Thursday, December 23, 2010

December Tidbits

Right now I am buried under grading and will be for the next two weeks.  Today I spent 6 hours with students, 4 hours of 20 minute interviews.  Then for 2 hours I listened to students nervously holding hands, sing a prepared song that they learned during the semester then sing an impromptu song that they also learned during the semester that was chosen by lottery.  The impromptu song was one way I could make sure students would come to class and learn the songs.  For this class with unofficial grades, there was only the final singing performance, a quick 2 hours giving out 50 grades.
Why?  Why did I make my non-graded English Short Stories class of 140 students so serious?  The students had to write seven, 3-5 paragraph essays, keep a notebook, then take either a written final or a final that was an interview.  Over the semester I graded two essays per student and now am grading their finals.  WHY? 
I am a volunteer teacher who dictates how much work I will do.  I could have made the class an easy class without too much grading since it was a course without an official grade.  In high school, my favorite teacher was an English teacher who gave a ton of homework, who challenged me, made me work and think.  I somehow subconsciously wanted to be like her this semester with a hope that the students would take the class seriously, would learn, and would grow as thinkers. 
Also, I am genuinely curious about what goes on in my students' heads.  What did they learn in my class and what are their opinions?  Because the class size was so large making classroom discussions a challenge, one way to learn about their ideas was to have them write down their thoughts and to have interviews. 
I wonder if they will be pissed about all the work they did this semester once they learn that a grade won't be going on their official transcripts.
Students' Essays
Today a student visited the Tree House and talked about essays.  She said, "Our Chinese teachers during high school told us NOT to repeat our ideas, but then our foreign teachers told us to repeat our opinion, our thesis statement over and over again throughout the essay."  Then she said, "Jennifer on my friend's essay you wrote that you couldn't understand her ideas, but when we read it we understood the essay perfectly."
Why can't I understand students' essays?  I have this problem with a lot of their essays.
  • Is it because of their English level?
  • Is it because I think differently than Chinese students?
  • Is it because Chinese writers and American writers have a different writing style?
  • Is it because Chinese students have been trained to have harmonious ideas that the majority believe, ideas that are thought by the masses such that they are good at reading each others minds thus understanding the implied meanings in their essays; whereas, I need more direct explanations?
During the interviews, a lot of the students talked about freedom and how one of the cultural differences between some of the Chinese and western stories is that the American stories valued freedom. 
I asked them, "What does freedom mean to you?" 
"It means that you can do whatever you want to do."
I then asked, "Don't you think you have freedom?"
"No.  I have to obey my parents and follow the school rules.  I can't do whatever I want to do but have pressure to do other things."
I then asked, "But don't you have a choice to obey your parents, to follow rules, to do whatever you want to do or to submit to the pressure?"
They just looked at me and we moved onto the next interview question.
Between Interviews,
I've been reading Ha Jin's In the Pond.  My Seattle roommate had this book in her personal library.  I remember reading it and not liking it at all, but after living in China for three years I have a new perspective while reading it. 
Shao Bin is a worker in a factory who is trying to expose corrupt leaders.
When hearing what Shao Bin did, the leaders think, "Who would imagine a toad could grow wings and soar into the sky!"
"The two leaders talked about how to handle Bin this time; both of them agreed that they should remain calm and do nothing to provoke him at the moment.  In their hearts, they were frightened.  This mad dog Shao Bin was simply unpredictable.  He was too bold and too imaginative and would do anything he took a fancy to.  Unlike those puny intellectuals- the college graduates in the plant- whose faces would turn pale and sweaty and who would correct their faults the moment the leaders criticized them, this pseudo-scholar wasn't afraid of anybody.  What could you do if a man feared nothing?" -excerpt from Ha Jin's In the Pond
What are you proud of?
In the Tree House a student asked a group of us, "What about your country makes you proud?"
One student said, "I am proud that in China we respect our family members and take care of our family."
Another student said, "I am proud that in China family is very important."
Another student said, "I am proud that in China we have made so much progress over the last century leading to our ability to send rockets into space."
Then an American said, "I am proud that in America, we are trying to deal with diversity."
Then I said, "I am proud that in America, I can be whomever I want to be."
Christmas Banquet
Tonight the school invited us to a Christmas banquet and gave us flowers, a calendar, and a framed shadow puppet.  The food reminded me of Chinese American food, sweeter than what I usually eat here in Gansu.  On the elevator, I read that the specialty of the restaurant was Cantonese food.  Ah.. that explained it.  Most American Chinese food is from southern China.
I took my first step class ever.  It is umm...  hmm... Well at least I sweat for a bit.  Also, when running on a treadmill, it is not a good idea to hit the big red button. 
The only thing that I hate about being addicted to a gym is the pile of laundry.

No comments: