks lessons will remain book work (which stinks because now I have to write up two different lessons for their grade). I'll open activities and games back up to them the third week.

The real test will be when no teacher's assistant is in the room. I'll be sure to check their pencil cases for stones.





Saturday, 3 November 2012

A Rough Class: Trying to Deal



The most commonly asked question people would ask me when finding out I was moving to China was, "How can you teach kids English if you can't speak Chinese?"

I never knew how to answer that question and thought I would learn the secret answer when I arrived. Well, there really is no magical technique or answer unless you want to call it patience or the ability and motivation to strategize.

As a first-year teacher, I think I am doing a pretty decent job. I like to think above-average, but maybe not because I am failing disastrously with one of my classes. I could write about how wonderful my other classes are playing out, but who wants to read about that?

Before I write a blog trying to explicate the answer to the #1 question people have asked, I want to gain more experience in the classroom first. I am still testing methods and picking up common responses in Chinese (important to know if you care about how they are reacting to your lesson). One lesson runs perfectly and the other I cannot even tell them to take out their markers. Just know: it is complicated.

                                   
                                                           
                                                            
Lexy Goes Lava.
                                                For every action there's a reaction.

Let it be known that I am trying like hell not to dread this wild, second-grade class every time I walk in. They are just kids, and I understand that their entire day runs like a military drill; so when they see me, they become all excited and buoyant, considering my class to be their "fun period."

I hear it and I see it. Students are reprimanded and ordered around each day. Before class begins, one student will shout and read a list of rules to the class and will eventually order the class to repeat them. When they walk the halls, they are told to march. Out of habit, or jokingly, they will sometimes march to me when I call on them during class. They easily go from acting like goofballs outside to sprinting to class when a bell rings or a whistle is blown. Class is very much lecture-based, the teachers are authoritative, and the consequences of disobeying the rules are much more severe. Not only are teachers more hands-on and have no problem shouting in their face (humiliating them in front of their peers), their parents will do more than 'ground' them or confiscate their television (as if they have their own television).


(Students frame of mind) So here's Lexy! We do not have to deal with her as often as our other teachers; she does not yell or smack us; she loves to play games and be goofy; she has no idea what we are saying to her; and she knows that it is expected of us not to understand everything that she says. She also has fantastic, vibrant nails. Best class ever!


Twice a week, I walk into a class that is overjoyed to see me, but do everything but take out their English books (this would NEVER fly with a Chinese teacher). I greet them and install my flash drive while I wait for them to finish up with their previous teacher and spend three whole minutes praying on the 50/50 chance that a teacher's assistant (t/a) will walk through the door so I actually have a chance of teaching them something.

Today, I had no t/a. It was 2:00pm. If you're a teacher, you know what that means. And it was Friday.    

I greeted them, "Good afternoon boys and girls!" It took two greetings before the whole class would reply "Good afternoon, Lexy!" Their faces were gleaming. I loved that part. I wish I could just play with them all period.

"How are you?" I asked them. All of their hands rose, looking like hungry seagulls, fighting to be the one called on. Responses included:

"I am very very very very super!"
"I am very very very very bad!"
"I'm terrific!"
"I am fine, thank you. And you?" 

Me: "I am Stuupendous! That means very very very very very very happy!" (Even though it was 2:00 and I was nursing coffee prior to class to stay awake)

I assigned each group a leader, and the leader got to choose the name for their team. I found that the boys like to choose outrageous names just so they can see my pitiful artwork on the board. Today they would be the Butterflies, Dragons, Dinosaurs, and UFO's. I noticed all of the UFO's desks were separated from each other. They were the leading team I struggled with. The seating modifcation meant their behavior was extra-disruptive all day. One of them sat alone in the back of class where he would be in clear eyesight of any teacher who walked by.

It was a small class, only twenty-four of them. It's so funny I find that to be a small class. Today would be an easy lesson. They were finishing a unit on 'People at work' so I would have them learn a poem and we would turn it into a song and gesture it out. I had just utilized this with another second grade class and it ran smoothly.

Well, first the projector ceased to work. Try managing equipment with everything spelled out in Chinese. It is an undying guessing/memory game. While a Chinese teacher was assessing the a coma-induced projector, I had the students take their English books out and turn to the poem. Before the Chinese teacher left, she barked at them (even though their behavior was fine at the time) to behave for me.  As soon as she walked out the door, Winnie threw an eraser.

[Winnie tends to initiate catastrophes and is considered a bully in school. I was told it was assumed that his father hit and verbally abused him whenever he did anything wrong, so that is just what Winnie does when he becomes angry: he hits anyone in sight of him and cannot control what comes out of his mouth (Dear parents, kids really do model your actions). He is at least twenty pounds overweight so he is intimidating to his peers and spends a lot of time in our office apologizing to teachers. Last week I walked into him kissing the cabinets in our office 100 times because he kissed a boy in class. The idea was to humiliate him the way he humiliated the boy. All of the teachers stared at him and laughed hysterically. Project: Humiliate Winnie was effective.]

I noticed Winnie's team, the Butterflies (ha), were completely distracted by his antics. I managed to grab their attention, but for only a short period of time. The poem was on the board. For the most part, I had their attention, but I could see misbehavior spreading in class that I had to nip in the bud before a plague would hit. With no warning, I snatched two pencil cases, two Chinese workbooks, and an eraser. Suddenly I heard objects being thrown into their desks, afraid I would snatch it away. One of my kid's, Tiger (yes, Tiger), made me smuggle his Chinese workbook from his chest. I shook and waved it around to his classmates saying, "This is English class, not Chinese class. Open your English books right now." Anyone who did not have an English book out would finally comply at this point.

EXCEPT, my two class clowns: Leon and Mike.

[Leon is the prominent culprit when it comes to pretending to not understand what I say. For three weeks, he convinced me that his name was Mike (that way when he got in trouble, Mike's name would be used-which would be no shock to any teacher). Even outside of class, he would laugh when I walked his way (because he knew how many times he got over on me) and I could feel how fake his politeness was when he was around other teachers.]

[Mike is a different type of class clown. He has so much energy; I have a hard time keeping him from getting up, fidgeting, or calling out. He needs constant attention. He would pull on my shirt and shout my name during lessons simply to tell me he hurt his ankle earlier that day. He is one of the very few students who do not care how many stars they earn.]


Allow me to share one situation with you of what I went through today with them to simply take a book out:

Me: "Take your book out."
Leon: "No-no book."
Mike: "HE LIAR LEXY!" and points to the inside of Leon's desk.
Me: "Take it out right now."
Leon: He shakes his head no and gives me puppy eyes as if he is sorry. "No book."
Me: "What is your name?"
Leon: "Mike."
Me: "Stop it. Take your English book out right now, Leon." In disbelief of the nerve of this boy, I am trying to keep my vocabulary basic so he understands me.

Mike gets up and pulls an English book out of Leon’s desk.

Me: "Mike, where's your book?"
Mike: "I don't have it." He fumbles through the other books in his desk.
Leon: "Bag, bag, bag!" He screams.
Me: "Open your book bag."

Mike unzips the small pouch. I point to the large pouch. Leon leaps up and pulls the English book out of Mike’s book bag and screams something in Chinese.

Meanwhile I had lost the attention of half the class.

At this point I did my best to redirect my class to the board. I had to learn nearly 200 names very quickly and my school STILL has not given me a set attendance list of their English names. Needless to say, there were about seven names I still did not know. They’re not the easiest names to digest either. The ones who were talking, I had to say "Yo, yooo," or call out their team name and hope they'd look up. I repeatedly said "Listen, listen, sshhh," Sure, I had the attention of many, but my class clowns were messing around, team Butterflies were throwing a broken ruler at each other, and I could hear conversations floating around. I conjured all of the discipline strategies I've tried previously that failed (communication barrier), and went ahead to play the poem aloud hoping it would grab their attention. Then the audio would not work. What is the Chinese symbol for volume? How freaking lovely.

I asked for a volunteer to read from their book:
"I am a policewoman
I have a gun
I wear a jacket
And I walk in the sun."

They became so rambunctious I could not hear the volunteer read it. I walked around the class to shush my talkers and then gestured out what Butterfly just read (yes, her name is Butterfly and she was on Team Butterflies). I asked them to stand and to follow my lead. Many of them did, but a quarter of them did not. I told them I would give the best team who could say/gesture the poem a star. One by one, their teams went to the front of the class to act it out, but the rest of the class continued talking. I had a sore throat and remember feeling it was impossible not to strain it. I considered to just stop teaching and refuse to teach them without a t/a.

I knew I could not continue the next three verses that way. Leon tried stealing his pencil case back while I was working with the group miming the poem. My verbal "quiet down" command did not work and at this point, I would feel like a fool gesturing the rest of the poem to the class. I stood there and thought momentarily until my thought process was interrupted by a wild-child who ran at me, squeezed both of my breasts, and ran away laughing. As I watched him skip away, I felt the lava forming in my veins. Some students took his act of bravery as in invitation to get up and play. I had zero control of the class and was humiliated once again. La-va.

What would you do? Lava Lexy turned the lights out (woooooo).

Instantly, silence filled the air and they stared at me. I silently turned off the projector. I finally began to say, "We cannot play..." when suddenly Winnie threw another object at his table. I marched over to him. Note that my throat was killing me, I was completely overwrought by the behavior and ruthlessness of the class, and I did not have anything planned but the "fun" poem. It felt impossible to have them do anything as a whole class. Boiling, I threw teaching out the window and was ready to make them all eat soap (figuratively).

"Winnie, put it away right now." I held an austere look on my face and stared humorlessly into his eyes.

"Schema." (schema means I don't understand)
"Do NOT schema me!" I picked up the eraser he threw, held it up, and YELLED "How would you like it if I threw this as you?"
Winnie glanced at his classmates, giggled and said, "Schema?"

I was livid. I've yelled a few times, but I have never screamed. Winnie and some of his classmates pull this schema business every time I do not have a teacher's assistant in class and I could not take passing it off anymore. He was making a fool of me in front of the class and I knew he would continue to throw things and talk if I left him in his seat. My boobs were grabbed and now the class was egging Winnie on with their laughter. Enraged, I leaned into his face, bit my lip, and warned, "Get up."

"Schema?"
Even though I knew he knew the meaning of ‘get up’, I gestured for him to get up and repeated, "Get up."

"Schema!?" He exclaimed wildly and shook his head no.

That was it for me. Suddenly I had a flashback of him throwing my own red erase-marker at me when he lost in a class game.

"GETT UPP!" I screamed. I threw a book on the floor. I heard shocked reactions from the class.
"GET UP RIGHT NOW!"

He would not budge. What would you do? A Chinese teacher would drag him out by his neck. That's not a strategy I can use in a job interview.

Without giving him a chance to say anything, close to his face I blasted (because screaming is much better), "You get your butt up right now!" and I actually shook his chair. Then I picked up his book bag and flung it on my desk. I still belted, "GET UP!" I remember how terrified the kids looked. I never raised my voice like that, and the phlegmy sound of my sore throat made me sound monstrous. I remember not having any clue where I was going with my reaction or what I would do with him.

I nearly ran back to him (to scare him) and this time I didn't have to say it, he got up. He did so in extra slow motion revealing he really did not want to. During his eye rolling and slow attempt to stand, I pulled the chair from underneath him and clapped my hands faster and faster, "Let's go! Get up! Kuai diani, hurry up boy!" My eyes never strayed from his. I could feel burning in my chest from screaming. After he finally rose, he wouldn't move again; so I grabbed his hand, tug him, and in his ear gritted my teeth and commanded "Hurry up, let's go."

He started walking and the first thing I could think of was to put him in another teacher's class. I walked right back into the class I had just come out of: my other second grade whose lesson ran beautifully. They've never heard me raise my voice. I made it to the door way, but he would not walk in. Without acknowledging anyone but him, I turned my head slowly and screamed once again "Get in here right now!" I got behind him and gripped his vest as if to say move! In his ear, as loud as I could, I yelled "Go, go, go, go, go, go" nearly blowing his eardrum. He went right in and sat right down. That's when I picked my head up and saw the Chinese teacher, who looked extremely concerned, and the students staring at us. The teacher ran over and knew; I didn't have to say anything. I walked away and would not ask questions what she did to him. The fact that he made me, the "nice" teacher, act like that; he would not go unpunished. For once I did not allow the punishments of his home-life effect my decisions, or hang over my head.

I just knew I'd have my students’ attention when I walked back in the classroom. I most certainly did. Don't ask me how I noticed, but the very first thing I acknowledged was that Leon's pencil case was missing. I thought I would battle him for it, but when I roared "Leon!" he threw it on the floor and looked down at his hands. I left it there. The class was so frightened of me it gave me goose bumps. It wasn't funny at the time, but I could laugh at what came out of my mouth next:

"Schema." I stared them down and walked around each team, especially eying up the students who were noisy and got in the face of the one who grabbed me. In different tones and playing on various facial expressions I repeated,
"Schema? Schema. Schemaaaaa."
Then I knocked over Winnie's book bag and yelled, "No schema!"
With the lights still off, I tapped my head and explained in the most primary terms I could think of, "I am not an idiot! I know you understand me. Schema, schema, ting bu dong, no! Stop it!"
I pointed to the projector and gestured everything else that came out of my mouth.
"I cannot play games with this class. You are too NOISY and LOUD." I mimicked them and some of them laughed.
"Now we will do work!" and I picked up their English books.
Now that one or two of them laughed, I walked over to them and I laughed too.
"Oh, you think I am funny? Haha, yea, I can be funny."

I grabbed my marker and drew a picture of a woman and labeled it mother. The class seemed happy to be able to shout the correct answer. I smiled,
"Good job. Yes boys and girls, mother."

Then I drew a picture of a man and labeled it father. I got the same reaction. Then I drew a letter on the board and they guessed that one right too.
“Good, good,” I praised them.
Then the smile disappeared 100% off of my face and I yelled at them too. After scribbling over all of their stars, I tried to use terms they would understand and said,
“Since you cannot stop talking, I am sending a letter to your mother and father. I am sending a letter home to mommy and daddy. I am telling them how bad you have been in every one of my classes. We will not play games. Do you like your Chinese class? I will make you work like your Chinese teacher.”

They just sat there and didn’t say anything, even Leon and Mike. Mike looked petrified. I drew everyone’s attention to the poem I put back on the board and made them read the next verse.

“I am a fireman
I have a hose
I wear a hat
And I cover my nose.”

About two minutes later the bell rang. One of my students still stayed seated, raised his hand, said “excuse me” and asked for his pencil case. I didn’t even know he could say excuse me.


This all happened TODAY and now I have more work to do. First I have to figure out how I want to write these letters and then I have to put work on my collaborating English teacher to translate them to Chinese. Not only that, I have to explain to the only person who knows both English and Chinese that I am serious about these letters being translated and sent out to each parent; and that if they are not signed and returned by their parents, I will not teach them due to all of the disrespect they have shown me and the school’s apathy in providing me with a t/a in such a class.


Please, tell me what you would have done or what you recommend I do when I see them again next week. Spare me advice on rearranging desks or separating students from each other. I am not a total amateur over here; those strategies are ineffective. Remember: they know motions and gestures, not many words. I’ve tried explaining to them that I will stop playing games or make them do more work, but they don’t understand. That or they do not care. I’ve had other teachers reprimand them on my behalf. I cannot continue kicking kids out and yelling at them every week and calling that my classroom management philosophy. I’ve researched some disciplinary ideas, but they seem too complicated to translate. I will send these letters home just to prove my point that I am not joking around. I am hoping that come Tuesday, they will listen.