There's always one...!
I spent 2 hours getting to the airport this morning to meet an early-arriving Lattitude volunteer only to find out on arrival that he had missed his connection. He'll try again tomorrow. So another 2 hours back to school to prepare the room for the 8-day training course which starts tomorrow [see above]. The other 14 volunteers arrived safely enough in the afternoon (met by a colleague) and we enjoyed a tasty Welcome Banquet together this evening [see below].
Train now arriving
The twice-annual Lattitude training is upon me once again - my busiest times of the year. 15 Aussies arrive on Monday [some pictured here] and I've been spending most of this week making sure the coursework, admin and classrooms are all prepared. This time I'll be doing all the training myself as Robert, my boss, is in the UK on business. Thankfully another Chinese teacher, Kelly, is handling the visa, pastoral and projects side of the placements (a role I was very happy to pass on to her earlier in the year) and our most experienced secretary, Winnie, is back from having a baby to handle the administration (booking hotels, restaurants, coaches, refreshments etc). So together we'll aim to get through the 8-day course without mishap and get all the volunteers safely to their schools around China, where they will be teaching for 5 months. Fingers crossed!
Anna an' Shannon in E'Shan
I drove two hours down to Eshan yesterday with Kelly, a Chinese teacher from my school who is gradually taking over my role of looking after the Lattitude volunteers. Anna and Shannon are two excellent examples. Their devotion to students and school alike was very impressive (daily English Corner's, playing basketball with the English teachers, attending music performances and even politics competitions(!?). After lunch at the school canteen scrum (2200 students, 8 serving hatches) we observed two very different, but equally impressive, lessons.
As you can see in the photo, end of term exams are just two weeks away and students' desks are piled high with textbooks (no lockers!). It's sometimes a convenient way to hide what you are really doing from the teacher. We saw students texting, doodling, doing other lessons' homework and sleeping! To their credit, however, the girls managed to keep 95% of the students interested and involved. No mean feat in classes of 50+.
Presents for their presence
This week has seen a visit by two of the Lattitude leaders I've been working with over the last 6 months; Helen [left in photo] from the UK and Glyn [right] a Welshman from Lattitude Australia, here being presented with gifts from the Yunnan Education Department at a lunch together yesterday. I know Helen from many years ago - she was at my UK wedding too - but Glyn I've only known through e-mails up until now. They have now visited all the Yunnan volunteer projects and, this afternoon, move on to the Sichuan ones. Particularly good news for me was, after a series of interviews, the appointment of a new interim Country Co-ordinator to take on the pastoral and administration side of the Lattitude work which I've been trying to cope with over recent months. After a handover, I'll just be left with the twice-yearly training, which is much more my cup of tea.
Hamsters and tigers
I managed to get down to Yuxi yesterday to visit the Lattitude volunteers there; Doug [left, with his newly acquired hamster] and Jacob [gazing at the tiger]. Their school is big, but with lots of wide open spaces for students to play in and wander around. I took away the papers required for Doug to get a new passport since he lost his at some point in the past month. It's now up to us to process them quickly before he gets deported!
Water for fire, not forest of us
I saw a helicopter flying overhead yesterday with a huge bucket hanging beneath it. I thought they might be delivering much-needed water to our neighbourhood (six weeks without running water now) but they were actually heading towards a rather nasty forest fire which has been heading towards Kunming from Yuxi, in the south. The drought has left the countryside parched and fires are frequent at this time of year. However, tomorrow I'm due to visit the self-same Yuxi to meet some Lattitude volunteers. Let's hope the fire doesn't change direction!
Robert (my boss) and I drove 2 hours to QuJing yesterday - Yunnan's second biggest city, with a population of a million. We were visiting Maddi and Chanoa [left in photo], the two Lattitude volunteers serving there. I did the teacher training for them last month and currently have oversight of all the Lattitude volunteers in China. It was a really nice visit, seeing their new flat, meeting their colleagues and hearing their stories and reactions to life in China and starting to teach in a school with 5000 students. They were remarkably settled and positive despite a difficult first few weeks.
The Lattitude course drew to a close yesterday - a tough final day for all concerned, as most of the volunteers had been in "entertainment establishments" 'til the early hours and were far too sleepy to do much at all! I managed to struggle through the last of the sessions, however, and we enjoyed a final banquet together this evening.
This course has been by far the most difficult of the five we've done before, but that's been down to a new and torturous administration process and is no reflection on these fine volunteers who fly (or are driven) to various schools around S.W. China tomrrow for 5 months of teaching English. I look forward to following their progress.
Patient set up
The Lattitude volunteers put their newly learned teaching skills into practice today, with each pair teaching a 50 minute lesson with real students at my school. The two pairs taking part in my lessons did really well - here seen setting up a nice "doctor and patient" role-play.
Pre-pearing for teaching
The Lattitude course continues on. The volunteers I'm training this week are a lively and enthusiastic bunch. They get a wide range of experiences whilst here. Chinese language lessons each day, for example, include trips out of the classroom to practise what they've been taught [see photo - here buying pears and mangoes]. Today we went to a local Middle School to observe a lesson and meet the students. Yesterday we watched a video of a previous volunteer teaching a lesson and being interviewed in her rural school (filmed and edited by me). And tomorrow they meet teachers from Robert's School to be given information on what to prepare for their weekend Teaching Practice. So amongst all the class-based theoretical training, there's quite a lot of practical stuff going on too. It's all quite tiring though!
Here at Latts
A dozen teenage volunteers arrived in Kunming yesterday doing a "gap year" 6 months with the charity, Lattitude. My job is to train them to be English teachers in 8 days. They're a lively and positive bunch and, as usual, I'm really enjoying training them. This time we are based at a smaller downtown branch of my school as it's been newly renovated and is 2 minutes walk from their hotel. It also has a shower, which is a blessing as we're now 6 days without running water at home. Our neighbourhood actually appeared on the local news today to illustrate how bad the drought here is (not that the rest of Kunming seems to be affected at all).
Term to begin
Our new term started yesterday with the usual "whole school" meeting and then the first of the weekend lessons. I've got a particularly busy fortnight ahead, as we have double classes (to make up for our holiday!?) and, from next weekend, I am also training 13 Australian teenage volunteers from Lattitude for a week. Back to work...
Run its course
The month-long training TESOL course is nearing its end. I've really enjoyed the whole process, despite preparing and delivering the materials alongside my full-time job and a low-level cold. The trainees have been excellent throughout - hard-working, thoughtful and up for anything. They did very well on their written tests yesterday and complete their demonstration classes tomorrow. That will end the first course, but we are assured there will be a rolling programme of such courses continuing in the new year. I really hope so. I enjoy "training" more than "teaching" - always have - and would like to move yet further into that area, even it if means fewer lessons with children. Our regular "Lattitude" training course is next on the horizon - thirteen Australian teenagers arriving in February!
Spielberg, eat your heart out
Having returned from my Lattitude visit with some great video footage from threee seperate cameras, I've spent a few hours this weekend editing it all into two little movies ("Demonstration class" and "Interview"). I've not used Microsoft's "Movie Maker" software before, so it's been quite fun to teach myself how to add music, titles, cross-fades and little tweaks. I'm quite pleased with the results. Oscar nominations must follow...
That's Latt Nat
I travelled two hours south yesterday, driven by secretary "Winnie" from my school, to visit two of the Lattitude volunteers that I trained some three months ago. Despite arriving very late, Natalie had managed to keep the students in the class room and proceeded to teach a fabulous lesson, showing off her natural talents and many of the skills/games taught on the training course. Winnie and I recorded the lesson on DVD for future Lattitude training courses. Then, back at Natalie and fellow volunteer Zoe's flat, we recorded an interviewed with them about how they coped with life in China. In fact, they were both effusive in their love of the job, the location and the friends and colleagues they had there. Their enthusiasm was infectious and reminded me of how excited I felt I some 15 years ago, when volunteering in China. After a banquet with the headteacher and foreigner-liaison teacher, Winnie and I headed home, arriving back at school just in time for my weekly meeting and lesson. A long, but very worthwhile, day.
Yesterday's training included a visit to a local Middle School to watch a Chinese teacher deliver a lesson to her class of 65 students. Our trainees can just be seen at the back of the classroom. Then we went for a dumpling lunch...
Back at our school, Cathy (one of our teachers) gave the volunteers a tea ceremony demonstration. These were both new additions to our 8-day
This evening we had a Farewell Banquet and the Lattitude trainees leave tomorrow to become English teachers for six months in various countryside schools. And after I've written the Final Report, I can relax for a few days!
Yesterday saw the Lattitude volunteers doing their Teaching Practice. The first half of the training course leads up to this, with practical sessions on Lesson Planning, Games, Using Visual Aids, Speaking, Presentation, etc. And they did really well. The regular teachers - whose classes they took over for an hour - had nothing but praise for the trainees: well-prepared, confident and full of great ideas. We still have three days of training to go, covering Songs, Correcting Mistakes, Listening, and Reading as well as some "background" subjects such as Chinese Culture, Extra-Curricular Activities and Living and Working in China.
The deep end
After surviving a nasty sickness bug (a third of our trainees were in their hotel rooms vomitting, at one point!), we were back to full numbers today, and tomorrow sees them doing their Teaching Practice at our school. The Chinese language course is proving popular, too. The photo shows the beginner students on a field trip. Having learned how to ask for things in the classroom, we take them to a shop and let them try for real! The shopkeepers have seen it all before and try their best to understand the mangled requests!
The Lattitude training course I'm running these days is going well. I have this afternoon off, while they go sightseeing at the Golden Temple. It's a welcome break for me as the other two teachers who were doing some of the training with me have both had to pull out. Plus, I'm trying to fit in my normal school classes with kids at the same time, as far as possible. It helps that this intake are a particularly punctual, lively and thoughtful bunch. I do enjoy training (even more than teaching, and there is a difference!). There's still ¾ of the course to go, but so far, so good!
Unlucky for some
With the number of volunteers from Britain, Australia and Canada on the latest Lattitude training numbering 13, we should have expected some bad luck. So it was that I waited for 2 hours at the airport yesterday and a further 2 hours at the hotel for the first volunteer to arrive, only to find out later that he had been detained in Beijing. The customs officers thought the bicycle pump he was carrying in hand luggage looked suspiciously like a pipe bomb! He missed his connection to Kunming and finally arrived 7 hours late! The remaining 12 volunteers arrived this afternoon, a mere 2 hours late. They seem a great bunch - lively despite their looong journeys here! The course starts tomorrow.
Draw, tea, dirty
After watching England's dismal draw with the USA in the World Cup from 2.00-400am (yawn), I managed to rouse myself for a lunch appointment with an old friend and ex-VSO volunteer Jayne [left in photo] and the most recent bunch of Lattitude volunteers who I was training a mere six months ago - now confident and experienced teachers in China! It turns out they also represent some of the many "secret readers" of this blog! It was good to see them once last time and hear their tales before they head back to their respective countries.
We spent the afternoon in the company of the LEAF family, on one of their legendary walks through the tea fields around Simao. What started as a concrete path in the warm sunshine soon dissolved into a mud slope in the rain! But getting lost and finding little surprises is what it's all about. Freda and Edie are very knowledgeable about the local plants, wildlife and culture and happily chatted with Ava (in Chinese!) for the duration of the walk. It was nice for me to catch up with Lesley and Ali and hear what their longer-term future might hold, depending on what happens in the next few weeks.
The most intriguing discovery on the route was a small overgrown building, half-hidden in the bushes, with amazing hand-painted Mao Zedong portraits above each door. A glimpse into China's not too distant history. None of the locals we spoke to were sure what the building had been - a storehouse? a school? a military barracks? (OK, the last one was just my fanciful idea!). We made our way back to the town and our favourite Muslim restaurant with the two girls covered head to toe in mud... "Ava said it's good for our skin!"
The right Attitude
I flew back this afternoon from a hectic (4 hour meeting) but comfortable (5 star hotel) Lattitude Conference in HangZhou. The 40 or so attendees included the Heads of the Provincial Education Departments that work with Lattitude (except for Yunnan, tut tut! Hence, I was introduced as "representing Yunnan", all of the 45 million population, presumably?). There were ex-volunteers and current volunteers, Lattitude Programme Managers and the new head of Lattitude [see photo] on his first visit to China. The early (Chinese!) 10-minute speeches were taking 20-30 minutes each and by the time my slot came along, we were already overrunning by an hour. So I ditched my planned (and much practised!) attempt to speak in English and Chinese, and left the Chinese to the professional translator. That meant I finished in only 8 minutes, doing my bit to get things back on schedule!
It was good to make new friends and meet folk I'd only ever contacted by e-mail before. It was also really nice to catch up with the volunteers I last saw tentatively flying off to their projects after our training course. And perhaps the highlight was seeing Helen again [see photo]. We last met three years ago, in a Hani tribal village, singing and dancing with the locals (long story!). Then, she was "just" the mother of a Lattitude volunteer living in my town and I was "just" a VSO volunteeer. Now though we've both ended up working for Lattitude part-time! Strange world!
Latt's your lot
The latest Lattitude training course has come to an end. Yesterday was focused on the volunteers observing lessons at the school and then teaching a 50-minute lesson themselves. For many of them it will have been their first experience in front of a class, instead of being a student in one. They did well overall, although some nerves showed and quite a few ran out of activities well before the bell rang!
Today's final sessions ended with a ten minute walk to a rather posh restaurant for a Farewell Banquet, serenaded by a Chinese harp player. The venue would normally have been out of our price range but the owner is a customer of Ava's and dropping her name when we rang got us a hefty discount! The volunteers fly off to their projects around China tomorrow, while I'll be tidying up their classrooms and getting ready for my first adult evening class for over a year.
Better Latt than never
The Lattitude course is progressing well, despite both trainers being unusually low on energy levels (Rob is still struggling with food poisoning and, although my headaches have thankfully stopped, I'm "straight-to-bed" tired by the end of each 6-7 hour teaching day!). We've had the usual incidents - a stolen wallet, a case with the keys locked inside and a volunteer trapped in a lift for 20 minutes! But this intake are a great bunch and easy to teach. This afternoon they are all off on a half-day outing to the Golden Temple which will give them a well-earned break from the intensive training sessions.
Nineteen weary teenagers arrived in Kunming today - the latest batch of Lattitude volunteers attending my school's In-country Teaching Skills Course. We had been told to expect 10 Australians and 9 Brits, so we had a bit of a scare when only 9 Ozzies turned up. "William" was not there. Thankfully, 10 Brits turned up a few moments later, including "William" who had been wrongly designated as arriving from Sydney!
A bit worryingly, Rob (my boss and fellow trainer) has been ill in bed for the last two days with food poisoning. He says he should back for when the lessons start tomorrow. I hope so, as I'm not feeling 100% either. Still, we did manage to ferry all the volunteers to their hotel, have an introductory meeting and then took them all to a banquet. But the real work starts tomorrow!
Paul Hider lives and works in Kunming (SW China) and regularly updates this blog about his life there.
Past blog entries