Saturday, April 02, 2011


I have been teaching non-stop for two weeks and today, Saturday will be my last fours hours of teaching before a three day weekend for the Tomb Sweeping Holiday.

I am teaching non-stop because not only do I have 4 hours of class per day, I also am interviewing my seventy Grade 2 writing students, 3-4 hours each day where each student receives 20-30 minutes of instruction.  Their national English exam is coming up and each of them have different problems with punctuation, grammar, organization/structure, or ability to express complex ideas.  I function better on a one on one level.  There is a sense of great accomplishment when helping the students with their own particular weaknesses and praising their strengths, but it is an exhausting job.  Usually I am pretty good at finding the best way to be a good teacher without putting in overtime.  This semester though... I don't know what happened.  Sometimes I care too much.

Teaching non-stop for two weeks?  What about the weekend?  Don't you get a break?

Last weekend for a Peace Corps Project Design and Management Workshop, five us, three student Treehouse managers and two volunteers went to Chengdu for two nights.  Chengdu is FAR!  It is a 22 hour trip by bus then train, but because PC didn't want us to miss class, they flew us.  It was still a LONG trip.  4 hours by taxi and an hour flight plus all the in between time of waiting for take off and navigating a large city to arrive at your final destination. We left at 8 am and arrived at 5:30 pm just in time for dinner.  Four out of the five us are prone to motion sickness.  Travel is not especially fun for us.

This trip was productive because we worked on two projects, Operation Treehouse and a women's club.  The Treehouse English Resource and Community Center is well established.  What can we improve?  In two weeks, we are abandoning the old campus moving to the newly constructed new campus.  Instead of only having 5 departments nearby, we will now have 15 departments.  There be a whole new community that the Treehouse will hopefully find ways to meet the English learning needs of.

The weekend was exhausting.  First we were being urged to have an American work ethic where from 9-5 pm we spend every minute trying to accomplish something with only an hour lunch instead of the Chinese 2.5 hour break.  Second, because we brought students, we were on full English teacher mode helping them understand English, pushing them to communicate their ideas, and giving them confidence to present.  They were afraid that if they spoke English in front of the group, they would embarrass us and their teachers would lose face.  Little did they know that the more they talked, presented their their own ideas and showed how invested they were in the project, the better it made us look.  It was no longer only a Peace Corps volunteer's project, but a collaborative effort that was working towards being self-sustainable.

The third reason why the weekend was exhausting was because after work, we had to be good Chinese hosts and keep everyone happy by keeping them busy and entertained having non-stop conversations, eating hot pot, shopping, and sight seeing.  I am a person who NEEDS alone time, but in China often the only moments to be alone are when you say good night and go to bed.  I did get a nice chunk of alone time while sitting on a warm grounded plane in Chengdu for 1.5 hours before flying back to Xian.

It was a productive weekend and I am glad I went even though I am tired and have caught a cold.  The students appreciated the opportunity to make the Treehouse better and to improve their English as well as experience American culture.

Next bit of news which is also leading to my exhaustion is I am considering staying for a sixth year as a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader.  It is a new position in China and mainly involves supporting volunteers as well as Peace Corps staff.  I have been a teacher for five years.  I have adapted and integrated into three different communities.  It would be interesting to shift from being a volunteer who has survived five years of challenges to using my experience to help other volunteers problem solve and meet their own goals while living in China.

Any thoughts, comments, advice about this upcoming decision?


Lisa R-R said...

Sounds like this position could help you pass along your institutional knowledge?
Would you be able to travel to a few different new locations in China?
Would also provide some new skills for later jobs.
It seems I am in favour!

Sheryl said...

Hi Jennifer,
I was rather looking forward to you being home "soon" after your travels to Europe and China.
However, I have also spent a few minutes wondering what you might like to do when you get I would like to say there are many opportunities right now and indeed with you interesting experience there may be. However, economically, inspite of encouraging talk, we are not seeing a turn around yet. This may be a very good opportunity for you to get some "management" training that would round out your resume.
What is more it is a change of pace for you and no doubt interesting.
Good luck and we are wishing you the best as you work through your decision.
Aunt Sheryl