marjorieinchina: (Ariana)
I just returned on Sunday from a week in Beijing and Xi'an, and since I've unpacked and done my laundry, the necessary next step is to post about it. I'll do that soon, but in the meantime, here is an article about teaching that I wrote for the school paper. It is rather longer than it needed to be, it turned out--the teacher who translated it into Chinese also shortened it, but I haven't found out what parts were taken out.

This was also written to be translated, which means the sentences seem kind of choppy. I write enormously long sentences when left to my own devices, though, so this choppiness probably looks like more of a problem to me than to you.

Lessons in Being a Foreign Teacher )
marjorieinchina: (purple chair)
When your job in a foreign country is to teach classes about your own language and culture, sometimes you find yourself living in a foreign country but weirdly preoccupied with artifacts of your own language and culture. For example, all this week I have had the Superman theme stuck in my head. I did not, however, teach my students to say "truth, justice, and the American way."
marjorieinchina: (Ariana)
This morning I was teaching a lesson about travel and going around the room having students describe an imaginary trip (where will you go? how will you get there? etc.) when a boy who'd already spoken raised his hand again. I let some other students finish and then asked him, "Do you have something else to say?"

"I have two questions for you!" he said.

I hesitated a moment but didn't want to shoot him down so I said, "Okay."

"Do you agree with America selling F-16s to Taiwan! And do you stand with Obama's party!"

(The younger students almost never use a rising inflection when they ask questions.)

I declined to answer the questions, saying something like "this is time for you to talk, not time for me to talk," partly because I really doubt I'm supposed to talk politics in class, partly because I don't know much about Taiwan or US-Taiwan relations, partly because they wouldn't have understood anything I said on these topics, and partly because for heaven's sake we were in the middle of an exercise. It was all rather startling. I imagine myself a language teacher but for these kids I'm first and forever a foreigner.

My geopolitics aren't sufficiently up to speed to interpret this incident in a broader light. A lot of students doing this exercise say they want to go to America to see Obama, for whatever that's worth.


Dec. 3rd, 2009 01:21 pm
marjorieinchina: (Default)
We're talking about the Zodiac and horoscopes in class this week. The students write their own horoscopes at the end of class, trade them, and read them aloud. This is the weirdest I've yet heard by far:

"Frederick William I will come visit you and show you his underground house."

I have no further comment.
marjorieinchina: (Default)
I was talking today to Susan, one of the teachers here whom I first met when she stayed with my family in the states, and I told her that one of the things I learned about teaching this summer was how much knowledge and understanding of a subject I need to have in order to explain just some of it to a group of students. It's not good enough to understand the material as well as the students are meant to understand it. Susan told me a Chinese saying: If you want to give your students a glass of water, you need to have a pail of it. I think that sums it up very well.


Oct. 30th, 2009 10:13 am
marjorieinchina: (Ariana)
When I went to French camp in high school, we would have cours de conversation, conversation class, where we might talk about art or movies or immigration or the soul or how to save the world. It was consistently my favorite part of the day. All the other work we did on tenses, vocabulary, and usage was invaluable--and I'll never forget the class on the plus-que parfait du subjonctif, which turned out to be the most hilarious grammatical tense in the entire world. But conversation was what stretched my abilities and got me to the point where I could actually speak French--that is, think of and express an idea in French without first translating it from English, and likewise absorb other people's comments in the language they used to express them. (I still tended to remember these conversations in English, for the most part, which is a phenomenon I can't really explain.)

Although there were only four or five of us in the class most of the time, sometimes we would all get really opinionated and loud, and I would have difficulty making myself heard. One day, as I raised my voice higher and higher, my friend Marie-Hélène told me in confidential tones, "If you want to be heard, whisper."

It worked, and I've seen it work in other places. Once I was in a bar in lower Manhattan where they had live music a few nights a week. My friends and I had come to hear a friend of ours sing, and after her set we all started talking to each other and generally stopped listening when the next musician came on. That next musician was loud, and she had very strong feelings, and it was easy to shout conversation at each other while she shouted at the microphone. Then she sang her one quiet song. We shut up. It was the only song I really heard, and certainly the only one from her set that I still remember.

I thought of this advice again this week, especially the day I taught five classes and was going through a bottle of water per class, my voice getting higher and louder and coarser every time there was another noise to override. So, can whispering work in a classroom full of 45 or so Chinese students who are restless from spending all day every day in the same room, and who are kind of worked up and excited about having a foreign teacher come in, and who keep whispering and giggling to each other when the foreign teacher says something that, for reasons unfathomable to her, they find really funny?

I've tried it a few times--not whispering, but lowering my voice to a register and volume that's actually comfortable. And I think it works. It sounds more serious and, oddly, more confident to speak softly, and the students have paid attention.

So, that's my teaching insight for the week. I'd like to see I can infuse anything else from cours de conversation into these classes--I think what these students need from me, more than any grammatical or cultural instruction, is simply practice.

One down!

Oct. 26th, 2009 10:11 am
marjorieinchina: (Ariana)
First lesson done! Fifteen reiterations of it to go!

I ended up staying awake until 1 a.m. to finish preparing, which is kinda dumb (especially when I get automatically woken up at 6 every morning) but the deadline worked its magic the way nothing else had, and I got the thing done. I'll be more punctual next time, I promise. The lesson was about the different places I've lived--Red Wing, New York, and Ely--and the different things that go on in each place. I'm reasonably confident the students understood me throughout the lesson. (I told them to stop me if I go too fast, but I'm not sure they would actually do so.) We had a speaking exercise at the end of the class and they did quite well. I asked what kind of city or town they would like to live in, gave them some time to talk about it (need to do better at getting them to use English in this part of the session, I think) and then asked for their answers by throwing a balled-up pair of socks around the room and having the student with the socks stand up and speak, an idea I stole from one of the British teachers.

The students are quite well-behaved, and their English skills are very good. I'm looking forward to coming up with ways to challenge them.


marjorieinchina: (Default)

July 2010



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