Sunday, January 23, 2011

The First Term

I can say I've now taught a full semester of classes as a university teacher. Here's how it went down:

All of the students in my classes had, supposedly, taken years of English before. That's kind of the point, since I can obviously only communicate with them in English. It didn't take long to notice that there was a wide difference in my students English ability. I think some of them did know the language better than it seemed, but they were so shy in class that it was near impossible to tell. I don't really think Chinese students are used to a lot of open discussion and talking in class, so the idea of having to speak English in front of their classmates made them clam up a bit. Sometimes it was frustrating, but I would push them to at least say something.

That's kind of what my whole teaching strategy was, especially with students that have such differing grasps of the language. I know I'm not really a teacher, and my school knows that too. I didn't focus too much on grammar or language construction, especially since I have no real way of knowing how much they already know (especially when they don't use what they know). I figured the best way that I could be of service to my students was to prompt them to practice their English, allowing me to help them with things like pronunciation. That's not to say I didn't introduce new things to them.

A few weeks in my classes took a standard shape. Class would start with a discussion question, such as "What is your favorite movie? What is it about?" or "What do you usually eat for meals?" I would give the students time to come up with answers, and then I would always ask for volunteers. For the most part, no one would ever volunteer. (This did start changing slightly towards the end of the term, a sign that they were more comfortable speaking to me and in front of the class). So instead I would randomly call on students. This worked well as a warm-up.

Sometimes I would do other language activities. For example, we frequently did tongue twisters, which helped them practice pronunciation. Some of them were especially difficult for them, like "Throw the thick stick." The "th" sound is very foreign to them. On these difficult twisters I would sometimes go around to each student individually and have them say it for me. This way I could give them more attention and help them better their pronunciation.

I also taught them some American slang, which they seemed to really enjoyed. I couldn't help but notice that after I taught them that they could say a good thing was "cool" they liked to use it a lot, at least to me.

The meat of most of my classes was using a Powerpoint to introduce some new vocabulary and topics while also teaching a bit about American culture. I did presentations on everything from holidays and food to music and American college life.

I taught five classes each week. I am technically a teacher in the business school, so all of my students were business majors. Four were Oral English classes, but one was Management English. Apparently I was supposed to teach this class management topics in English. For one, I've never taken a management class and no pretty much nothing about the subject. The text books they gave me to look at were kind of terrible, and the few times that I tried using their information in class the students barely understood what I was teaching. I ended up teaching similar things as my Oral English class, but tried to put more of a business bent on it. I was able to teach them about things like writing resumes, job interviews and sending proper business emails, all in English.

I also did a few unique activities with my classes. We took two weeks to watch "Forrest Gump," a film some of them had seen before but all seemed to enjoy. I bought a DVD of it in China, so I was able to put on Chinese subtitles for the students. Perhaps the best activity I did was have the students create commercials that they would perform in front of the class. I brought in items that they could use like Advil, toothpaste, air freshener and dish soap. All my classes loved the idea. They really came alive during the activity, and some of them created genuinely funny and interesting commercials.

At the end of the semester I of course had to assign grades. For my Oral English classes, it was pretty easy. I told them that 80% of their grade would be based on attendance and participation, which pretty much guaranteed everyone a good grade. For a final, I did brief individual talks with each students, where I prompted a conversation using similar questions as my warm-up activity. This meant most students got some grade in the 90s.

My Management Class was different. I was required to give them a final exam that would serve as their entire grade for the semester. Thankfully my teacher contact in the business school sent me an example of exams past foreign teachers had used for the class, so I had an idea of what they were looking for. I wrote a 40-question test with multiple choice and true/false questions. I thought it was fairly easy, and the week before the exam I did a thorough review process.

Grading the tests gave me a new perspective as a teacher. As I was grading I was basically rooting for each student to do well. Most got 90s, a few got 80s, and there were two 70s. I definitely felt a bit disappointed for the two students that got the low scores. But on the flip side, one of my favorite students who frequently talks to me outside of class had expressed his strong desire to get a perfect score. When I ended up grading his test, I was somewhat anxious to see how he would do. So I was excited that he did get a perfect score on the exam, only one of my two students who did.

I currently am not sure what my teaching schedule will look like next semester. My contact in the business school said that, for them, I am only scheduled to teach two Oral English classes, and that I would only teach for the first 9 weeks, or the first half of the semester. That would be quite a difference, but I think there's a good chance more classes from other schools could be added to my schedule.

But before that is my trip during the Chinese New Year holiday. On Wednesday I will leave with some other teachers for Hong Kong. Our plan from there is to head to (maybe) Macau, then Guangzhou. From there we will travel through Vietnam, spending time in Hanoi, Hue, Nha Trang (beaches!), and Saigon. Then we fly to Malaysia, where we will see Kuala Lumpur, Melaka, and Penang. Finally we'll fly back to Shijiazhuang. It'll be a long and likely tiring trip, but it should also be a ton of fun.

I'll be sure to take a lot of pictures during the trip, and I'm sure I'll have some stories, so you can look for another post sometime in late February or March.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

I'm Still Here


So it's been a few months, but I promise I have not forgotten this blog. Or, at the very least I've just now remembered it. I'm currently done teaching my first term at Hebei Normal University. I now have a bunch of free time before I spend weeks traveling to Hong Kong, Macau and Guangzhou (China), Hanoi, Hue, Ngan Trang and Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam), and Kuala Lumpur, Melaka and Penang (Malaysia). ...I'm already tired just writing that.

SO, before I leave I have tasked myself with writing a substantial blog post that will cover the past few months. But right now I intend to update my Flickr with new photos. So I encourage you to check that out.

Be back soon...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Lots of Photos - Beijing and Seoul

So I know I've been pretty bad about keeping up with writing blog posts, but I'm still taking and posting plenty of photos. In the past week I've added about 150 pictures from Beijing and Seoul. Since I don't pay for Flickr, I can only display the most recent 200 photos at any one time, so I suggest you take a look at the new pics while you can.

But as I alluded to, I just got back from a trip to Seoul, South Korea during our National Holiday break. It was AWESOME. I seriously think I fell in love with Seoul, to the point that I can see myself living there for an extended period of time. (In contrast, while I'm greatly enjoying China, I can already tell I wouldn't want to live here again. At least, not in Shijiazhuang or Beijing.) I definitely intend on making a big post about all that I did in Seoul (which included some great food, hanging out in some cool parts of the city, and a DMZ tour where I saw North Korea with my own eyes). But, for now, take a look at the pics above to get a sense of the trip.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Uninteresting Videos

Here are two videos I just uploaded to YouTube. They're not super special but kind of fun. The first one is something I took while riding the bus in Shijiazhuang.

The second one is of a dance routine three dancers put on at Mazzo, the club we've been hanging out a lot.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I'm Now A Teacher (I Think)

I'm nearing the end of second week of teaching, so I'm pretty sure I can call myself teacher now if I want. The first two weeks have been pretty simple stuff, though, with introduction activities and general exercises that allow me to see how good my students already are with English.

To introduce me to the class I did a question activity that I first saw Matt Yasgar talked about. I told my students to write down five questions that they'd like to ask me. After they had done this I had two students come up to front of the class, one to ask their questions and the other to pretend to be me. The person pretending to be me had to guess what my answer to the question would be, and I would then say if they're right or not. Here are some of the common questions I got:

• Where are you from? (Though the first questioner assumed, for some reason, that I was from Canada)
• How long have you been in China?
• How long will you be in China?
• Do you speak Chinese?
• Why did you come to China?
• What is your favorite place in China?
• What do you think of China?
• What do you think of Shijiazhuang?
• Do you have a girlfriend?/Are you married? (One person asked if I had kids)
• Do you think Chinese girls are cute? (One asked who I thought were cuter, American or Chinese girls)
• How old are you? (Kind of awkward when I'm maybe one year older than some of my students)
• Do you like Chinese food?
• What is your favorite sport?

There were definitely a few weird/awkward questions. A girl asked why my eyes weren't blue. Another girl asked how much I was getting paid. And a guy that knows English better than most asked if I had a girlfriend. After saying "no," he put his arm around me, in front of the class, and told me that he would set me up with a girl. I quickly moved on to the next question.

I also have some students with unusual English names. My first class had both Bruce Lee and Lucifer in it. Just yesterday I found out that the Chinese like the Godfather movies because I now have both Vito and Michael Corleone as students. I'll be having students pick English names again tomorrow, so I'll be interested to see what they come up with.

This week I've been getting the students even more comfortable with talking in class. I've been doing an activity where I've written down 52 various questions that are assigned to a playing card. A student then comes to the front of the room, picks a card and must answer the question with at least three sentences. Most of the questions I found online, and they range from softballs like "What's your favorite movie?" to more complicated ones such as "Is it ok for a couple to have a child before marriage?" or "What is your opinion of China's one child policy?" With some of the questions I'd then ask the class their opinion in an attempt to get a large-scale discussion going. The likelihood of thoughtful answers correlates to the students' strength with English (of which there is definitely a wide range), but I was surprised to see several students speaking up and disagreeing with each other over topics like the one child policy and the death penalty. I'm hoping this attitude towards discussion can continue and strengthen as all the students become more comfortable speaking in English.

All my students seem nice and happy to have me as a teacher. My only real complaint so far is that some students refuse to speak loudly, even when in front of the whole class, which causes other students to start talking and ignoring what's going on. (Again, that's something I'm hoping will change as students become more comfortable.) After Monday's class I had a few students come up to talk with me and invite me to spend some time with them during the Mid-Autumn Festival (which is next Wednesday, September 22). I told them I'd get back to them to make sure, but I might as well accept their offer. It would be an adventure at least. I also had a student Monday hand me a hand-written letter (though she said she first tried to email it but it didn't work). It was a pretty sweet letter, wherein she explained the origins of her English name (which is Rucy-wei...not very English), told me a bit about her family and said why she was taking English. I was caught a bit off guard by a comment she made about my apparently "beautiful eyelashes," but I'll just take it as a compliment.

Besides teaching, everything else has been pretty much the same. Over the weekend we did make a terrible discover: the beer garden that we had been to at least once a week since arriving was closed, like for good. We showed up on Friday and all the lights were off and the tables had disappeared. This was the place where we were always given free drinks, so we couldn't help but feel a little guilty, but it was fun while it lasted. We ended up hanging out again at a club called Mazzo (this and the foreigner bar, aka McDonald's Bar, have now become our kind of regular places). We've made friends with other foreigners at Mazzo, two of whom are rappers from Africa who frequently perform at the club. They are treated like VIPs, with an apparently endless supply of Skyy Vodka being provided by the club. Saturday night we were treated to KTV by a woman who works as the city government's head foreign affairs contact...a pretty good friend to have. The karaoke was fun, and the night was topped off by them bringing us plates of french fries. Granted, the fries were cold and the ketchup tasted a it was still a nice treat.

This coming Friday the 9 of us in the Shiz are meeting up with 3 from Chengde to hang out in Beijing for the weekend. Shijiazhuang has certainly been fun so far, but it's gonna be nice to have a change of pace for the weekend. The plan is to see some of the basic Beijing sites (Tienanmen Square, Forbidden City, etc.). There is also apparently a pretty awesome Mexican restaurant in the city that we plan on visiting. Xian jokes that that's the main reason why were going to Beijing. (At least I think she's joking...)

Check out my photos as I've just uploaded a new set. I'll definitely have more after this weekend's trip, so be sure to check back soon.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Teaching Update & Cangyan Shan

So I am finally all set to start teaching. On Thursday I met with my contact in the Hebei Normal School of Business, where I'll be teaching oral English classes, and got my schedule. I'm contracted with the school to teach up to 18 hours a week, but for at least the first semester I'm teaching less then 9. Doesn't bother me much since I'm getting paid the same, but that does mean I'll have a lot of extra free time. Hopefully I can find some side jobs to make some extra cash.

I'm both excited and a bit nervous for the start of class, though I'm sure it'll go fine. My plan for the first week of classes (which only includes three of my five classes...first years start a few weeks late because of military training) is to have the students do activities that allow them to get to know me, for me to get to know them, and for me to see how good their spoken English is right now. After that I'll be able to start developing lessons based on their current level. All of my classes are based around their majors (like Management or Economics), so at some point I'll start putting more specific English material that appeals to their majors into the curriculum.

I'm teaching at Hebei Normal's new campus, which is still very under construction. That is, the place is currently a giant mess of dirt, construction and trash. The buildings and classrooms are nice (and they should be...their brand new), but I'm sure as the year progresses the new campus will look much better as construction wraps up.

This past Wednesday six of the teachers here in Shijiazhuang on a bus for a few hours to see Cangyan Shan, an ancient temple complex outside the Shiz. It was a gorgeous place, and a nice change of pace. Ang Lee actually filmed the final scene of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" there, at the mountain's famous bridge. I remember seeing that movie for the first time and being amazed at how beautiful everything was...I certainly never imagined I'd visit any of those places. The bus ride back from Cangyan Shan was less fun (got stuck in massive construction traffic, so it took about twice as long to get back then it did to get there), but it was still a good experience. I took a bunch of pictures there so check them out above.

Tonight Jason Esch, a former CCEP participant who is now in China starting his third year, is taking us Shijiazhuang teachers out to a pizza buffet that is supposedly pretty good (and probably pretty expensive). I must say, even if it's crappy pizza, if it has cheese on it I'll probably be happy. I think we've definitely started getting cravings already for Western food, especially when watching TV shows or movies and seeing it. A few of us were watching Arrested Development last night and simultaneously commented on how great a sandwich looked that someone was eating. Not that food here is bad at all...quite the contrary. I'm still amazed at how you can buy yourself a delicious and very filling meal on the street for less than $1. We've been going to restaurants a lot before starting to teach, but once we get into the swing of things I think the cheap street food will be a much more popular option.

So that's that. I'll post again after I start teaching...I'm sure I'll have some interesting things to share.

Monday, August 30, 2010

More Photos

Hey all. I've just uploaded a bunch of new photos mostly focused on Shijiazhuang nightlife so far. I've also got some photos from my apartment that I moved in to on Saturday. Check them out above.