Teaching

Now that I have Internet in my apartment and can bask in the glow of the Webs (even if foreign traffic is throttled like always), I thought I’d throw up some more stuff onto the blog.

First, some panoramas of questionable quality. Here’s the track on campus, haven’t yet seen anyone on it except a few romantic couples walking on what is probably the largest patch of open quiet grass for miles:

The view outside my apartment, specifically the balcony where I hang my freshly-washed laundry and wait a week for it to dry:

I live and teach on one of the newer campuses of GXNU, so here are some pictures from a quick visit to the old campus, which actually used to be a large estate from a relative of the Emperor during the Ming and Qing dynasties.


Anyway, about the teaching. So far I’ve been giving pretty basic topics like “tell me about a time you wrote to your family or friends” or “what did you do over the winter holiday?” just to get a feel for their writing level. The students’ ability to write subtly really varies from person to person, and it’s hard to find writing with a lot of analysis, partially because their writing isn’t so developed, and also because the educational system over here really values technical competence in writing rather than the sort of independent-thinking analysis that we get in our Western literary/artistic/political criticism. I know it’s still there, but a lot of the creative writing isn’t focused on at all. So often, I get the sense that English education in China is promoted because it’s economically important to engage with the rest of the world, but with hesitation at engaging global culture or perspectives. Reminds me a bit of the half-hearted attempts at reform during the last Chinese imperial dynasty, where a struggling China thought it could succeed by merely embracing Western technology without any of the cultural or societal reforms that come with it.

I don’t think of myself as some sort of brilliant teacher with the ability to change students’ minds so fundamentally (I’m not the stereotypical teacher from those feel-good movies where he goes into an inner-city school and uses his unique teaching style to “get through to those kids” etc etc), but I do want to enhance their skills with imagery. A lot of the writing will describe things as “interesting” or “beautiful” but give nothing for the reader to understand why they should feel that way. I’m planning on bringing in some documentaries like “Wild China” to have them write essays on the specifics of what they see and hear.

And there’s a great documentary I just watched yesterday that I’m going to use, called “Life in a Day.” You can watch it on Youtube, and I’d encourage it. It’s a project where the documentary makers asked people on the Internet around the world to record anything from their lives during a single day (July 24, 2010), so it’s an organized collection of global footage from a single 24-hour period. It does a fascinating job of showing the similarities and differences in lives around the world, and I plan on showing it in little 10-15 minute segments in class and having my students write their reactions to it.

I’ll go ahead and give a couple examples of the writing. As I grade the mass of assignments (and it is a mass! 4 out of my 5 classes misinterpreted me and thought I wanted their homework in their big notebooks instead of sheets of paper, so I’ve got more paper in my apartment than the Library of Congress), I type up ones that seem particularly interesting:

It’s a good topic, but I think this topic will let me think which I have lost, how to express my true love.
In my childhood, out country was so poor that we had no money to by a telephone. My mother and farther went to GuanDong, in order to take a good job, then to make much more money. If I missing them so much, I would write the letter to them. There were some contents:
First, I was write about how was my study, grandpa and grandmother’s body were good, please rest assured. Second, I would well them what everything happen in my home. Finally, I would tell them attention body at working outside.
It was my first time to write letter. Although I only know write the simply word, I was so happy to tell them everything at my side.
After few days, I received the letter from my parents, I was so excited that I often read to my grandparents. I told them I would study hard. In the last year, everyone has a telephone. We could talked through the phone. Firstly, I was excited, but after a period of time, I didn’t want to answer the telephone, Because I don’t know what to say everyday.
This early letter writing taught me: some true love can’t be replaced, some old expression can’t be replaced too, although telephone is a convenient tool.

There’s some real odd and fascinating humor here too. One of my best students is Kris, who, despite my predictions about the name, is a girl… though I have to admit I had a really hard time knowing if she was a boyish-looking girl or a girlish-looking boy. The only way I figured it out was (1) she mentioned female roommates in her dorm, and (2) she sits in the front row. All the guys in my classes sit as far back as possible. Anyway, she and her roommates have a weird habit of coming up with these dark “scary story” riddles involving Santa Claus. The first one involved a boy coming down the stairs on Christmas night and seeing Santa. Then he saw his father, and then his father “turned into” Santa. Then he saw his mother, and she also turned into “Santa.” Then finally the boy himself “turned into” Santa. Really confusing story, but apparently the solution(?) to the riddle was that “Santa” was a murderer who broke into the house, and as he killed each person their clothes turned blood-red and looked like Santa’s suit somehow. Weird, huh?

Here’s another one Kris wrote up:

The Christmas was coming. Tom wished the Santa Claus might send something to him. He went down the stairs. There were 3 giftboxes in front of him. Tom looked around the house and found the Santa Claus was outside and smile at him through the window.
Tom opened the first box. It was a pair of trouser inside. Tom felt a little angry and the Santa Claus laughed. Tom opened the second box. It was a football inside. Tom was really angry and hate the Santa Claus died. The Santa Claus laughed even louder. Tom opened the really big third box in his last expectation. It was a bicycle inside. Tom broke down. The Santa Claus has already laughed to roll on the ground.
The Santa Claus is a pervert. Tom is a disabled without legs.

So you see there’s some pretty interesting thinking going on in the minds of these students, and hopefully I can find ways to tap into it more. I’m really trying to make a lot of contacts with my students and hang out with them outside of class, because they’re often really excited to meet and practice English with foreigners, and because it’s good for me to learn more about this place.

3 thoughts on “Teaching

  1. Hi Daniel,

    My name is Jarek Czerwice (from Belgium) and I just started a one year assignement here in Nanning for Alnan Aluminum Company. I will be here until January 2013.
    My daugther of 17 would like to come in the fall to study a few months here in Nanning and I am looking for contacts at the university or schools that could help enroll her in any international program if existing. I was wondering if you could share some contacts that could help me. My e-mail is jaroslaw.czerwice@scarlet.be.

    Kind regards
    Jarek

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