Tuesday, November 9, 2010

1st week of Nov 2010

El paso final. Right now the majority of my comm. class is doing a “retest” for their final exam - worth 40% of their grade. Eleven out of fifteen failed. Now what does that say? It could say a lot of things, and I think a course on hermeneutics might be necessary for that interpretation. However... I’m not particularly interested in hermeneutics, so I wont go into it. Instead im going to continue writing this blog while time slips away from these students who still look like they didn’t study worth a lick.

Today started out rough, but reasonable. I woke up at about 5:37 and lapsed into a coma. Then again at somewhere between 5:40-45 I was once again goaded into semi-consciousness ~ dehydrated as always. I’m beginning to think that pollution steals your internal water supply, because I drink water before I go to bed each night in a vain attempt at curing my ritual pollution hangover that doubtlessly comes each morning. I stumbled into the bathroom and rid myself of my retainer while reviling the exposed overhanging light. From there I sought out the kitchen and made my traditional “bowl of coffee.” It made waking up worth it. After reading till I was content, I turned off the lamp on my ...desk...table?... and stared out the barred window into the overcast autumn sky that was gradually lightening with the coming of the sun. I love the half-light ~ even though it makes it incredibly difficult to stay awake. I took the time to try and ready myself for the difficulties that I knew the week was going to have in it.

Today begins the end as it were... and thats just hardly a gerund short of a cliche (Today is the beginning of the end*). Anyhow. It is the last week that I will be working for ESLI Zhengzhou ~ and it is bound to be fraught with excitement. Yes... I meant fraught.

Making my way into the sharply chilled winds that come to Zhengzhou in the fall/winter I was picked up as usual by the company driver and we made our way out into the hinterlands where our school is located. After living in downtown ZZ it feels like a ghost town - or one of those post-apocalyptic movies you watch where you see all the towering buildings, but so few or no people: particularly at that time of day. Maybe they’re all in the park doing taichi...

We arrive at work at 7:30 and I proceed to prepare for my 8:00 class. Doesn’t sound like much time does it? It’s not - aside from the fact that the curriculum is all laid out for you and you’re not really given the room to deviate from it. Not exactly what I would call growth stimulating circumstances. If I had to coin a term, i’d probably call it inherent plateau-ing.

Well - 7:50 comes around and one of our assistants comes in and reminds me that level 2 has guided study... and asks if we are going to do any retesting in that time. ($%^). “Yes.” Quickly checking the failed exams, I print off the necessary retests... evidently missing the count by one, which I have to deal with later. 8:05 comes around and the other assistant comes in and says, “Hey Peter, you must be busy,” (Yes... {calmly}) “...its class time.” {looks around for a harpoon or a 2x4} I reply, “I am aware of that, I am currently printing off retests for level 2 {again... as cool as can be managed}.”

Sufficiently irritated, I grab my computer so I have something to do during the 90 minute time slayer of a retest.

I get into the room, collect their phones and pass out the retests - realizing that my count was one off. Assuring the student that they would be allowed plenty of time to finish the test, I attempted to call the assistants to come watch the room ~ and failed. Leaving the door open, I looked in the next room where I suspected one of them was - they were not. Quickly heading back into the room, I saw one of the students already trying to ask another student for an answer to the first question... Upon my return, they quickly wheeled their head around and buried it in their exam. Rather unimpressed, I warned the remainder of the class that if I saw such a thing again... tests would be confiscated and zeros would be divvied.

I stood at the door and tried to make my second call to a more reliable phone user.

Finally picking up, I asked them to watch my class for a few minutes while I printed the remaining test. Scurrying down and taking care of the printing, I finally could make my way up to the room and get our final failure started on the retest.

Tangibly working on an ulcer, I decided that blog venting while working on my “ninja quiet” typing skills was the best way to use the next hour and a half of my time.

Isn’t it just inspiring. Education - the children are the future and all that. If that’s the case then were all doomed.

Frankly the children are only the future if they choose to be. I see the same thing here in China that I remember seeing in the US: a bunch of kids herded into classrooms being told “this is important” when none of us quite believe it and most of us are asking, “when did you go crazy and decide it was so?”

I’ve learned lots in this adventure o’mine, but the two most profound things i’ve learned about education are:
1. A teacher can only teach to the point that their students are willing to receive (and I understand that “receive” can be realized on many different levels and in many ways)
2. A student will only do as much work as they feel they will be rewarded with “productive yield”. This means that an “overachieving” student may find their PY through the actual learning outcome, personal development and teacher praise whereas a “slacker” does not see the learning outcome as worth while, challenges the idea of the class being worth their time or attention and would generally prefer to be doing something else.

Students are in some ways too smart for their own good - as far as education systems are concerned.

Take my level three class for example. There are four boys and two girls. The girls are the only ones who do any talking unless you find a particular way to “force” the boys to talk, but those ways are often quite limited and the “talking yield” is also rather unimpressive.
These boys are not stupid. They however are bored and frustrated and would quite rather be doing something else. It is obvious in class that they do not want to be there, and that they believe the program is a waste of their time: let me explain.

Day 1 for me, which was about week 6 for them (12 weeks/level) of level three (the graduating level of our program, after which they technically should be able to go into university). Naturally I am not going to just launch into the material. No student is completely open with a new teacher on their first day of class unless they are either socially awkward or have some other pretense (at which point they dont actually qualify as completely open anyhow). So - a testing of the waters was in order. I asked the standard, “Why are you studying English, what do you like to do, where do you want to go to study etc.” questions. Aside from getting their major of “choice” and city/ university - their answers did not extend beyond a weighty four words per sentence, and it was not for lack of training or exposure to native speakers. Sensing their irritation with school - which what high school student isn’t? - I opened the door to more alternative topics. At one point I even tried to get them talking about heroine addicts in Vancouver’s downtown east side. Nothing. If they wanted to talk, Chinese was the only way, and not to me - to the other three boys in the front row. Oh...by the way - the girls were conveniently absent that day. There was no door that I knew to open that would either set them on fire with anger, bias or interest. For (#*%&) sake, what Chinese person can’t talk about food?!

As I said earlier, they’re too smart for their own good. Being silent won’t get the job done, but being intellectually immovable in a class that requires the exchange of opinion in order to proceed in the material - that will get the job done: assuming the job itself is to “not do” school.

So some background. These are kids between the age of 16-20, the fashionable and generally attractive 16 year old being the role model for the generally hideous 20 year old and the others. They do not make eye contact, and they adore mumbling. {feels around for his harpoon again}. The 16 year old actually likes to stare at you for extended periods of time~ which i’m not entirely sure how to interpret, but neither am I too impressed by. They are at this school because their parents put them here. They are going to the west because their parents are making them. They are studying things like engineering because... what do you think.

The only thing they care about at this point is their friends. They are unified by spending time together, and moments after you say “class is over” they go from lethargic to robust in a matter of 10 seconds.

Now I know this is no different than any of us during highschool, but the thing that irritates me the most is that they have figured out what answers to give a teacher so that you hit a brick wall in your line of questioning. There is nothing more to probe with to get them out of their shell because quite frankly it seems that the only things “worth” having to them are inside that shell.

China is a place where your parents do a fair amount of life planning for you, and too much deviancy from that plan would not be good for your family relations. Rather than sacrifice that totally, their children have opted for “doing their parents will” at far less than a half-hearted attempt. They do not take control of their own future. Its like they don’t care at all about what happens to themselves in the future, and they would rather be fluffy balls of rage and apathy (alternatively) than plan a way around the unpleasantries of life.

So - they give answers that kill conversation, and refuse to do homework. They do as little work as possible, while still understanding where their fences lie. They know this program will not throw them out, because the right amount of complaining to the right people, and you can accomplish just about whatever you want at this school.

Too smart for their own good (so says the education system), but smart does not equal useful.

(4‘oclock later)

2x4 to the head over and over and over!

Well - this day of work ended at 9 o’clock when I decided I would no longer grade papers ~ and that it really wasn’t worth it.

No comments:

Post a Comment