Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Finally Done

After a little over two years, I've finally finished my Teach for China commitment, and am going to be flying home tomorrow. It was a really big experience, so I'm still trying to figure out my own thoughts.

Over the past month I was a subject pedagogy trainer for the new fellows, teaching them about teaching grammar, writing, vocab, and all that good stuff. It was a really fun time. The second year fellows who decided to stick around during the summer to help out the first year fellows were all great, and permanent staff are pretty awesome too. It was really great getting to meet the new fellows, and it was pretty interesting to see how innocent, clueless, passionate, and hopeful I was two years ago. And S.I. was run a lot better than it was in my year--fellows are going to be a lot more prepared for their classrooms, but it's still going to be an incredibly hard experience. 

Looking back to my S.I. and thinking about the kind of impact I was hoping to make in my classroom makes me laugh--I just completely lacked context and understanding of what it was that I had signed up to do. I definitely did not make the impact that I thought I was going to make, but I don't have any regrets about my two years; I was a good teacher to my students, and that's what matters. I think I'm leaving TFC a lot more changed than my students are, but I think that that's true of most fellows, and I think that most of us don't regret coming out here. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Photo Shoot

The other weekend, the Heqing (my little region) second years got together to take pictures before we all leave, and it was awesome. We went into the nearby big city, and found a photographer, and basically got to play dress-up for a couple of hours while taking ridiculous pictures. All the ladies got to spend over an hour getting made up professionally, and then we all spent a few hours with the photographer. It was definitely the kind of thing that I don't think you can do back home.

Anyways, here are a few of the pictures:

I'm really going to miss these people.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Teacher....Are you drunk?

Over the weekend, I went on an epic bike ride with some friends, and got pretty sunburned. I went to class last night, and because I was so red, my students were convinced that I must be drunk.I was not entirely successful at convincing my students that "sunburns" exist and can turn their teacher bright red. Even after showing them my nice tan-lines, some students remained skeptical.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Going to Summer Institute

After these last few weeks of teaching, I'll be heading to Summer Institute, where I'll help train the next cohort of fellows. I'll be a subject pedagogy instructor, so I'll be helping to teach the new fellows how to teach English. We had a very minimal amount of instruction in how to teach our subject during our S.I., and as a result, much of the first semester and year was spent figuring out how to make students remember vocabulary words (motivation, repetition, self-study time, checks for understanding, spiraling review, and a variety of activities), how to teach students to write essays (spelling dictations, fun sentences and sentence frames, dialogues, and scaffolding), or even how to teach the ABCs (the Chinese alphabet song is better, your handwriting needs to change to the standard Chinese way, explicitly teach word spacing, make sure students don't write 'a,' 'g,' or 'l' the way it looks when it's typed, make sure students actually cross the bottom line in their notebooks when they write 'j,' 'y', 'g,' 'p,' and 'q'.....). There's a ton of English pedagogy specific knowledge that fellows should know before they enter the classroom if they're to have any hope of giving effective English instruction.

It seems crazy to me that with only two years of experience I'll be one of the people responsible for teaching the new fellows how to do all of this. The two years of experience I have is extremely relevant to what fellows will be doing (foreigners who have taught in rural China are rare), but some days I really wish someone with more experience and knowledge was coming to help run the sessions; I'd love to be that person's assistant.

Summer Institute is going to last about a month for fellows, and I know everyone who will be working there has been spending tons of time and effort preparing, but it still seems a little crazy to me that we'll be putting new teachers in the classroom after just a month of training. Summer institute has been getting better and better every year, but there's still only so much you can teach people in a month, no matter how dedicated those people are. The first semester and year are rough for new teachers everywhere, and I think it's a reflection on the kind of people that come to TFC that only 20-30% of people quit after the first year or teaching with the minimal preparation that we're given.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

One Month Left

Today marks exactly a month until I'm done teaching, and done with my two year commitment to TFC. It's weird; it feels like I haven't been doing this for very long, and yet I'll soon be moving on to the next thing. I've definitely changed a lot over these past two years, and while I'm a much better teacher than when I began, I'm still a beginner, and if I were to continue teaching, I don't think I'd really be a good teacher for another couple of years. That's really the problem with TFC's model--no foreign fellow ever keeps teaching in rural China for a third year, and only a handful of Chinese fellows have stayed, so our students never get a TFC trained fellow with the sort of experience that you need to be a truly powerful teacher. Some very few teachers might be great during their first and second year, but it's rare.

All of this is not to say that TFC fellows haven't done awesome things and been successful in the classroom. Fellows, especially Chinese fellows, have done a lot of really cool thing, both in and out of class, but I'd love to see what some of the great people that have chosen to dedicate two years to teaching rural Chinese kids could do with five or ten years of experience.

I think I've been a good teacher, especially in this second year, but I often feel like I've gotten more out of this experience than my students have.

And here's an Onion article that's too true to be funny

Friday, May 31, 2013

Teacher! Teacher! I scored! I scored!!!

Before this year started, I thought I was going to only be teaching one class, and would have plenty of free time to be working on tons of other projects. I wanted to do tutoring, and run an English corner, but the main thing that I wanted to do was start a girls' soccer team. Sadly, I haven't had time (or energy....mostly energy) to start it, but I've started occasionally taking my students out when they've been good to play soccer, and it's been awesome.

I haven't actually been trying to teach them how to be good at soccer, I just want to give them a chance to run around and play. As of now, the instructions I have given:

1. Don't use your hands. (Some of the boys have added to this: if you use your hands, you have to drop down and do push-ups.)
2. Try to use the inside of your foot when you're kicking it.
3. Kick it between the cones.

It works out surprisingly well. I let them divide up into groups, and play. It's a madhouse, but everyone has fun, and trying to organize 55 kids and teach them to actually play soccer and run drills by myself just sounds like a nightmare.

Anyways, they've been playing soccer, and it's been great to see everyone running around, especially some of the girls who just haven't had a chance to compete and are getting really into it. Getting called over to a 6v6 little game because one of the girls was so proud of getting a goal by kicking it through another girl's legs is definitely one of the happiest memories I'm going to leave here with. I've taken a few pictures, but none of them turned out very well, so I'll try again and upload them later.

(I'll also try and update this blog around once a week between now and the end of the year. I've been doing applications for next year, programming prep work, and prep work for summer institute (I'll be an instructor for next year's fellows) and I've been a little overwhelmed, but I'm getting back on top of things.)

Monday, April 1, 2013

Chinese Curriculum

The Chinese English curriculum is a funny thing. The vocabulary and topics that are students are expected to learn often borders on the ridiculous (which is something that I should probably write about at some point). That said, one of my favourite inconsistencies is that between sixth and seventh grade, the textbooks switch over from British spelling (favourite, colour) to non-British spelling (favorite, color). It's never addressed, and I just think it would be odd to be a seventh grader and be thinking that whoever wrote my elementary school textbooks wasn't very good at English or something.

Friday, March 29, 2013

"You Are EFF You!"

Last semester, one of my students learned that "Eff you!" was a bad word (probably from music or an older student). Despite my efforts to convince him that it's pronounced "funny," he continues to occasionally spit out the occasional "You are eff you" before class, and it's really hard not to laugh when he does it, because he says it with such enthusiasm, panache, and genuine happiness.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

10% Annual Growth

There are thousands of articles online about the crazy pace of development in China, and I know everybody talks about the development of big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, but things are changing pretty rapidly out here too.

In the past year and a half my school has:

  • Put in a new track
  • Started construction on one new teacher dorm
  • Started construction on another random building...(this happened a few days ago, so I'm not sure what exactly it's supposed to be)
  • Got rid of our two normal trash burning pit, and made a new bigger one. 
  • Redone the front gate of the school (currently in progress)
  • Changed some signage
  • Re-landscaped the area near the teaching buildings 
  • Put in a ton of ping-pong tables
  • Probably done some other stuff that I can't think of right now (Ohhh! Speed bumps. They put those in! And putting smart boards in the honors classrooms)
The  elementary school has:
  • Made a new library (with support from TFC fellows!)
  • Built a new teachers' dorm (not quite open yet)
  • Made a little playground for the kids
  • Probably done a whole lot of other things that I just don't know about or can't remember...
In the past year in Songgui (my village):
  • Opened a new supermarket. (We now have two! And the new one has Gatorade!)
  • Tore down the building that housed the amazing Yogurt Lady.....twice. (Her original building got torn down to make something, and then the next place she moved to had the same thing happen to it. I have no idea what she's doing now.) 
  • Crazy Hair Lady's building was torn down to make something. (She's now in a new building that got built next to the new supermarket, and still has a vendetta against my sideburns)
  • Paved one of the more important roads in the village
  • Opened a ton of little shops, at least one restaurant (right next to the school!), and built a whole mess of new houses. 
Nearby, the county seat recently got a train station (which makes travelling to Kunming a lot nicer, which in the past year just got a new airport, which makes travelling out of Kunming more of a pain). 

I didn't actually think about much of this until the past break, where I went back home. I don't think I saw a single crane the entire time I was in the U.S., and I don't know that I even saw any buildings under construction. In a single drive near Kunming, I counted over twenty cranes before I got bored. It's really going to be crazy to come back here in a couple of years, and see how much it's changed. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


It's weird to realize that at some point in the past year and a half I started thinking of Songgui as home. Even though I spent four years at Georgetown, I never felt that it was a home for me in the same way that Songgui is. I'm not really sure what the difference is--maybe having a job?--but it definitely felt good to get back here, and I know I'm going to miss this place when I leave.

I don't actually have any pictures of around Songgui, which I need to change. It's just hard to remember to take pictures of the places that you see everyday. So, instead, here's a picture of Tian Minghao, one of my students from last year:

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Things I was glad to come back to

1. Great friends.
2. A good bowl of rice noodles in broth. (The ideal bowl is served under a tent by the side of the road, and has a good splash of vinegar, some pickled peppers (seriously), 3 or so spoonfuls of crushed peanuts, and a little bit of crushed hot red pepper)
3. My students + teaching
4. My toilet (as long as you're not food poisoned / have giardia, squatting is better)
5. Being able to walk everywhere

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Back to school! (and the blog)

I'm back in Songgui after an awesome trip back to the States to see my family. I'm still teaching the same students, and the weather no longer makes me cry in the morning.

It feels good to be back in a lot of ways. Being at home was restful and fun, but it's nice to have more purpose and structure to my days now, and it's great to see the people who I've gotten close to over here again. I brought back a ton of food from the states (an entire suitcase full) and I know it's going to make those times when I really miss home (and food) over here better. It's good to see my students again too! They've remembered a ton over break, and it's good to be back in the classroom.

Right now, school is busy. It's the beginning of the year, so there's a ton of different things that I need to be doing: revising my review plan, planning out the semester (we got a new textbook with different units and order than last year), and getting stuff to the people who manage me. I think this weekend is going to be crucial to getting on top of what I'm doing.