The "Mei's Mandarin" department of my language school which teaches Chinese to foreigners is picking up new students very nicely these days and proving to be yet another "string to the bow" of the school. I suppose we should take it as something of a compliment then when another language school in a nearby city decides to try and copy our approach. My friend Chloe, a fellow foreign teacher at Robert's School and a regular reader of the blog here, spotted this advert in Dali - a city some 4-5 hours away. Spot any similarities to the advertising banner we're been using for a couple of years now (above)? Cheeky, right? Now where's the phone number of that lawyer...?
Yesterday we had a 2-hour "whole school meeting" with some 60+ teachers. Foreign teachers were told they needn't attend as it would be 95% in Chinese but I was encouraged to be there, as a "manager". As it turned out, the real reason was to collect an award alongside half a dozen other teachers - students from our classes had been the most successful in last term's Speaking Competition. A little embarrassing for me, however, as most of my classes are comprised of top students creamed off from other classes to be "hot-housed" with an experienced foreign teacher. The idea is that they can progress more quickly and advertise the school through their competition wins. So their successes are as much down to innate talent as anything I've done (though I do seem to be able to keep them attending our school, which hasn't always been the case. I've taught some of them for nearly 6 years). Anyhow, 5 of the 25 Provincial winners came from my classes and 1 of the 3 who went to the National Finals in Beijing was my student too. I've decided to spend the cash reward on a meal with the other foreign teachers in a couple of week's time.
STOP PRESS: one of our three students who went to the Beijing Finals came third in his age category! That's THIRD in all of China!!
It's very strange when separate worlds collide... today my boss(es) Robert (Norfolk) and wife Rachel [far right and second left] met with my parents [centre] at Robert's parents' house [his mother left, his father taking the photo] in the UK. They had a delicious garden lunch in gorgeous sunshine (hence 4 x sunglasses and 1 x squint) before exchanging anecdotes and gifts from, and to, China. Very jealous!
As ever, our term is ending with a period of doubled lessons. So, as well as the normal Friday to Saturday lessons (16 hours), I also have the same classes on Tuesday to Thursday (another 16 hours). Maybe 32 hours a week doesn't sound too much, but when you factor in marking, lesson preparation and covering classes for absent colleagues, it makes for a very busy week. Also very frustrating is the fact that not all of the usual students can come to all of the lessons [see "half class attendance" above] - some are still at school, some are on holiday, some are cramming for exams, etc. So you never know how many students you'll have, or who will need to catch up, or whether you can do an exam, or if the class will be cancelled five minutes after it starts. It throws my normally very ordered lesson preparation into chaos. After three weeks of such stress, we qualify for three weeks of "holiday". And I think I'll need it!
My school arranged an outing for all the staff today, to a countryside retreat set up as a "laser tag war zone". We were split into two teams: the fearless-fighting "flat hats" (my team, above) and the heathen-horde "hard hats" who clearly deserved to be wiped from the face of the earth. Our guns fired lasers which, if reflected off one of red spot of another soldier, registered a hit for you and damage for them. Five damage hits and all your lights flash, your gun stops working and you are "dead". We dispersed amongst the woodland foilage, ready for the mother of all battles...
Our team had two machine guns (extra ammo) and two sniper rifles (with scopes), while the others soldiers had regular guns. I was tasked with one of the machine guns and, thus armed, made an impressive, solo, all-out, frontal attack...
...and got mown down. ...by one of my own team-mates, as it turned out. He got too excited and didn't notice the shape of my hat! We played 4 war games in total and in the third I was secretly picked at random to be a spy to try and kill as many of my own team mates as I could without being spotted. I managed to shoot three before a group from the other team (the team I was spying for, remember!) surrounded me, forgot I was on their side and dispatched their very own spy!
Highlight of the day? Without doubt it was hearing the guy explaining how to play the game use the Chinese word for "sniper". Why? Because 2-3 years ago I learned the word in a Chinese language class and, since the teacher said it wasn't a word I would need to use very often, I have been trying to squeeze it into innumerable phrases ever since. To hear it used, in context, gave me cause to squeal in delight, as two of my ex-Chinese teachers, standing next to me, smiled knowingly!
The event ended with a barbecue, which lasted over 2 hours (mainly because the food didn't cook very fast). A fun trip out overall.
Arranging the 30 Lattitude volunteers' Teaching Practice and Observations in our school has been particularly tricky this time. Trying to give volunteers experience with students of a similar age to those they will be teaching in their placement. Informing the class teachers they will be coming and getting textbook photocopies from them to plan their lesson from. Arranging for class teachers to meet with volunteers to give advice. Co-ordinating which volunteers will be observing while others are teaching. Finding out which classrooms each lesson will be in. Advising on lesson structures and resource materials. Collecting and correcting lesson plans. Collating formal feedback sheets. Observing and being observed by the volunteers in my own classes ...while all the while trying to fit in my normal 14 hours of weekend lessons.
Pleasingly, the feedback from the class teachers has been very positive about the volunteers' lessons this time with no real disasters (...not that I've heard about yet, anyway!). Bodes well.
My term ended yesterday and the school celebrated with a delicious buffet meal in a revolving restaurant. There used to be a time when I knew most of the names of the 100 or so staff in the school. No more. Although I recognise most faces, I'd struggle to name more than 30-40% now.
After the meal we had a performance party. Various teachers and admin staff did dances, singing and party games. I did a comedy magic turn, which went down very well. It culminated in a volunteer [see photo below] secretly putting a 50RMB (£5) note in one of four envelopes. I then proceeded to burn three envelopes and when she opened the remaining one and showed it was empty, there was an audible gasp from the audience. Worth £5 to get that reaction! Later I won first prize in the lottery however - a gift voucher for 300RMB (£30). So overall a profit, and a great way to end a good term!
I'm going to buy a new Christmas decoration for our home each year (this year was twinkling lights for the plastic tree) and I make a new Christmas resource for school use, too. This year I drew and coloured in 5 x A3-size pictures and 1 x double-A3, depicting the nativity scene ("not-if-it-is-seen"). I used them in my lessons last weekend and was surprised at how capitivated most of the students were with the story and how little most of them knew about it already. A recurring questions was, "So, where was Santa?".
My school did a really good job this month on the Christmas front. Different crafts and activities were on offer each week - some free, some paid for - including paper angels [see photo, left], suggested by me, having been shown the simple technique by my UK friend Victoria. There were cakes, candies, hats and reindeer antlers on sale. Santa had his own little grotto [see photo, right], and visited each class with gifts. Christmas songs played at the front desk while a nearby screen showed Christmas movies. There were Christmas quizzes on the walls and balloons shaped like bells hanging form the ceiling. It all went remarkably (and unusually!) smoothly and the kids were enthralled.
Q: How do you tell if someone is
Chinese within 10 seconds?
A: Ask them to use a paper clip...
...after watching my students struggle to work out how to clip some game cards back together for me yesterday, I realised that this is clearly not a skill taught in Chinese schools. The same is true of cutting shapes out of paper - the students usually hold the paper still and try to manoeuvre the scissors around (rather than the other way, which is far easier). Our school secretaries have also been known to staple exam papers together in the strangest of ways. I assume this is all because simple stationary skills are not considered "important for passing for the school exams"?
We had an earthquake here this morning. Nobody I know seems to have noticed. Kunming is overdue a big one, they say...
I was on apparently on TV yesterday. It seems to have been an old documentary which the station dusted down and gave a rerun. A few of our Chinese teachers caught it and mentioned it to me today, one saying "You are now an inspiration to me!". Hmmm. Makes me wonder what they thought of me before...
Halloween is back upon us and, as ever, our school goes a bit crazy for it - you can forget the usual discipline levels! All the staff and many of the students dress up in costumes and academic work goes out the window in favour of scary games and activities. This year's theme is Superheroes, although it was chosen after I had decided on my costume, so I've still gone with "diver eaten by shark"! It got quite a few screams over the weekend, plus a few belly laughs. Not a bad combination, I guess!
One of my recent challenges has been running a weekly English course for teachers in Kunming's top Primary School. These are mostly teachers of Chinese and Maths who are keen to participate in the school's student exchange programme to Western countries, which requires a basic level of English from the accompanying teachers. (I'm also secretly hoping that getting known in the school might help my child's chances of being admitted there in the future! Can't hurt!).
Initially, I was told it would be a two hour lesson for 30 teachers. That turned into a one hour lesson for 25 teachers on the first week, and a 45 minute lesson for 55 teachers on the second week. Expect the unexpected in Chinese Primary Schools! The English levels of the teachers vary widely, from those who teach some English themselves to others who cannot answer "How are you?". We did manage some pairwork and role-play by the end of the second lesson though [see photo], and the teachers all seemed relaxed and enjoying the class, which is important.
Some time ago, I was the subject of a Kunming television documentary. One of my students, Lily, recently spotted that it's been uploaded onto China's equivalent of YouTube. Although it's largely in Chinese, some of you might enjoy seeing pictures of me at work and at home. If so, click the button below...
We had a nice goodbye meal for Monique and Peter [back of the photo] this evening at a Japanese restaurant. They are off next month to teach English in Morocco and will be very much missed at our school. They sit opposite me in the Teacher's Office and I always describe them as the "grin/groan" pair. Monique was generous enough to laugh at any and all of my awful puns while Peter would groan if it was bad and go ominously silent if it was really bad. Kunming's loss is Morocco's gain.
One of our school microwaves has a list of all the things that can be cooked at the press of a single button. Alongside bread, coffee, noodles and rice there is a rather disturbing suggestion of "Healthy Baby". I suspect it might be a little less healthy after two minutes of microwaves coursing through it! Must try...
It seems even my own language school can't escape the curse of Chinglish! There were groans from the foreign teachers when the new school Gift Cards were passed round today [see photo left] and the eagle-eyed amongst us spotted the error on our new ID cards last week, too [see photo right]. A month ago our graphics team were told to run every word of English past a native speaker before printing anything (after posters went up around Kunming advertising our "ENGISH CLASSES") but it doesn't seem to have sunk in yet! Needless to say my boss wasn't amused!
The foreign teachers and our secretaries were all invited to Robert's (my boss) house for a marvellous barbecue meal yesterday. Andrew, one of the foreign teachers and a regular badminton adversary of mine, used to be a cook in a restaurant, so spent most of the day preparing the dishes and concocting various yummy sauces. By 7pm, I had won the pre-meal mahjong game and we settled down to burgers, chicken legs, bean salad, green salad, roast vegetables and two huge racks of ribs! Then some table-tennis and Wii games to work off a few of the calories before heading home. Great fun.
I teased my classes with a selection of riddles this weekend. Some of the students came up with rather ingenious (if wrong) answers:
Q1: What's got four legs and flies?
[NOT a dragon!]
Q2: What increases by 50% when you turn it upside down?
[NOT the fraction 102/150!]
Q3: If you find yourself in a locked car with a hammer, what's the best way to get out?
[NOT attack the driver!]
I welcome your guesses in the Comments Section before I reveal all!
I did another stint on Kunming Radio yesterday evening, along with show regulars Phil and Grace - Chinese teachers from my school. The topic was "American v British English", but our American teacher failed to show, so I had to put on an American accent at certain points, and ended up demonstrating Scottish, Irish, Welsh and Cockney accents, to a mix of amusement and bemusement.
Fresh from the awful match that saw England exit the European Championship, we held our very own school tournament. Four foreigners [L to R: Jan, me, Robert, Andrew] took on five Chinese teachers in a manic five-a-side football, until we could barely move. Our school had a similar match four years ago, which led to me breaking my foot! And at a later school volleyball match, my boss's wife broke her hip! So we were lucky to leave today with just aching limbs and various bruises. The foreigners were winning 9 v 1 when we decided it might be time to mix up the teams a little. After 1½ hours we hobbled off to share a nice banquet. Now if only I had a shower at home!
My Kunming Radio interview was broadcast yesterday. I didn't get enough warning to record the whole 25 minutes properly, but there's a rough-and-ready 5-minute excerpt below for those who'd like to download it and have a listen. The radio station have also contacted me to say that they felt it went very well and ask me to return again soon for a live show.
China has an annual English speaking contest called "Star of Outlook", which culminates in televised finals for children of all ages. Before that, each Province has its own local competition to decide who gets to qualify for the Beijing finals. Yunnan Province, which has a population equivalent to England, had well over 1000 children taking part, with a 100 or so from Robert's School alone. After three preliminary rounds, just 50 students made it to the Yunnan finals, eight from my school and three of those from my own classes.
Robert watched the Yunnan finals and was a little disappointed that none of our eight finalists won their age categories. But we did get three second places and two of those were students from my classes. So well done Robert's School, great result for our students and, dare I say it, a small pat on the back for me too!
I spent a couple of hours this evening at a Kunming Radio station being interviewed for an English Show sponsored by Robert's School to be aired later this month. Questions started with the Jubilee and Royal family, moved on to how I came to marry a local Chinese woman and life with her mother, and ended with a comparison of Chinese and Western Education. Thankfully there were translators on hand throughout.
Our school has a special event this weekend, where excited students can bring in their unwanted toys and swap them with other students. It reminds me of my youth, when the Saturday morning T.V. show "Multicoloured Swap Shop" was required watching. I recall making a huge number of phonecalls to a youthful Noel Edmonds, desperate to swap my guitar for a Stylophone. Hope our school students have more success!
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