This past May holiday was mostly devoted to visiting with Jason (Ji Ke), my former student of 2 years ago.
Jason attended the branch school of Qing Hai University here at our small college for 2 years and then completed his last 2 years at Qing Hai University itself in Qing Hai Province.
Many students, when doing their student teaching stints, arrange on their own to return to their hometown areas. This is perfectly acceptable by the college in order for them to complete their teaching credential requirements, although many times college staff supervision of their teaching is not done. Due to long distances, our English language faculty can’t travel to their areas so the students are supervised by their mentor teachers they work under.
Sometimes, the mentor teachers are great and really go out of their way to teach their student teachers how to be good instructors. Other times, students are left on their own to sit in the office and do nothing most of the day, with just a few hours a week to teach. And there are cases where students who have never wanted to teach manage to get to their hometown areas and wind up hanging out with family all day. They have connections with someone at the school who just signs the necessary forms and sends them in, even though the student was never present nor did anything at all.
In Jason’s case, he was very fortunate in his arrangements, not only of his mentor teacher but the school where he taught.
Originally, Jason planned to student teach in Dujiangyan, one of the hard-hit earthquake cities. It was only 1 hour from his home and would place him close to family.
But then a relative had an “in” at a very prestigious high school near Chengdu. According to Jason, this was one of the top schools in the province with very rich students, many of whom ended up going abroad to finish high school or be matriculated into an overseas’ university.
The cost of this school was close to $6,000 a year if boarding. Knowing faculty or someone in the school was often needed for acceptance. These close relationships (or connections) in China are called guangxi.
Jason’s guangxi was his relative who pulled strings to get him in as a student teacher. It was his relative’s hope that after student teaching, Jason could perhaps be hired on full-time at this famous, well-equipped institution rather than a countryside school. Unfortunately, such a hiring was a bit more than just applying. It required not only very strong guangxi among school administrators but necessary gift-giving as well.
I think you can guess what kind of gifts go the longest way in China. Those in the form of green paper (and a lot of it), which Jason certainly doesn’t have.
And Jason, being the kind of person he is, didn’t think this way of getting a job as being a fair or honest one. Even if it had great conditions, was in a good location, and paid fairly well, the act of cheating, by receiving a position not due to merit or skill but connections, didn’t really appeal to him.
Thus he just stuck to his student teaching, which he finished 2 weeks ago, and left.
Jason had made arrangements with the school for me to take over one period of his classes. Mr. Wang, his supervising teacher, wasn’t present as he had applied for leave that morning with an urgent matter to attend to. Knowing that I would be in the classroom, he probably felt safe in doing so.
Thus last Thursday morning, Jason and I both co-taught his high school juniors, about 60 in the room. They were a bit wound up as the class was from 11:30 to 12:10, right before lunch and also before May Day holiday dismissal. After 12:10, they were free until Monday when it was back to school as usual.
Despite the fact I wasn’t their "real" teacher, and that Jason was the student teacher (with little powerful presence or authority), they behaved rather well. We kept them busy answering English questions and giving English encouragement stickers away as prizes, which certainly went over big. Such stickers are impossible to find in China so thanks again for all those who always send them to me. They certainly came in handy entertaining a crowd of 60 teenagers, itching to be free of the classroom to begin their almost 4-day weekend.
Those prizes were a Godsend, let me tell you!
After class, Jason and I toured the campus. He showed me the building where he lived, a single room provided without pay by the school for him. He was even given a meal card with $10 worth of food on it, enough to start him out for his first few days there. That was a kind gesture, especially for Jason who is on a very tight budget.
As we say in English, every penny counts and in Jason’s case, that’s more true than for most.
Now that his student teaching is finished, Jason has fulfilled his requirements for a teaching certificate aside from fully graduating from Qing Hai University next month.
The May holiday signaled not only the end of his student teaching but his stay in Sichuan, where he’s been very close to his village and family for weekend stays. He left for the long train trip across country on Sunday and is probably now settling back into his final weeks as a student before finals and graduation.
As I mentioned, this May holiday was devoted to Jason. That included a visit to his village once again to enjoy a day with his family, a visit with his sister and to enjoy the countryside air and scenery of the Sichuan plateau where he lives.
Watch this space for the next installment of my May Day Holiday: a day in Happy Together Village, where Jason’s family lives, and news from his area a year after the tragic earthquake hit.
As always, wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your day!