Thursday, September 4, 2008

the most important thing

A colleague of mine (I'm so important now being in China and all that I have colleagues, not co-workers) came in today after teaching 12th grade International Relations and told me how much the students liked me.

"Oh really?" I asked, hoping he'd give me more details.
"Yeah, they all said you were super nice."
"Anything else?"
"They all thought you were really pretty."
"Well, that's the most important thing, isn't it?"

anyone can be a poet

Even Michael Phelps! Who I just happen to be in a fake relationship with on facebook. How effing SWEET is that?

Today in my 8th grade class we discussed four short poems. I thought they were all pretty boring, but I had given my students homework on them so I didn't want to just throw the whole lesson plan out and do something new. They seemed to like them, which is ultimately the most important thing when you're teaching I suppose. But in the future, I'm going to steer clear of poetry.

I feel like poetry is one of those things you either love or hate. And I hate it. So, trying to explain something that I hate to people that don't know anything about it wasn't the most enjoyable way to spend 80 minutes of my life.

I've only been a teacher for three days, so I can't exactly "wing it" yet if I start discussing something then want to switch to another topic. To buy some time while I thought of a way to make the material fun, I threw them a hand-out and had them work in groups for 15 minutes. Thank God for group work.

I don't know how it happened, but suddenly, out of nowhere, a creative on-topic activity just
came to me. It was like, the angel of English literature for junior high flew down from the heavens and presented me with the best idea ever. Well, maybe not ever, but the best idea I've had so far in terms of teaching.

I read the four poems again out loud then asked my students which poem sounded the most like a song they might hear on the radio. One student mentioned poem #1, another poem #2, and so I had the class vote. Once a consensus was reached I gave them instructions to re-write the poem as if it were a song they might hear on the radio. They could choose to mimic the style of the poem, the theme, or just use a word that was in the poem. They also had to choose a singer that would sing the song.

The class is comprised of four boys and four girls and so far they've wanted to stay separated by gender and I've let them since it's their first week and I'm still trying to feel them out in terms of their abilities and willingness to participate. The girls were super excited and immediately started buzzing about what their song lyrics would be.

The boys...were less excited. Well, that's not exactly right, they had plenty to SAY about the assignment, but they weren't really producing much (/anything) so I had to push them a little more by telling them they wouldn't be excused for lunch until it was completed. That was all the motivation they needed.

They had trouble
deciding on a singer, so I told them they could choose any famous person, and in true Olympic spirit they chose Michael Phelps. Adorable, right?

This is the
original poem, by Shel Silverstein:
"Forgotten Language"
Once I spoke the language of the flowers,

Once I understood each word the caterpillar said,
Once I smiled in secret at the gossip of the starlings,
And shared a conversation with the housefly
in my bed.
Once I heard and answered all the questions
of the crickets,
And joined the crying of each falling dying
flake of snow,
Once I spoke the language of the flowers...
How did it go?
How did it go?

Their version, by Michael Phelps:
Once I spoke the language of the fish.
Once I understood each word the octopus said.
Once I made friends with a white shark.
And shared my gold medal with the
big whale.
Once I swam 100km with the dolphin.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

let the teaching begin

I don't want to jinx myself since I haven't had my 12th graders yet, so I'll refrain from making any generalizations about the students until after my class with the older kids tomorrow morning. But let's just say that I survived, so that's something.

I introduced myself briefly to the 12th graders today before my school had a big welcoming ceremony for the entire international division. It all happened so fast I can't really make any kind of judgments about them, except that there are some native-born Americans in the class. And they at least seemed to think I was cute, even if they didn't care about what I was saying.

I fibbed a little and said I was San Francisco since most Chinese people know where that is, and really, I'm close enough.

During the welcoming ceremony they called out the name of each foreign teacher and we had to stand up and sort of wave to the auditorium. All the students clapped after each teacher stood up, but they totally started hooting and hollering for me. It was kind of embarrassing, but I have to admit, it was mostly flattering.

I swear, it's all about the blond hair here. It totally sets me apart from 95% of the Americans. I'm hoping to use it to my advantage in my classrooms. Y'know, the boys think I'm cute so they'll be more inclined to behave better because they want to impress me. Either that, or they'll be total monsters as a way of "getting my attention".

My eighth graders were pretty nice, and paid attention most of the time. There's 9 of them and 3 of them know absolutely no English, which I wasn't prepared for. I'm not exactly sure how I'm going to lesson plan for such a wide range of English comprehension (extremely limited to fluent). We'll see how it goes.

We played a fun icebreaking game at the beginning of class. I had each person choose a food that started with the same first letter as their name, then we stood in a circle and each person had to introduce themselves in a clock-wise fashion, with each person having to say the names of the person (or people) that went before them. It was a great way to learn everyone's names really fast.

I find it so much easier to remember names if I associate them with something else. Lettuce Lisa...who could forget that? My favorite was Spaghetti Sean. Or Caramel Cindy. I don't know! The food choices were all so cute!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

lots more pencils, lots more books, lots more students' dirty looks

Today is my first day of teaching, wish me...something, anything. I don't even care if it's "luck" at this point.

Hooray for 2-hour morning assemblies that cancel my 1st period 12th grade class! But I still have a bunch of 8th graders to contend with post-lunch.

Where's my lucky rabbit's foot when I need it?

Sunday, August 31, 2008

now, turn your head and then cough

In order to get a Chinese visa to live or work in China, you have to turn in a bunch of paperwork, pay a big fee, and get a physical examination in the United States before you arrive. Oh, and apparently you ALSO need to get a physical examination when you get to China.

Do you remember getting a physical exam for high school or junior high? Probably not. In the United States they're pretty uneventful experiences, for my most recent one my doctor glanced at my chart, did a quick exam of my lungs with a stethoscope, took a quick look at my throat and ears, then signed me off as healthy and ready to work.

Not so in China.

Chinese physicals are much more intense than any kind of medical ANYTHING I've had done in the United States. I'm a pretty healthy girl, so I don't have a ton of experience in hospitals, but trust me, my Chinese hospital experience takes the cake.

To start things off, we had to leave the school at 6:45 in the morning. I'm still pretty out of it from the 15 hour time difference between here and home, anxious about teaching, and feel like a child because of the whole not being able to speak the host language thing, so I was pretty much a walking zombie when we got to the hospital, which was a good hour van ride away.

All eleven foreign teachers I'm working with were required to go through the physical examination. We handed someone at the front desk our passports, were given a form to fill out and a slip of paper with a number, then pointed in the direction of a waiting area.

In the waiting area numbers were called out slowly and we had to go into a little room where a webcam sat on the desk taking our photograph as the assistant grabbed our forms from us and inputed them into the system.

This whole time none of us have any idea what's going on, since none of us speak Chinese and no one there spoke English.

We all have to go change into gowns, which is where it got interesting. We put our belongings into small lockers, and then preceded to be pushed and shoved from one room to the next with no explanation at all. If hospitals could be assembly lines, this hospital would be the model to which all other hospitals aspired to be like. Each room had a different purpose, and each patient was seen for about 2 minutes maximum by each "doctor". Who even knows what kind of degrees these people had.

I had to have about half a dozen different procedures done, and it was all done so quickly that I didn't even have time to protest. I stood on this metal thing, that apparently took my weight and height through some kind of laser beam, but I didn't see or feel anything so I really don't know how it all worked.

Next, I was pushed into this dark room with one single light in the far corner. The being pushed thing was the most unnerving aspect of it all (at least initially), because it made me feel completely out of control of what was going on. I had a chest x-ray, but at the time didn't realize that was what was going on until the guy shoved my chest against the machine and shouted something in Chinese in my ear.

Then I had to get blood taken. I'm not even going to mention the statistics on dirty needles in China to you, but I had no choice so I did it. They looked clean to me, and it seemed like they were using new needles each time, but who knows what they did with the needles afterward or if they re-used them from day to day or what.

Next was an eye exam which was pretty standard. Every room was so big with just a small desk and a doctor sitting there. For some reason it reminded me of Saw in terms of the overall ambiance of the place (dark, grimy, full of shadows). It's never a good sign to be reminded of a horror movie when you're at the doctor. After testing my sight, the doctor shoved a light up my nose and then aggressively pointed for me to leave.

I sat in the hall with a bunch of other bewildered foreigners for a few minutes, waiting for the ultrasound room to be free. Both men and women had to get ultrasounds of their stomachs and lower abdomens. Good news people, I'm not pregnant! No actually, I still don't know what they were looking for and what they found, and I'll probably never know.

After being poked to the point of bruising by the ultrasound technician, I had to get an EKG. The EKG machine was very archaic looking (like everything else in the hospital) and instead of plastic sensors everything had little metal suction cups on it. Very strange.

Finally, I had my "general examination" which consisted of a woman nurse rubbing on my stomach then asking "You have surgery???" I was kinda confused as to whether she meant EVER, or if I was to have surgery sometime later that day, so I just went with "No".

After that, I was pulled back into the changing area, where I put my clothes back on and prayed that they used clean needles.

Note to self: don't get sick here.