At the end of every school year, right before we dismiss for the summer holidays, my top priority is to visit my department’s office and pin down Mr. Chen, in charge of assigning courses to the teachers.
“Don’t forget, Mr. Chen,” I say. “I want to teach the freshmen. Be sure to give me the freshmen English Education classes for the next school year.”
“Yes!” Mr Chen replies with gusto. “I will not forget.”
“See?” he continues as he catches my skeptical look. “I am writing it down.”
I watch him carefully do this because one year, he didn’t remember and he had quite some time getting schedules moved about to finally remedy that mistake. Don’t think he wants to repeat that hassle again!
This Year, More Freshmen than Ever
Every department at our college has a cap on how many freshmen can be accepted into different majors. The cap for the 3 English majors offered (English Education, Practical English and Business English) is 266. This number was decided upon by the college office in charge of admissions and has remained the same for quite a few years.
Never in the history of the department has 266 ever been reached. But this year, for the first time ever, we are at almost full capacity for freshmen with 261 now majoring in English.
At present, I am teaching English Education Classes 1, 2, 3, and 5. The Peace Corp Volunteer, Zuri, is teaching Business English and Class 4. While I would have loved to have all English Education majors, I was already at full capacity with teaching hours because of the seniors that are always added to my schedule. I teach methodology courses which require a professional, experienced teacher, thus I am always given those classes rather than those be given to a novice.
My first homework assignment for the freshmen is a writing assignment, on Page B of their textbook which I create myself: “In the Classroom with my Foreign Language Teacher.”
The assignment is to write a 200-or-more word essay, choosing one of the following topics: My Family, An Most Exciting Day in My Life and An Important Lesson in Life I Learned. I announce that this assignment is not for a grade but for me to get to know them better. (It’s also a great way for me to assess their writing skills, although I don’t tell them that.)
The topics I devised for three different levels of language skills. “My Family” is the easiest. A majority of my students choose that one and give the basics about those closest to them. “An Exciting Day in my Life” demands a story-telling ability, which is a step above the first prompt. The last choice, “An Important Lesson in Life I Learned,” requires more depth in thinking, including not only the story of what happened but why it was life-changing.
Those that choose the last I notice outshine the rest of the class during the months that follow. These are the students I find are natural teachers, those who quickly catch on to methods and have astute observations about classroom management when we do have discussions on what makes an excellent teacher.
As an example of a few of my favorites, I’ll include excerpts below of such students whose essays I found both revealing and thought-provoking. (I have left them with their errors intact, as they originally wrote them.)
My Mom Learns an Important Lesson by Yu Ruyi
Fortunately, I have a very happy and harmonious family, but I have a very careless mom.
In my childhood, my mom and I went to the market to buy food. My mom concentrated on buying vegetables, so I played by her side. At this time, a human trafficker came and took me but my mom was not aware of it. Just then, the vegetable seller told my mom that I had been taken away. My mom was very worried so she ran after the human trafficker to the railway station. Finally, I was saved.
You see, there is always a careless mom who really hurts!
My Family by Mao Yiru
Once my family is very rich in 1987. Everyone admires our family because my grandma owned a hotel. Our family has a good business, so our hotel is famous. My dad was a teenager. Years later, my dad married my mom and soon, I was born.
But my father didn’t like me because I was a girl. And my dad was cold to me and Mom. My father bought clothes for my cousin during the New Year. When my mom knew this, she was very sad.
My father was a driver. One day, he had an accident. He needed a lot of money. My grandmother had to sell her hotel so our family became poor. I was only one year old. No one helped us.
Then my mom left me to make money. My grandma said my mom left because our family was poor and told me not to call her Mom anymore. I didn’t know anything back then so I hated my mom.
Later, my mom told me the truth. When I was 9 years old, my dad and mom divorced. I wanted to follow my mom because I didn’t like my dad. But my grandmother wouldn’t let me do this. She said: “I’ve been working hard to bring you up. What has she done for you?”
So I didn’t want to upset Grandma. I chose my father and we moved far away from my mom. I missed her. I wanted to be loved by my mom. Although my father found me a stepmother, I was not happy.
Fortunately, now I’m free to go to my mom. I am a college student now. My dad and grandma can’t stop me.
My Family by Chen Ju (Jennifer)
I’m from a happy family of 4 members: father, mother, sister and I. First, let me introduce my father. My father is responsible and dotes on me very much. But last year, he died of a serious illness. Although it was destiny, I realized that there was no choice for him to die or not to die. My mom continues to make money by herself for me to go to school. It is a great burden for her. She is a very strong woman. I will be like her some day.
Eager to Improve
This last excerpt shows how desperate students are to improve their English, how they truly wish their teachers to point out their mistakes and make them better in their skills. At the end of her essay, Guo Chunyan wrote a personal note to me:
“Lastly, I want to say I think it’s interesting that my birthday is the same day as yours. When I found out your birthday was January 12, I was so excited that I couldn’t believe I’d actually find someone born on the same day as I am. I’m sorry my English is poor. If it’s any trouble to you, you can write down my shortcomings on my homework. Thank you!”
The beginning of the 2018 Fall semester ushered in a rather noteworthy change in the college. It’s what I call the Impressive Titles Campaign, where every department was asked to improve its department with a name-change. To explain this, I’ll first report on why I believe this took place.
Establishing Overseas’ Relationships
Over the past 10 years, the college has been developing overseas’ partner schools. These are small colleges of similar size and matching majors to ours. The purpose of partnering with such schools was to build a higher educational reputation in China, share educational teaching/administration methods and techniques with foreign entities and eventually develop student study exchanges.
The first such partnership was established with East-West University, a private 4-year institution with 2 buildings located on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. The school was founded under the British design system, established by a gentleman from India who was also the chancellor (what we call the president). How someone found him is beyond me but he did come to China to visit our school and many others, most likely trying to increase enrollment by snatching up international students whose tuition would be extremely high: a “reasonable” $34,000 a year with no housing facilities available.
Needless to say, after the signing ceremony of partnership sealed the deal, he didn’t snatch up any of our students. Our 9,000 can barely afford the 4,000 yuan (roughly $600), which includes a full year (12 months) of housing.
German Trade School a Better Success Story
Of the overseas’ partnerships that the school has established, the most productive has been with a particular vocational trade school in Germany. It regularly sends teachers and experts to our college to introduce new technical methods in mechanics and other vocational professions.
We’ve also established a German Language program at our school. This is the 6th year we’ve had a German language major. Twice a year, 3 German teachers arrive to test the German language majors for their final exams at the end of the semesters. Other exchanges have involved our teachers, leaders and administrators visiting the school in Germany.
Trying to Impress the Outside World
In August, before the semester began, every department was requested to submit a new, gloriously-sounding name-change to create a more upscale college image. All names also had to be translated into English for overseas’ partner schools.
For example, the Mechanics Department (students majoring in car, factory equipment and office machinery repair and maintenance) became the College of Engineering Sciences. The Management Department (those trained in business, hotel and restaurant management and hostessing) became The College of Management Design and Business.
In the English Department, there was great debate concerning what name we should create. Text messages flew continuously within our department text-messaging chat group about what would be appropriate.
As the deadline drew near, the Chinese was chosen (国际学校) but not the English version of this. Feedback was requested for the top two: International College or International School. Hmmmm.
I understood the reasoning. International College or International School is the direct translation for 国际学校, but while that might be fine for the Chinese, it’s confusing for our overseas’ partner vocational schools. It seems to suggest we have international students, or that we are a school for expats’ children.
In my mind, those two translation choices fell far short of what was needed.
While not asked, I went ahead and gave my 2-cents’ worth.
“How about School of International Studies, College of International Studies, Department of International Studies or International Studies Department?” I posted.
After some discussion, I’m happy to say that my two-cents’ worth paid off. Our department is now called the School of International Studies. (I would have preferred the word “department” in there somewhere but that was nixed as being too common, less grandiose, plus did not match the other departments’ translations, which all included “college.”)
All departments across the board at our college have now had approval of their new titles and English documents announcing as such to overseas’ partners have been sent. Also included in the write-up were new departmental designs and seals with our new titles. No turning back now!
Next post, a second big change to our department, now known as the School of International Studies. Ping an! (Peace)
Yes, I’m alive!
I’m finally on holiday for Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) with the end of the Fall semester having arrived. The weekend of my birthday, January 12, began the winter break for our 9,000 students on the campus of Luzhou Vocational and Technical College. The teachers and leaders continued onward with end-of-term meetings, finishing up grades, preparing assessment reports of the school year and completing evaluation forms. On January 23, Wednesday, they also will be relieved of duties and receive some much-needed rest.
I was fortunate enough to finish my coursework a tad earlier, January 6th, which has given me enough time to begin rejuvenating my spirit from an extremely busy school semester.
Chinese New Year (known as Spring Festival) is February 5 this year, when the Year of the Pig will begin. The campus will soon become extremely quiet with students, faculty and even school workers returning home to enjoy time with family and friends. We are all to start up the new semester on February 25.
As for me, I have just arrived in America to spend time with my mom in Marshall, Illinois. Getting over jetlag is no fun but I’m hoping I’ll be back to normal after a few more days.
During the next few weeks, let me see if I can remedy this silence with several posts to catch you up on what’s been going on in China.
Mom-and-Daughter Chicago Trip
At present, my mom and I are off to Chicago for our annual mom-and-daughter winter trip. We’ll be staying in the frigidly cold Windy City for 5 days where we’ll be enjoying museums, shows, good food and fun.
Take care, all, and Ping An (Peace) for your holiday weekend.
At Luzhou Vocational and Technical College, my seniors have been gearing up for our annual school job fair on October 26, today, which began at 9:30 a.m. and will continue for the rest of the day.
Every year, the school organizes this impressive event. On the old campus, it was a bit crowded without a lot of space. Plus we had limited contacts with prospective employers, including: manufacturers, factories, companies, tourism agencies, elementary and secondary schools. Our school was not so well-known.
But now the number of representatives has grown from a mere 82 (our first job fair years ago) to 324, which was today’s offerings.
All Friday classes were canceled for our senior students in order for them to attend as many booths as possible for their majors. Without my morning seniors to teach, I took a wander to see all that was going on for our fair this year.
Campus Copy Shops Busy
I cruised by the cafeteria, which has the first floor copy shops. These were filled to overflowing as some students made last-minute touches to their resumes using the copy shop computers, then had them printed off to place in their folders.
Some students dressed to look nice for possible interviews while others just wore their regular school clothes.
We were so fortunate not to have rain this Friday, which plagued us all week and even last year’s job fair, where umbrellas were a must.
As I walked along the rows of employers waiting for worthy candidates to stop by, I noticed some were more prepared than others. Spiffy printed colorful posters and banners adorned some booths. Signs detailing age needed, education requirements and beginning salaries enticed our students to booth representatives. Other booths had whiteboards or blackboards posted above their tables which listed the necessary criteria and number of candidates that were being accepted.
In some of the classrooms, interviews were set up. Students waited in the small, round lecture hall for their turn to talk to those interviewing.
Some employers are hiring on-the-spot; others are just giving information about their agencies, institutions, schools or companies and collecting resumes.
My Seniors: Hardly Recognizable
I spotted several of my seniors in English Education, their faces bright and eager as they excitedly wove their way through booths advertising private weekend training schools for kids, kindergarten, junior high and high school positions. What a difference their attitude has been this morning than from my Activities in the Classroom course. They were hardly recognizable!
Despite my best efforts to keep students active and engaged in class, senioritis, as always, is a constant annoyance. My seniors come in late, munching and noisily smacking their lips on breakfast foods. They yawn loudly with sleepiness at the beginning of early morning classes. They place their heads on their desks to sleep, talk among themselves when I’m trying to introduce a new activity, mess about on their cell phones (sending messages or ordering desirable items online), and groan with reluctance when I require them to get into groups or ask them to move desks and chairs into a different format.
Through it all, I grin, cajole, joke and manage to keep my cool (barely, sometimes) to manipulate them into doing what I want them to do. It takes a very special kind of teacher to deal with seniors. While I’ve had years of practice at this, some days do hit harder than others with my patience level.
But today, seeing them all with such high hopes to land a job, or at least try, even the worst of the lot made me proud.
Before finishing this off, I’ll post a few more photos below. Wishing all our school’s seniors, in every major, a very productive day of job hunting!
From China, here’s wishing you Ping An (peace) for your day.
If you don’t know, I am one of those die-hard swimmers who never did get rid of the swimming pool bug. After many years on a swimming team growing up, and also swimming with my university team, I still get excited when I find a new pool.
Luzhou has been a challenge with swimming pools. Most are winter pools, meaning the water is cold all year round. This is a sport, winter swimming, which the Chinese love. Not me! For my winter swimming ventures, I had a wetsuit that I wore until the water temps hit 60. Not even the wetsuit could keep me from freezing. And since there are no hot showers in such pools, there is no way to really warm up after you get out unless you sprint around the pool deck several times. And even then, it’s still pretty darn cold!
I have waited for 17 years for a heated, competitive pool to land in Luzhou and one finally did this summer. July 1st was the grand opening. It is located in a beautiful park area on the other end of the city. While a bit far, it’s well worth the daily visits I’ve managed so far.
A Christian Sister, Looking Out for Me
Not only do I now have a gorgeous pool to swim in, but I received a substantial discount in purchasing a year membership all due to church choir member, Ms. Huang.
Ms. Huang and I sing together in the Luzhou Eternal Love choir at the Luzhou Protestant Church. She is also an avid swimmer, like myself, and teaches swimming lessons at the Medical College’s outside pool during the summer. While I was home for the holidays, she texted me that there was a special discount for winter swimmers at the new pool. Did I want to sign up? The deadline was fast approaching and 60 swimmers were needed to get the discount.
I was in America, however, and there was no way for me to do this from where I was. Huang , however, was kind enough to fill out my application form and even pay the amount for me, trusting that I’d pay her back when I returned in August.
Sure enough, all was taken care of by my Sister in Christ, Huang. When I returned, I picked up my yearly card and paid Huang my discounted amount which I never would have received had it not been for her diligence in helping me.
As you can see, swimmers look after one another, but more especially in this case, Christian swimmers. A huge “thank you”, Sister Huang! You really made my day.
From Luzhou, here’s wishing you Ping An (peace) for your weekend.