Friday had our English Association members scrambling in their prep work to get ready for our school’s last English contest, not only for the school year, but for our small campus as well.
Heavy rains forced members to move all their decorations inside to the covered sports’ building. They used school desks to create a stage for everyone to stand on and covered the collective unit in a huge red felt carpet. The backdrop went up using wires strung from the ceiling. Potted plants that line the school walkways were carried in to make the setting more festive and bright. The sound system volunteers tested all the microphones and made sure plenty were available for everyone’s use.
In other words, it was a lot of work and it was done with diligent care.
When I showed up at 7:50 p.m. to take my place at the judging table, everything was ready to go. Just such a shame that our audience was a very small one. Friday night, everyone is pretty much zonked after a week of classes. Plus English language contests are not exactly a big draw on campus, especially as most students don’t speak English.
A Bit of a Sad Affair
The closure of the school, and everyone moving to Chongzuo this summer, made this particular judging experience for me quite special, and a little sad. No longer would I be seeing these students again next year, nor enjoy watching their efforts to succeed on stage with their many performances. This would also be my last opportunity to judge with my Chinese colleagues. I was honored to have young teacher Jeffy and Mr. Lu at my side for a nice mix of male-female viewpoints when it came to choosing the winner.
The Contest Itself
We had 19 contestants, 17 of which were my 1st and 2nd year students. They were to introduce themselves in a 1-minute talk, perform for 3 minutes and then answer 1 or 2 questions from us, the judges. For their performances, we had a variety of acts: skits done with the help of other classmates, songs on our US Top 10 charts and poetry readings accompanied with overly dramatic, sentimental taped music. (A bit much but this is the Chinese style of reading poetry and how most believe English poetry performances should be done. Not!)
For the most part, everyone’s English introduction was good and their ability to answer questions about the themes of their performances was impressive. They had no idea what we’d ask and we did make it challenging for them: “Why did you choose this particular song to sing?”, “Can you explain the meaning of the poem and your interpretation of it?”, “In your skit, what was the lesson you wish others to learn from the story?”
Our Winner: A 9.4 Out of 10 points Takes the Prize
Our winner far outdid the other participants by having the highest score (9.42), not only for his excellent English language skills and explanation of his chosen talent, but for his creativity in the performance. He chose to model one of my class lessons (how to perform a puppet show for students) and make it his own. He wrote a very cute dialogue between a lion, an elephant and a monkey that went for a walk. (The puppets he had borrowed from me the day before.) He read the dialogue for most of the characters, displayed good pronunciation skills and even did the narrative part as well. His classmates helped him with the puppeteering and holding up other props, such as the sun, tree and birds flying by.
When asked why he chose this particular performance to do, he explained that as an English Education major, next year he would be required to practice teach. He wanted to get some experience in doing this by showing all of us his puppet show. Also, he went on to say the best way to involve students in English class is to do a fun activity. He felt this particular one was excellent to stir the interest of students in English.
“Did you write this yourself?” Judge Jeffy asked when it was his turn to question the contestant.
My student, Godfrey, had indeed written most of the script himself but as all Chinese students, he wanted to give credit to his teacher.
“This was written by my foreign teacher, Connie,” he replied, beaming and gesturing to me but I wasn’t going to let him get away with that.
Grabbing the microphone from Jeffy, I said, “Oh, no, Godfrey. A lot of that was written by yourself. You added more to the dialogue. It was very creative. We all really enjoyed it.”
A Very Satisfying, Happy Ending to the Evening
At 10 p.m., the contest ended and the scores were announced. Godfrey will receive a special prize from the English Association as well those who came in 2nd and 3rd. We judges were awarded mugs in appreciation for our time spent helping out, which was a very nice gesture. A final group picture closed us off for the evening and I made sure to tell Godfrey what a wonderful job he had done.
My Bullied Student Gets the Last Laugh
And what makes it especially sweet for this particular student is that he has been mentioned before, in a previous blog, but his name was changed to Jeffry. Does that ring a bell with anyone? Yes, this is my bullied student who has spent over a year of being harassed, hassled and picked on by the farm boys in his dormitory room.
How fitting for our last English contest on our campus to have a bullied student, in the last weeks of school, get the last laugh. You go, Godfrey!
From Longzhou, here’s wishing you Ping An (peace) for your week.