“Shame on you!”
That was the report from my mom, who has been chastising me for the lack of reports from China which used to fill this site a bit more often than has these past months.
Since the summer vacation has finally begun for me, let me remedy that a bit with updates.
An Extra Class Added
This last semester found me busier than ever before. The spring semester, which began in March, added another freshmen class to my schedule, giving me a few more hours of teaching a week than I had anticipated. This particular class was a tad challenging because it was composed of new students to the School of International Studies ( the new title for the English Department). This class was composed of those who transferred from other majors after deciding they wanted to major in English Education. Because they’d never had a foreign teacher before, nor were familiar with me or had a foundation of the lessons I had taught the previous semester, I had to create a separate catch-up curriculum to bring them up-to-speed with the other 150 freshmen I already had been teaching.
One thankful feature of this new class was its size: Only 31 students verses the 50 in the other three.
Teaching a smaller class, with an eager-to-please, excited group of Chinese young people, was a truly wonderful experience. It was slow at first but by the end of the term, those 31 rose to the occasion and did a spectacular job on their final conversation exams. I actually had 3 students in that class who scored 100 on their discussion oral test. Wow! Talk about hard work! I rarely, if ever, give 100’s for final exams but I could give them nothing less as they truly deserved nothing less.
Due to their enthusiasm and energy, I chose this particular class for photo ops. A new brochure was being created for the School of International Studies and I was asked to give some contributions, since I was the one stable foreign teacher on staff. If you look below, you will see the ones I offered up to the department. Can you guess which was chosen? I’ll let you decide your favorites.
Contest Judging: The English Language Play Contest
The English language play contest is always a huge affair in the department. We had 11 classes who participated, each finding their scripts online for their 10-minute performance. The line-up included: Snow White, The Little Mermaid, The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Titanic (movie version), The Gift of the Maggi (O’Henry’s short story), Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Alice in Wonderland (the movie version) and a few others.
Part of my job, being the foreign teacher, is to be on call for those who need extra help. While some classes choose not to ask for my assistance or advice during practices, others do so this meant that for several weeks, I met with the actors in the evenings or on weekends to go over pronunciation errors and add acting tips and ideas.
Surprisingly enough, the 6 judges (Peace Corp Volunteer Zuri, myself and 4 other Chinese teachers) were all in agreement with scoring The Emperor’s New Clothes (sophomore Class 3) as our number one choice due to good acting, creativity with props and staging, and a few clever dialogue exchanges that had the audience giggling and clapping in unison. Congrats to everyone! Next year should be even better than before.
The English Language Center in Full Swing
This semester also found more of my time in the English Language Center, which I tried to put into more use than in the Fall. Zuri likewise helped add to the Center’s use by choosing my “off” days to include her own gathering time with students.
My mandatory visits for every one of my 7 English Education classes (all 330 students) gave everyone a chance to see what was offered and how the room could be utilized for their own independent study purposes. I also had several teachers from different departments bring their children to hang out during my Open Room evening hours while their parents taught night classes. They dropped them off at 6:45 p.m. and picked them up around 9 p.m.
I love having the kids in the room, especially as my students will be elementary and junior high school teachers some day. This gave them practice in interacting with young learners who had limited English skills but were required to speak in English due to the rules of the Center. Only English is allowed in this room, and while that might seem a bit strict, it’s amazing how much a person can relay the meaning of English words through gestures, pictures, drawings and facial expressions. The kids had great fun with this, with old kid visitors telling new ones as soon as they walked in the door: “English! English! No Chinese.”
A Special Class Lesson: Outside We Go!
One Friday morning, the school announced all classrooms would be closed due to a government civil servant exam scheduled to take place on our campus. We teachers were told that, on our own, we needed to make up the classes we’d be missing. That is always a pain. Where, in an already busy schedule, are we to squeeze them in, especially as both students and teachers had only 2 more weeks of school left before end-of-term exams?
My viewpoint? Forget that program!
So as not to disrupt my schedule, I kept my regular teaching hours and just took everyone outside for a review class before the finals week. Most Chinese students are not used to this sort of environment, having the freedom to break into small groups on their own and study outside of the classroom. It was pretty darn hot that morning, soaring into the 90s, which gave me some concern as to how this would go over but I needn’t have worried.
Students quickly moved into the shade of dormitories, seating themselves on curbsides and steps while working. I spent time walking around to each group, making sure they were on task and answering questions about the final exam.
I would have to say that was one of my most productive review classes I have ever had, where everyone was on task, engaged and doing the work they were supposed to do instead of messing about on their cell phones. Yeah, yeah, yeah!
Favorite Lessons: Mother’s Day
I love my culture classes and the spring semester added some of my favorites.
Mother’s Day had us making Mother’s Day cards in my sophomore classes. These the students wrote out in both Chinese and English, decorated with stickers and designs of their own, then photographed with their phones (taking selfies or group shots) which they immediately sent off to Mom on WeChat (China’s counterpart to Facebook).
A Real Winner: Puppet Plays
Another favorite of mine is in our English Activities in the Classroom Course.
I have a great lesson how to incorporate puppet plays in a young English language learners’ class. To demonstrate how this can be done, my college students go over a simple script and then have to perform this using puppets and hand-made props. Nothing like a humorous puppet play to bring smiles and laughter to a classroom.
It is my custom to give exams a week early so that the last week of class, I can bring everyone back together for a final “You’re Done!” relaxing time to end our year. We sing songs. I thank the monitors (school leaders) for their hard work and hand out small gifts of my gratitude. I explain how I graded the exams, give praise comments and improve comments, then hand out the graded exam papers. I invite students to ask questions or voice concerns so we can settle upon discrepancies or discuss possible grading mistakes I might have made. And finally, I hand out reward pencils to everyone which so many of you readers have sent to me during the year. Pencils that say “Great job!”, “You did it!”, “Excellent student!” and so many other English phrases are picked over and passed around in baskets as students find the one that suits them the best.
What a great way to end the year!
To utilize the Resource Center a bit more, I decided to use this room for my closure classes. I held 7 of these throughout the week, which officially ended my teaching for the term and fully began my summer holiday after handing in grades.
Great semester, great ending and great beginning of the holidays for me.
On Summer Holiday
I am currently enjoying some down time in America with my mom. We have just completed a 1-week road trip to Holland, Michigan, where my mom spent time with her grandparents (Holland residents) from 1942-45, while her father was serving overseas’ during WW II as an Army chaplain. While many changes in this Lake Michigan area have taken place, my mom did find some places still in existence, including her grandparents’ home and the house her mom rented from a local school teacher while they lived there. Lots of photo ops, walks along the shore, shopping and site-seeing. So nice!
I will report more on our trip another day.
Before closing, let me introduce the new addition to our family, a little 3-year-old Chinese immigrant gal (a little dog, that is; a rescue out of Chengdu) who is quickly getting used to American lifestyle as well as American attention. She has fast become the favorite of children and adults alike in my town. We lost Lao-lao last summer at this time, my rescue from the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, so it’s only fitting another Chinese lost soul in need of love and a home should join us.
As you can see, it’s going to be a very happy summer for all of us here!
From Marshall, Illinois, here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your week.