Reflections on Heat, Intelligence, & (im)Patience

Trip Start Aug 13, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of China  , Hunan,
Thursday, September 16, 2010

It's the middle of September at 9:40 a.m. and I'm pretty sure it's about 90 degree F outside. It's so uncomfortable to just walk to the school from my apartment (5 minute walk). The sun has been blazing hot the last few days. Occasionally we'll be teased with one cool day, some rain but then the next day, extremely hot again.
    As I write, I can hear the patriotic music playing over the loudspeaker outside and I pity the students who must do their daily 'morning exercises,' which involves stretching, some dance-like jumps and turns, and simply more movement than should be done in this kind of weather. To make matters worse, they do this 20-minute exercise in the same outfits that they wear all day, which consists of a t-shirt and sweatpants. Basically they must sit in their sweaty clothes all day and attempt to focus in the hot classrooms, made even hotter by the large number of people there (around 60). These poor kids. I was talking with Noah the other day who made a comment about how smart some of these kids are and how hard they work-- but because China has such a large population (more competition) and less opportunity, many bright students are not going to be able to get as much in their future as those in America. He pointed out that a lot of these kids are way smarter and much more hard working than students in America but have less opportunity. So that's life, I guess.
    Some kids are not so bright though-- like my "normal" classes. Many do not understand me, as I realized yesterday and the day before. It's so difficult to teach to 65 kids whose comprehension levels ranges from 0-10. Actually I think most of them were closer to 0. I think that I might have to simplify my lessons and speech for them because there's just so many who don't seem to understand at all. Many were not even paying attention. Trying to teach to students who are doing other work in class is very discouraging. I wanted to just sit down and not say anything at all. In one of the 'normal' classes though, their head teacher was in the room so they were pretty silent the whole time, which made me go through my lesson extremely quickly. Actually one thing I want to try in the future is doing more pronunciation exercises because they are very responsive to choral drilling-- echoing me. I think a lot of my lesson this week though did not get them involved enough. And pair work is just a joke.
    On the brighter side, part II of my music lesson for the special classes has been going really well. Kids seem to like the genre contest, especially knowing that the winning team will get to hear the song that they want. Before I play the song though, I explain different parts of the song (lyrics,chorus, repetition, rhyme, line, verse) and use lyrics from Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, and Michael Jackson to show examples-- then everyone pays more attention because I'm not just using the winning team's song. Then I play a song and the kids look at the lyrics on the screen and have to fill in the blanks. Then we talk about the song. It's been fun teaching the kids "eenie meenie miny mo, catch a tiger..." and talking about what "Beat it" means and what other "love stories" they know. In one class, they pointed to two kids in the class and said that there was a love story there, which was kind of funny. The class that listened to "Beat it" said the song was about fighting, which is partially true. I tried to explain that "Beat it" meant "Go away" and that Michael Jackson was trying to discourage fighting. It's rather strange, that expression...
    One thing that I've been doing differently this week is my method for quieting the kids down. Instead of yelling at the kids to quiet down, I've just been standing at my podium and waiting for them to quiet down. Sometimes I'll be in the middle of talking and then just stop because its so noisy. I've found this to be rather effective sometimes because some students will shush the loud ones. Then, I save my voice. Of course, this method does not work all the time. I've been looking directly at those talking when I say to stop talking. I think there are other methods to use and I guess I can experiment in the next few weeks to see what works. I hope that my inconsistency won't have adverse effects. I keep threatening to move kids when they are noisy but only have done it a few times. I think I probably should have set more solid rules at the beginning.
    Also, I wonder if my students see me as impatient. I've always thought that I was a very patient person but I've found that sometimes I get really frustrated when no one seems to understand me (in the 'normal' classes). I think yesterday I was especially quick to get annoyed because I had had 5 other classes already and my 8th period class just wasn't understanding me. Some of the other teachers just say that their students are dumb and leave it at that. I would like to think that a good teacher could get through to these kids but at times, especially times of frustration, it's easiest to just write the students off as uninterested, impossible to teach, immature kids. Who knows?
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