It’s been a while since I blogged . . . sorry about that.
I’ve been having issues with trying to figure out how to continue blogging in the style that I enjoy. I usually write my stories with pictures sprinkled liberally throughout the text. But I’ve been unable to do that here because of the upload speed, servers disconnecting and reconnecting in the middle of uploading pictures (just one picture seems to be impossible), and some other issues. I’ve been trying to figure a solution so that I can keep blogging in the way I enjoy . . .
But it’s not working. Time to reinvent my blog style.
I think what I’m going to have to do is write my stories here, and upload my pictures to my flickr account. I’ll try to write short comments, and in some cases short stories, under pictures that warrant them. I think if readers of my blog finish a post and then go to flickr to look at the pictures that that will work for now.
Anyways . . . here’s a post I’ve been sitting on for a while.
My first day of teaching . . .
I woke up at 6:15 am on my first day of teaching. While that might seem a little early it was because my first two hour class begins at 8am, and the bus I have to take to get there leaves at 7:15am. I got up, showered, got dressed, and then headed out into the heat and humidity . . . the forecast for the day was “feels like 41”–ugh.
I walked outside the gates of the compound where there are three apartment buildings attached to the military university campus (there are something like 9 campuses, I think, or 10 (I forget)), and crossed the street carefully (scooters are electric here, so they’re kind of lethal in terms of not being able to hear them coming). I grabbed some dumplings for breakfast, and a can of Coke (I needed the sugar and caffeine, I don’t drink coffee), and then walked back inside the gate of the apartment compound.
Before I continue, I should explain that Julianne and I have basically learned that we’re teaching at what is essentially the “West Point” of China in terms of military universities. I knew the university has quite a reputation in China, but didn’t realize it was that prestigious. Later, once I began teaching, it sank in even more becaues the English abilities of the students are unbelievable. They are the top 1% of high school graduates in the country, and it shows. I’ll write more about this later.
Back to my first morning of teaching . . . I re-entered the apartment compound and then walked into the office and out through the back where a path leads onto the campus the apartment compound sits on the edge of. A short two-minute walk later I was standing at the bus stop, and already wiping sweat off my head from the excessive humidity. It was going to be a long and hot day.
The bus arrived, and I got on with some other teachers and students in uniform. It was air conditioned, and while I enjoyed that immensely I couldn’t help but think that I had to get off fifteen minutes later at the other campus where my classes are . . . and that my classroom would only have fans. Ugh . . .
Getting off the bus, I walked towards three massive five-story buildings along with several hundred other students. I panted my way up four flights of stairs and then walked into my classroom. I met the computer technician again (Julianne and I had gone up to the campus the day before to find our classrooms, check the teaching technology worked and learn how to use it, etc), and she turned on everything and then left.
Students began entering the room. Wide-eyed and curious with smiles and friendly demeanours . . . I relaxed and began to look forward to the start of my class.
The class leader, a few minutes later, entered and introduced himself to me. He gave me two bottles of water (awesome!), and then said he’d give me a class list of students’ names in English next week. I told him that was great, and he went and sat down.
A bugle came on over the P.A. system signalling the start of class, and I introduced myself. I also used an introduction power point that I’ve been using for years with pictures of my family, jobs I’ve had, hobbies I enjoy, and other things I’ve done. The students were engrossed in looking at the pictures and hearing the little stories about each.
After finishing my power point, I did a listening dictation with minimal pairs. I began to get a sense of what “level 5” (the top rating a student can get at the university for English ability) meant as we did the exercise. The students were able to follow my instructions quickly and without any misunderstandings. When I put them in pairs and asked them to do the dictation for each other to practice their speaking and listening with the target sounds they also did this easily and quickly. Wow.
After the dictation with pairs, I did one with sentences using the same pairs of words within the sentences. I didn’t give the dictation myself, but rather had them dictate to each other the sentences with their own choices. They seemed to enjoy this student-centered approach, and it also gave me a chance to walk around and listen and observe.
Definitely HIGH LEVEL students–wow. I don’t think anyone in the class was below low-advanced, and many seemed to be intermediate-advanced or higher . . .
Later, though, I’d begin noticing that some aspects of their language abilities were . . . underdeveloped. This is not surprising, though, in a culture where teacher-centered learning is still the norm (from what I’ve been able to learn so far, anyways).
Listening dictation finished, I began lecturing with the power point I’d made for use with unit 1 of their textbook: National Flags. The focus was on the American national flag, and the history of its development.
I began lecturing and the students were at first hesitant with my question and answer style. After a few minutes they began to warm up to it, but still struggled to give definitions of vocabulary from the textbook unit in English. I could see that they were used to answering in Chinese (Mandarin), and that they probably also were not used to being asked to give answers but rather being given the answers by the teacher . . . it seems likely there are some learning behaviors and strategies that I will need to model and teach them so that we can move through the lesson content at a good speed over the semester.
I wasn’t able to finish the national flag lecture before the ten minute break between periods came. We broke for ten minutes and I tried to cool down and mingled a little with some of the students. My classes range from 40 to 50 students, give or take, and 95% in general are male.
AH! I forgot to mention the name of the course I’m teaching: Advanced Listening. It’s a sophomore course, and I have 3 sections of it. All three sections are on Tuesdays.
After the break the students came back and we finished the rest of the lecture. It was fun seeing their surprise and hearing their laughter as I lectured because I like to make small jokes, and emphasize and stress key facts and points with some dramatization or changing the pitch and tone of my voice.
National flag lecture done, I then taught them how to play “Simon Says” with 25 body part words on the white board. I wanted to do something fun and not related necessarily to the national flag topic. It would also let me see how quickly they were able to produce language they already knew, and learn some vocabulary they didn’t. In addition to that I was fishing for common errors of pronunciation . . . but didn’t really find anything–wow. The students really enjoyed the game, and we had a lot of fun. I made sure to use groups of five to six in order to give as many of the students in each group a chance to be Simon. Teaching 50-ish size classes is something I haven’t done much, but with the military discipline of the students classroom management was easy!
With about fifteen minutes left I began the last activity I had planned for the day, a look and describe/listen and draw paired activity. I gave the instructions and then drew a funny picture on the white board and the activity began. Again, the students really enjoyed it. I felt happy that my first class at the university was a success. As the bugle began to play over the P.A. I gave the students their homework (read the next unit for the following week) and said goodbye to them, and they clapped to show their appreciation for the class. I was very happy.
I then taught my next two hour class, and had about the same degree of success and reactions from the students.
It was lunch time. A Chinese English teacher met me outside my class and we went to the cafeteria in another building close by. It was organized chaos with several THOUSAND students in uniform all heading towards the cafeteria. I wish I could have taken a picture to show you!
The teacher and I went to the teachers eating area in a room next to the massive stainless steel benches and tables student cafeteria. We got our trays and then found a seat. Lunch was so-so . . . actually, barely satisfactory. I just scarfed it down and tried not to pay too much attention to it. The teacher and I chatted about teaching, about my experience in Korea, and other things. It was fairly pleasant, and I enjoyed not being asked some of the all too typical questions that a Korean teacher might have asked me (what’s your blood type, why are you so fat, etc).
After lunch I was surprised to realize (though I had seen my schedule for the day) that I had until 3pm off. Apparently there’s a kind of siesta culture at my university where you take a rest and relax after lunch.
This cultural practice is so institutionalized that they actually have a FREE HOTEL for the teachers to go and rest in during the 3 hours after lunch each week day that there are no classes. Yes, I said a HOTEL!
I was taken to see the hotel which sits about 3 blocks or so from the buildings where I teach. You show your ID card and a clerk gives you a room key card. Unfortunately, there is no air conditioning in the rooms (at least that works anyways). There are fans, a TV, two beds, a bathroom and shower . . . but no working air conditioning. I ended up going back to the building I teach in and up to the fifth floor technicians’ office where I’d seen a working air conditioning tower and large couch. I sat there and read and cooled down for two hours, and then went to teach my last class of the day with the same general results as the first two.
Overall, definintely a good first experience in terms of lesson planning, teaching, and reactions from the students.
Some final thoughts . . . I was kind of shocked to see SEVEN CCTV cameras in the listening computer lab where I teach. Four of them were like the type you see out on the street, and the others were the bubble style. The fans worked just enough to keep the students and I from getting heat exhaustion. I can’t imagine what it must have been like during the heat wave that hit Seoul, and apparently the university, during July and August. It must have been awful.
The students at the military university have extremely disciplined attitudes and behavior. Albeit it was the first class, and it’s also the beginning of the fall/winter term . . . but I was VERY impressed by their motivation levels and HIGH degrees of paying attention during the class.
I am looking forward to seeing my classes again next week, and can’t wait to experience more time in the classroom with them.