Thursday, November 4, 2010

Bad Day or Awakening?

I had written this post sometime toward the end of September but, being a ‘glass half full’ kind of girl I resisted posting it. At the time it seemed rather negative and downtrodden… but I saved it anyway. I’d like to post it now, in conjunction with the next post to show how things have turned around in barely one month.

This morning I woke up with the certainty that I don’t belong here. That was strange.

I had class this morning, the first after the seven-day holiday. Its not that I dreaded facing my students, it is just the lack of direction, support and materials that is, by this time, sending me in a near panic every time I have to teach. I literally have no idea what to do with and for these kids.

Can anyone blame me for thinking that I would have at least some resources? Some materials? Some sort of guidelines? Some help or support in the classroom?

The sad thing is that, the way I have been indoctrinated into teaching is how these kids are being taught English. I learned that from a bull session we had today, when I asked the students – by force – how I could possibly help them learn English. What kind of problems are you having? What is the most difficult thing for you? These are questions I asked them, and I solicited an answer from individual students by tossing a ball at them, one at a time. That’s what I mean by ‘by force’. They tend not to talk unless I call on them by name.

Beside the student whom I made cry I got some pretty interesting feedback. Basically, they have a text book, their English teacher reads from the book and assigns work whether the students understand the assignment or not. They are still at a stage where they are hearing English, translating it into Chinese to understand it, and then translating it back into English to interpret or use it. As Sophomore English majors, they should have long been past this method of learning.

Incidentally: the student I made cry had just been called on, and I’m sure she has something else going on – not just the stress of being called on. I did excuse her from class. I hope she resolves her issues and can again partake of lessons.

Attendance is not falling off, but I honestly have to say: the bloom is off the rose. The honeymoon is over. My charming personality and my students’ curiosity of me can only carry things so far. I have to get good at this job, and quick. How?

I’ll ask Sam if I can sit in on his class to see what he teaches, and how he teaches. That might help.

Interesting occurrence: a student who is not in my class showed up at my apartment door asking for help. She has a major test on October 24th that will determine whether she can go to Hong Kong to further her studies and get her dream job. Apparently, not only did someone reassure her that I would be able to help her, but also gave her directions to my apartment. I wonder how all that came about? Nevertheless… I am eager… no! anxious to help and be effective. How?

The problem of trying to figure out how to manage and teach my classes is exacerbated by the fact that I’m trying to learn how to live in this country. The social rules, the practical aspects like shopping and cooking and negotiating everyday transactions… those are all still things that I am not totally comfortable with. Some I’m even still completely in the dark about. I’ve yet to learn how to live in a world that doesn’t know of the existence of paper towels and other common products that I took for granted in America. To say nothing of learning how to reload money onto my bus card or make use of the post office.

Another interesting occurrence: Since 2008 – my first time walking on Chinese soil and breathing Chinese air, I have sought to live as ‘Chinese’ a lifestyle as possible: cooking Chinese food, eating with chopsticks, watching Chinese movies, studying for hours how to speak/read/write this beautiful, poetic language. Since I’ve been here, I have studied not one lick. Instead I have sought out all things Western. Wal-Mart (and any Western product I might find there), how to make potato soup and croutons (that was actually quite successful; they both turned out delicious), occasionally indulging in a hamburger even.

Imagine my dismay when one of my students confided today that she actually saw me eat a hamburger!

Do I belong here, where mop handles are only 4’ long and where I have to stoop over my counter tops?

There is no doubt of my love for China and its people. Especially the people. But… maybe I’m in love with the idea of China?

Too many unanswered questions, and too much frustration for one day. I’m going to go do what I usually do when I am angry or frustrated beyond belief: cleaning.

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