Today was ... strange. I gave my Oral English exams, a five-minute oral interview that really ended up being seven to ten minutes per student. I've been doing these all week, and I have over 180 students, so you can imagine how the mind can wander. Some of the odds and ends I've mulled over recently:
Not only is it supposed to snow for the next two days, but by Saturday it's supposed to be snowy and twenty degrees below zero.
China has once again blocked Blogger, but this time, they've even blocked the main blogger.com page. Used to be, in previous Blogger crackdowns, you'd be at least able to access the blog and update it, if not view it. Now it seems it's totally blocked, leaving some less tech-savvy bloggers in trouble. How do I access Blogger, you ask? Magic.
If you're reading this and also happen to be someone who often downloads music (that is, if you're Patrick), you should really check out the band Neutral Milk Hotel. They are sublime.
My student Dorothy plays a mean piano, and I asked her to teach me how to play next term.
I have a huge, audacious journey ahead of me come January: Haerbin along the China/Russian border, then a flight to Hong Kong, another flight to Singapore, and overland into Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, and Souther China ... can I really do all that in two months?
Today, during exams, I reflected on the year, the lessons we've studied, the content of my class. To be honest, I feel I am a mediocre teacher. I think I lack the imagination and dedication to really ignite the kindling of learning. The best I can do is fan the flames that are already there. (Wow, that was a somewhat forced metaphor that dovetailed nicely into something somewhat meaningful.) I don't plan my lessons as well as I should, I don't have the spontaneity in the classroom that my favorite teachers have always had, and I usually find myself either scrambling to flesh out the two-hour running time of the class or repeating something from rote, highlight for highlight, stupid joke by stupid joke, without any deviation. Hey, if it worked on Monday ...
It doesn't help that the powers that be in both of the universities I have worked for in China have tried their best to beat any kind of passion you may have for the job out of you by making simple things needlessly difficult and difficult things impossible. From being forced to use awful textbooks, to being locked out of otherwise idle multimedia rooms for no reason at all, to just outright indifference, pointless evasiveness, and outstanding incompetence, the people in charge of the schools have been the least helpful in getting anything done. In my favorite plagiarism of Mark Twain, I'll say again: the biggest impediment to anyone's education around here is the school.
But despite all of that, giving my finals today was a really powerful moment. I know some of it was brown-nosing, but I got so many compliments about my class and my teaching. One student, who makes up for his lack of English with unbridled confidence, spent the entire interview-exam telling me how my class was so different from his other classes, how a smiling teacher who speaks slowly has boosted his confidence, how using things that aren't in the book has enriched his learning. Some other students dropped other platitudes, and at the end of the whole thing I was invited to "take photos" with some students (pictures below), but that one student's speech really made me feel great; however middling my teaching, he has grown and improved from it.
Ah, this short blog became long fast. Here are the pictures I took with my students. These little photomarts are everywhere in China, and it seems like most girls love nothing more than taking glamor shots of one another. This isn't the first time I've been invited for these kinds of photos, either. Please note that while I am pale as all hell (blame not seeing real sun for a few months), the colors are pretty washed out (they're preset this way to give the girls the pure white skin they all want). The two girls in these pictures are April and Ariel.