My academic year ended yesterday with a week of exams - essays and presentations, depending on the class subject. It's been a strange term, starting with online activities and moving to face-to-face classes about a month ago. Hopefully things will return to form of normality when the next term starts again in September.
I've finally finished my first week back at my University doing face-to-face lessons. And I've I managed to overcome all the various hurdles associated with that such as;
The students handed in their first proper essays this week. About half were acceptable - the rest had seemingly listened to nothing I've been banging on about online over the last two months. The simplest thing like "having FIVE paragraphs" seems beyond some of them!! Ho-hum!!
This week sees the return of in-class lessons at my pretty University.
I've been teaching online for two months with mixed success (the internet in China, especially in the the countryside where many of my students live, is variable at best). But the students have now flown, trained and bused back from around the country.
As ever, there are a raft of bizarre contradictions in the University decisions. Foreign teachers living in Kunming start teaching this week but local Chinese teachers started last week. Classrooms are sterilized between lessons but toilets still have no soap or hot water and students must sit at least a metre apart, but classes of 50+ would need students to hover near the ceiling to achieve that!
Like many people these days, my job now involves hosting Zoom sessions. In my case, this is with a few dozen University students at a time, spread across China. It's hard enough to get them to talk face-to-face in a classroom but, when they have various technical excuses at their fingertips, "classes" can end up with an awful lot of silence!
My term ended yesterday. I print out the students' grades, but then have to copy them freehand onto another a blank sheet before finally handing them in. Someone else then takes the handwritten score sheets and manually inputs them back into a University computer! This crazy process is so inefficient and has such a high potential for typos, it beggars belief! And yet no one (but me) seems willing to question it.
The Final exam for most of my classes was to prepare a 3-person role-play set in a restaurant. There were the usual grades for fluency, vocabulary, pronunciation and content, but also for props and acting. Some did well, some tried to cheat (as ever) and some were largely incomprehensible. But everyone who turned up passed - this is China!
I was asked to be one of the judges for the first-round of a National Speaking Competition last week. I was told there would be about 30-40 videos to watch and mark but, on arrival, we heard it would be nearer 60. Then, halfway through, an addition 45 "turned up"!? We eventually agreed to take 40 videos home on USBs to watch and grade at home in the afternoon! About 30% of the videos were completely inaudible due to students choosing to record their speeches in echoing classrooms or beside roads or amidst birdsong. And nearly half were displayed sideways or upside-down! You'd think they would check these things?
The second round was equally chaotic, although it was my colleague Jamie's who had to cope. Starting at 6pm, the live speeches from the 50+ qualifiers took over five hours to complete! He didn't get home until midnight! The Finals are this Friday, which we both have to attend. Fingers are crossed, but I'm expecting more poor planning!
JD and I attended a foreign teachers' Mid-Autumn Festival activity the other day to make traditional mooncakes. Other teachers also brought their kids and together we had a sticky, but successful, time with the finished products look pretty professional and tasting jolly good too. My Vietnamese friend Cao [to my right, below] came with her two kids (FeiJi and YoLun) and we realised it was exactly a year since we first met (at last year's cake event).
I was summoned to my University last Friday to appear in a promotional video they are filming. About a dozen foreign faces were there, though most were students or S.E. Asians (in their national costumes). My role was to "look at a book, adjust my glasses and smile at the camera". My demands for a character backstory and a fruit-filled changing room were ignored. But I suspect Hollywood will be in touch soon enough...
My students finished their final exams last week and I've been doing the consequent paperwork ever since. My University has such an "efficient" system - they give you spreadsheets to record the marks. Then, after printing this out, you have to transcribe all the scores onto a blank printout by hand. Finally, you give this in to the University admin people who then type it all back onto the University computers! Some forms have to be done in black ink, some in red ink and some in fountain pen. It is all so archaic, confusing and prone to error! 150 students, 12 separate marks each - you do the maths!
Last week I got my new passport back from the University with my visa transferred into it. They then advised me I had to register te new passport and visa with my bank so that they could continue to pay my wages in. So we headed off to the bank where the account was opened, only to find it had closed and moved to a new location. We rang them and they gave us their new address but said that any branch would be able to register the new passport. So I went home and Jiajia and I went to our nearest branch. After an hour there, they said we would, after all, have to go to the original branch. 30 minutes drive to get there and another half hour queueing to be told they couldn't register it either, but that I didn't really need to anyway. I rang the University who insisted it did have to be registered. So after the Uni and Bank spoke to each other on my phone, the bank said that they could do register it after all but I'd have to queue again. 30 minutes later we got to a cashier who spent another half hour trying, and failing, to register the passport. So JiaJia and I finally went home after 5 hours of trying but still without a registration. I'll let the University try and sort it out - life's too short!
Today my University is coming to the end of 2½ days of Sports Meeting. It starts with marching and the singing of various patriotic songs. Then a selections of dance routines and leaders' speeches. Finally the athletic sports themselves take place, culminating in a tug-of-war competition. I've seen this sort of thing many times before, so I just enjoy the fact that my classes are cancelled and I get a few extra days off work!
Cometh the exams - cometh the cheats! Unfortunately Chinese students are infamous for their plagiarism and cheating. I was recently involved in marking 300 online essays. By the end, 25% were proven to have been, in part at least, copied and pasted off the internet. Today's exam went a little sour when I spotted a student peeking into her glasses case a little too often. When I crept up behind her and grabbed it, I found a "model essay" which she had printed out on tiny sheets to copy. Oddly, despite being generally better than the boys at English, it seems to be girls who cheat the most. I think the boys are just too lazy to even bother with cheating!
Another in my occasional series of "Flashbacks" looking back at blog entries made before this Weebly version started.
(Summer 2007) I had a little visitor to the flat today, and a more interesting one than the odd spider, cockroach or gecko. Whilst watching a DVD, a swift flew in through the open kitchen window, across the lounge and straight into a closed window – THUMP! He fluttered around quite a bit until, exhausted, he allowed me to get close enough to grab him and take him to the open window, where he flew off unhurt! There are hundreds of swifts around town at this time of year, especially around the rivers, flying low to catch insects – some just inches off the ground. Great to see, though not particularly welcome during an episode of Dr Who.
[30th May 2018: I was prompted to look up this story by a rather large bird flying into my classroom earlier this week. After trying to fly out through a closed window and thumping its head, it was dazed enough to let me pick it up and take it to an open window whereupon it flew off, seemingly none the worse for wear. Cue a round of applause from my students!]
I've spent this week watching and grading my students' final exam - a role-play set in a restaurant (a total of 45 of them!). Some of the more memorable storylines included a spy [see above], a proposal of marriage [see below], a beggar refusing to pay, food poisoning and discrimination against a lesbian couple!! I just need to hand in the paperwork and my Winter holiday begins.
Today was the final class of the week enduring my mid-term Speaking Test. I'd asked each of my 100+ students to chat to me for two minutes about "a challenge they have faced". Many simply bottled out and had written and memorised a monologue speech, often followed by them falling apart when I asked the simplest of questions in follow-up.
The most revealing chat was a student who told me about her "part-time job", standing in for other students who didn't want to attend a class. She explained that she got paid 30RMB (£3) an hour to be in a given class so that the Chinese teachers could tick off the total number of students on their list (regardless of whether or not they were the right students). She said she could earn 200-300RMB (£20-30) a week! Genius entrepreneur or sad indictment of a broken educational system? You decide.
The most confusing talk was a guy who said he had hated a job because there were just too many flies to deal with?! He told me he had walked for ages trying to find people who wanted them but they just weren't interested. It took me ages to realise he was talking about "flyers"! Sometimes I really earn my money!
A Halloween-themed English Corner at my University this week, with three teams wrapping one of their number up in a toilet roll to produce a trio of scary mummies. We also played "Guess the Monster" (not so easy in the dark) and then ran out of time before starting, "Call my Bluff". Once again, JD came along and the students kindly took it in turns to take him away somewhere for a play, to stop him getting too bored during the 1.5 hours of chat.
This week sees the last of my English Corners for this term. I go along from 6.30-8.00pm fortnightly and try to bring along a fun speaking activity to get the attendees chatting about different topics. Although for me it's part of my job, attendance is voluntary for the students. We usually see 10-20 coming along each week and meet outside the library - weather permitting. The picture shows regular "AndyChaser" who is off to pastures new at the end of this academic year.
Smoking is one of the things that annoys me most about living in China (yes, there are a few, including spitting, squat toilets, drivers not indicating, internet censorship etc). Whilst the West has finally woken up to the dangers of passive smoking and how antisocial the whole thing is, China still has a tobacco and cancer epidemic on it hands. The West coast cities - Beijing, Shanghai and the like - have successfully banned smoking in most public places, but Kunming is "far from the Emperor" and although you see more "No Smoking" signs these days, they are widely ignored. Even in the staff room at my University, supposedly educated Professors light up underneath signs forbidding smoking [see photo] and other teachers just turn a blind eye. I've asked the non-smoking staff why they say nothing and the common responses that they say nothing as they prefer to avoid confrontation and maintain relationships. Not me. Being foreign gives me a certain leeway in confronting them and politely asking them to smoke outside. I've had apologies, nervous giggles and angry grunts, but none has yet to refuse. My one-man anti-smoking campaign continues!
I was back at work today in the Yunnan University of Finance and Economics. Most of my lessons now take place in this rather magnificent looking building. This term, I have fewer lessons than before and all of are on a Monday, which reduces the amount of travelling I do a lot. My first class comprised 40 girls and 3 boys! The second class turned up 45 minutes late due to them being misinformed by their class teacher and the third class was 65 students in a classroom with 50 seats and desks. Hopefully, things will get sorted out better in due course!
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