Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Entry Four: Teaching in Jinhua

There are three other American language teachers here, all recent college graduates just a little younger than I am. Joe, a tall, lanky guy with grayish-black curly hair, is from just outside New York City. He walks like he talks, relaxed but deliberate. He attended college at Fairfield with his current colleague here in Jinhua, Courtney. Courtney is petite, but from just south of Boston and wears it on her sleeve. I have to admit, it was as much a surprise as it was a relief to hear someone say, “That was wicked good,” after eating the Lindt chocolate I gave her and the others when we first met. She studied education while in college and is trying to decide if teaching is what she wants to do with her life.

The third American teacher at the high school is Dan. He is about my height and build, minus the extra weight I added in college. Originally from Florida, Dan has lived and taught all over Asia the last 2 years. All three of them are very nice, and happy to let me tag along on their outings and show me good places to eat in the city. But, we have to be careful not to stay out too late because there is a gate at every apartment complex that closes pretty early. They say it is ok to just wake up the guard and he’ll let you in, but I still can’t bring myself to do that.

When I arrived at the school my first Monday I spent 2 hours trying to find a way to get the computer in my classroom to work. Much like the apartment gate, there are again some obstacles to doing something outside the group routine. So, I had to FTP the file from my laptop to a school computer, and then load the files onto a special drive, and then go to the classroom and type my IP address into the classroom computer, then launch a program, and then I could view the PowerPoint on the classroom computer and show it on the projector. Mind you, I had a flash drive in my pocket with the Power Point file on it the entire time. I could have just plugged it into the computer and it would work. But, the classroom computer is locked in a solid wood box and no teacher has a key. Another strange difference is that the only photocopier is in the administration building, staffed by three people who make the copies for you, and only available at certain hours. I suppose it is a good way to prevent teachers from unintentionally breaking computers and photocopiers, but it takes some getting used to.

My teaching schedule does not involve a lot of class time. I have three classes, each from a different grade level, and each meets only twice a week for one hour. That being said, I have 150 students (50 each class) and would gladly accept much more class time in exchange for smaller class sizes.

On Monday I have only one class, 40 minutes with level-one students; basically the same thing as freshmen. Most of them speak only a little English, but despite the language barrier they are still excited to have class. I presented a toned-down version of my usual style in a Power Point as an introduction. They all think I look like Harry Potter, so I created a slide where my face blends into a Harry Potter picture. They roared with laughter. Their other classes are so demanding that they approach their time with me as a break, and they are eager to laugh. I will try to get them to take my class seriously and as more than a break, but in many ways my period is supposed to be the “fun class” in their schedule.

On Tuesday I met my group of level-two students, or sophomores. Most of this group speaks English pretty well, but they are lively! This group is called the “special teacher” class. All of these students demonstrated at an early age that they were very talented in some way, and their acceptance to college is guaranteed. So, some of these kids are very good with languages, but some kids are good with computers or a basketball. That being said, they are still nice kids, and I am trying to cook up some alternative activities to fit what is in reality a very heterogeneous group.

Wednesday I have no classes, but I spend most of my day at the school trying to build a curriculum. Because I have no textbook, no set curriculum, and because I refuse to take it easy, I have a considerable amount to do right now. That being said, I have more free time here than I expected. So, I have been casually studying Chinese and reading a little Chinese literature. As the year moves along they have plans to bring me into other classrooms, but none of this has happened yet.

Thursday and Friday morning I meet with the two younger groups for a second time. Right now we are working with Harry Potter, since they think I look like him, as a vehicle to learn some vocabulary and break the ice with some acting activities. In many ways I am more formal of a teacher than what they are used to from a foreigner, and I think both the kids and myself are trying to adapt.

Friday afternoon I meet with a group of 50 level-three students, or seniors. Many of them are in a position where they no longer feel as pressured by the exam system because their future has already been determined. Back home, I might call it “senioritis.”

I meet them for two forty minute periods in a row. While this time is familiar for me because of our block schedule at Oxford Hills, it is something unusual for my students in China. My goal for these students is to encourage discussion, but there are obstacles, not the least of which is the fact there are 50 of them and it is a foreign language! But, I am toying with a few ideas and hopefully will have some interesting student designed web casts to send home soon.

The typical Chinese teacher does not have as much class time in a week as does the American teacher, even though the school week is six days long. That being said, the amount of homework grading, assessing and other additional responsibilities make their day perhaps more tiresome than what most American teachers are used to.

The longer I teach here the more fun I am having with my students, but in many ways I feel like I have to learn how to teach all over again. Maybe that's not such a bad thing? : )


Mr. Byrne said...

Hello Jason,
Your blog is great! I'm enjoying reading about your experiences. I mentioned your blog on my blog (I'm averaging over 200 unique views/day now) to help grow your audience. Great stuff, keep it up.

Anonymous said...

Heyyy cuz, stumbled upon this on facebook. And now I can't stop reading it. China sounds kind of fun..and adventurous. Yet, scary at the same time. But I suppose that since you know the language ALOT better than I do, it's not so bad for you. But I think it's funny that they think you look like Harry Potter. Talk to you later!