My career at the Yunnan University of Finance and Economics (YUFE) is coming to an end this week. I now just have a hundred Final Exam Essays to mark and my time there is over!
It's been largely a very enjoyable 8 years at YUFE. I originally joined so that my schedule would allow me to take JD to and from school each day, and to be around at weekends (something I couldn't do in my previous job at Robert's School of Languages). But it turned out to be a good move anyway, with long holidays and plenty pf time in the week to do private lessons which have more than made up for the pay drop.
The courses have become progressively easier to teach over the years, as I collected resources and learned how to use some awful textbooks. The support staff have been consistently helpful and pleasant, if a little clueless at times! The number of foreign teachers in my Department started at 6, gradually dipped to just me, and more recently has been 2-3. I shall miss the place as I move on to a new chapter of my life.
JD and I shared lunch with "Kevin" yesterday. I haven't seen him since he was my student at Robert's School some ten years ago. He is now a fluent English speaker, about to finish his degree in Computing, and debating about which country to do his Masters in! It's amazing to see how so many of the "little kids" I once taught have grown into smart, motivated young men/women!
I had a very unexpected meet up today. I was just finishing a restaurant meal with an old friend when the guy on the next table suddenly exclaimed, "PJ??". Now that's a moniker I used at work for a year or two, ages ago - there was already another teacher named "Paul" in the Kunming training school when I started to work there. The guy explained that I had been his teacher at Robert's School some 14 years before and, once he mentioned his English name, "Aaron", I did indeed recognise him and remembered him as a rather cheeky 10-year old. In the intervening years he has got four A-levels, a Physics degree and a Masters in the UK, and is soon to start a PhD in quantum mechanics at York University. Amazing!
I started my trainer-training at Robert's School by observing each of the three Chinese in-house trainers in action. As you can see in the photo, they only have a few new teachers on each cycle and the course is therefore nicely informal and personalised. The three trainers are excellent teachers in their own right, especially with the younger students, with whom most of the Chinese teachers have their lessons (classes of older students are usually taught by foreign teachers).
However, none of them has any specific background in training and so they are keen, if a little nervous, to get feedback and advice. The present course has evolved into a largely didactic passing-on of how each lesson should be taught, right down to standardised gestures and umpteen steps for every moment of the class, which cannot be deviated from. I think I’d like to adapt it so that new teachers work out the most successful methods for themselves and, in doing so, understand why they are the best ways, more than simply being told so. This means having open-ended activities, worksheets to complete and group discussions where the new teachers can suggest their own answers and give their own opinions and ideas. Not a particularly Chinese way of doing things but one which, as teachers, we should already be encouraging our students to do in our lessons...
Yesterday saw my last lesson with the Foreign Affairs Department of the Kunming Civil Service. The course was supposed to run for 12 weeks but, due to cancellations and public holidays, it's been 16 weeks since I started. They have been a fun group to teach, but I'll be glad to get my Fridays back again - it's my only JD/work free day each week.
I was back teaching at Robert's School yesterday. A while ago, the school landed a large contract to give three months' training to 100+ civil servants and then found themselves very short of foreign teachers. So, after some desperate begging, I finally agreed to help them with 1½ hours a week for three months. My 25 students today had a higher level of English than I expected and managed to keep up well with the opening class on the topic of "Greetings and Self-introductions". 11 more lessons to go!
The British Consul-General was in Kunming a couple of days ago and I found myself invited to a celebration of 45 years of China-UK ambassadorial relations. There were about 50 business people in attendance, of which just 10 or so were actually British! I met up with my old colleagues from Robert's School which was fun [see below] and the "typically British food" on offer - roast chicken, curry, fish & chips, mashed potatoes, etc - was rather good.
I was delighted to be invited to Robert's School's Spring Festival Meal today. Although I only work for the school periodically they still treat me as "part of the family" and it was great to meet up with past colleagues. JD was on his best behaviour, chatting politely with folk, helping to hand out the raffle prizes and playing with balloons with the other children. It was a delicious meal with every table having a hot pot and barbecue plate, plus an all-you-can-eat (and drink) buffet.
Halloween is here again and though I thought I'd escaped the worst of it having left Robert's School a year and a half ago, I've been drafted back to help them this weekend. They have encouraged existing students to bring a friend and want an experienced teacher to give a demo lesson to these potential new students and their parents for an hour before they head to various classrooms for Halloween games with their invitee friend. It means preparing for classes of unknown numbers of students at unknown levels of ability (and, with Ava away on business, hoping Ma can look after JD during the hours when I am busy). No wonder I'm looking dead tired!
This weekend I'm saying goodbye to all (bar one) of my Robert's School classes. It's been a very happy 8 years at the school and it's sad to finally leave. I'll continue teaching the final 2-hour Sunday class for a few more months, so technically I haven't left just yet. But I'm already feeling out of the loop, so it's only a matter of time.
The last couple of months have seen our school entrance completely refitted, and a cafe installed in what were previously two classrooms, now knocked together. It's not finished just yet, but looks increasingly smart and modern, I think. Our classes last Friday were cancelled due to a dizzy-inducing paint job, but we were back at the chalkface on Saturday and Sunday. Let's hope it leads to an influx of new students.
My school is gradually being upgraded. Some nice cultural pictures went up along all the corridors last month and this week sees the completion of a new entrance, which is heaps better than the iron grating, paint peeling, wires-showing previous hole-in-the-wall. We are promised newly decorated stairwells next, and the installation of a cafe in the reception area. All bodes well.
The cough and cold I had last week didn't improve and a CT scan a few days ago confirmed a diagnosis of pneumonia. So I'm currently on a course of antibiotics. And they're not cheap! £7.50 for a box that looks fairly substantial but only contains three tiny tablets. I need to take nine! The timing is really annoying too, with Halloween weekend being the busiest of our school year. I usually give it 100%, dressing up, screaming and shouting in the corridors and scaring the pants off all the students. I've already prepared my outfit and lessons for this year, but I'm starting to realise I won't be able to go in (and my students will miss all the fun). I still have a hacking cough and I'm getting exhausted after climbing a flight of stairs or standing up for too long. Really frustrating, but I think I need to go with head over heart. It's an infection that kills 4 million people a year around the world, after all!
Two days ago was Jiajia's half-birthday. As is my tradition, she awoke to half a birthday card, half a slice of cake and a truncated rendition of "Happy Birthday to you". As is also something of a tradition, she had no idea what I was on about it, after a childhood where even her birthday was seldom mentioned. She got her own back though with a funny hand-drawn card for Chinese Teachers' Day, which I had no idea was yesterday. The drawing [see above] shows a portly me teaching a class of various disinterested animals the word "pig". And this is the woman with a degree in Fine Art!
It's that time of year again when I spend a week training teenagers to be English teachers on behalf of the NGO, "Lattitude". We usually have 20 or more volunteers, but this intake is only three [see photo above, having a Chinese language lesson with "Jolly"], so we've condensed the course down and are managing to race through the various modules in 6 days instead of 8. All three are Australian with one about to start a degree, one half way through one and one having just finished one. As ever, I'm enjoying the "gear-change" from my usual teaching of school children.
Our school invested in a cool little Table Football game for the World Cup and yesterday afternoon held a staff knockout competition for eight randomly chosen mixed pairs. Tina and I managed to get to the final before being beaten. The winner? It was Robert, owner of the school, paired with Mary, organiser of the social event. Hmmm. Robert also won the World Cup sweepstake having drawn Germany. All a little bit suspicious? Some may say so...
Dave and Esme spent some time watching me teach today. It was great for my students to meet other foreigners and quiz them.
Some of them thought that Esme was Dave's wife which was quite amusing. They couldn't believe Esme was only 16 - let's just say she isn't as conservative in her looks as most Chinese teenagers are! It was fun for me too, to have Dave and Esme there sharing what is obviously a very important part of my life. And, of course, plenty of dumplings for lunch!
Our school has decked itself out with World Cup flags and various footie activities for the students to take part in (including a sweepstake for the teachers - I picked the USA!?). A table football has been set up in the reception and each classroom has been allocated a country to cheer for. Despite the China team never qualiying for tournaments like this, it's surprising just how much of a buzz there is here, with bleary-eyed students rolling in late saying how they'd been up all night "watching Iran play Nigeria", or whatever. Yesterday I managed to rouse myself at 6am to see England lose to Italy. The next England match starts at 3am which will be even tougher to get up for!
Meanwhile, at Kunming Zoo, a baby lion was asked to predict the winning team for the tournament, eventually plumping for Germany. Not a bad choice all told, and it remains to be seen just how accurate his prediction is...
Our school has been short-listed to introduce a "Creative Thinking" course to Kunming which has already been run successfully around the world and in other Chinese cities. Some of the foreign teachers at my school, along with our Sunday morning students, attended a demo workshop recently to see what it was all about. It was led by a guy called John Biggs who admitted to me afterwards that he had run that particular class hundreds, perhaps thousands, of times before. It still came across as fresh though and, not surprisingly, very polished. With a few tweaks I can see it being really useful for Chinese students for whom "being creative" is severely undervalued, compared to learning and reciting facts, passing exams etc. Whether it can make any money for the school is another matter.
We had our school's termly 5-a-side indoor football match yesterday. We always think we can try to organise it, say, monthly but getting 10 chaps together (in a school 80% women) usually proves too difficult. Plus, most matches end with 1 or 2 players injured (the first time I played in one of these games I broke my toe!). Yesterday's foray resulted in a rather nasty bruise and swelling on my foot, but hopefully not a break this time. I do enjoy the kickabouts, but I fear I'm getting a bit old to cope. I've already had to give up weekly badminton and weight training because of an ongoing tennis elbow problem. Maybe footie is next? Running seems the least dangerous exercise...
Our school made the front page of the newpaper this weekend or, more accurately, Robert (my boss) was featured, dressed as James Bond! This weekend marks the end of "Great Britain Week" in Kunming and our school provided various impersonators of famous British people in the main shopping street for people to take photos with. So 007 was there with his Bond girl, plus Robin Hood, Mr Bean, Harry Potter, Winnie the Pooh, Darcy & Elizabeth, etc. I heard they attracted hundreds of onlookers. Sadly I was stuck teaching at school, but it sounded like a blast!
My school have decorated the entrance stairs with various large signs and I was a bit taken aback last week to find one of them devoted to me! I'm just hoping it doesn't become an overly famous shrine with people travelling from far distant lands to pay homage and lay wreaths. They'd probably block the fire exits for a start...
This is the other poem I wrote for the School Party...
I’ve got a rubbish student.
His name, let’s say, is Jack.
At the end of every lesson
I hope he won’t come back.
He never does his homework. He always speaks Chinese.
He hasn’t got a pencil-case. His parents don’t pay fees.
He cheats on the dictations. Makes hundred of mistakes.
Annoys the other students. Fails every test he takes.
He copies all his homework. From stuff on the internet.
He often goes to the WC to smoke a cigarette.
The other students hate him. They always start to moan.
He’s broken classroom windows. And stolen classmate’s phones.
He brought a knife to class once . He doesn’t think that’s wrong.
He tries to eat his textbook and he brings dead cats along.
The police say he’s a danger. He’s murdered thirteen men.
He’s wanted internationally. For acts of terrorism.
….and he once started a small war in an African state
and infected thousands with an incurable virus and ...
…well, you get the idea!
I give a weekly dictation test to my classes and last week's had quite an amusing attempt. Any guesses what "squinty gold" was meant to be? Click below to find out...
Past blog entries