So I haven't written a post for a while and to be honest it's because I haven't really been up to anything that interesting. I'm not really one to be blogging about going to the cinema and the price of a Starbucks – some people do – but I thought I'd share some of the random stuff that has happened in my classroom over the last few months.
One of my colleagues recently went on a holiday back home to England and that obviously meant some extra cover work for yours truly. This was fine and meant that I got to meet some new students and mix it up a bit. We have some children from Pakistan and they seem to have a higher level of spoken English and confidence using it; and this was my first opportunity to teach some of them. One of the little lads was impressed with my "beat boxing skills" – of course I was just making noises to keep the kids distracted while I had them lined up to mark their work – and this resulted in requests for more. I'm shit at beatboxing, I just do it to make the kids laugh occasionally because I'm certain that it is a concept that is completely alien to them. A few days later – while walking in the corridor – I heard the call of "Teacher Leeeeee...." and I looked around to find the source, only to see little Basim standing there and holding a pair of sunglasses with a very informed look on his face. After a short, knowledgable pause and stare routine he took the sunglasses and placed them on the tip of his nose... and all of a sudden he burst into rhyme with hand gestures and movements, he was spitting lyrics and rhymes like a Compton Homeboy – okay so that is an exaggeration he didn't actually rap – I believe the routine went something like this: "Bumph and tut and Bumph and tut, tssh tssh Bumph and Bumph"... It was pretty cool, lasting around 30 seconds and I am very happy to know that I'm going to be the source of inspiration for the first Taiwanese-Pakistani beatboxing world champion! In fairness he completely put together the routine himself. You'll also be assured to know that he received the applause he was due. Albeit only from one cheeleader... me! =p
In Taiwan, more so than I've found in my experiences teaching in Indonesia, children seem to have a problem with spelling English words. This is no doubt down to the script issues between Chinese and English. This results in a lot of funny words being spelt in the routine vocabulary tests that the school administers on a regular basis. As a quick sidenote some children are also the victims of stupid names that are forced on them by their parents – not that either the child or parent are really aware how silly some of the names are – and the subject of my next tale and also classroom banter is a girl we nickname "number five" not because she is called Jonny (that would be cool as it would come from the short circuit movies of the 1980s) but because her name is... "Chanel". Poor little Chanel is actually one of the brighter members in her class of four. Which basically means she's a bit smarter than the thick kid. But the moral of the story is that kids often mispell words such as "blue" resulting in "bule" which is fun for me because it reminds me of my time in Indonesia where I would be called bule on a 100 hundred times daily basis because it means honkey in Bahasa Indonesia. The first word in last week's spelling test was "count" as in 1-2-3-4 or the ugly vampire puppet from Sesame Street, but little Chanel really had a problem hearing the vowel sound in the spoken utterance of "Count" the vowel sound obviously being like "Owww" if somebody hurt you or the bird "Owl"... Chanel heard a different sound and wrote down her answer accordingly. This is almost an exact extract of the answer sheet before the question two stage of the test: " 1. Cunt" ... I'm very proud of her, even if it is technically a mistake! English isn't a phonetic language and therefore poor students here not only have to learn the script but also the phonetics of the English language and the system we use to teach these sounds are extremely flawed as there is at the best of times a 30% margin of error due to the high number of irregular words that don't fit the rules we teach! = )
One of my private students is a very clever 10 year old girl. She is at a level of fluency or language acquisition where she can just absorb the language naturally. She also really enjoys banter and we often argue about mundane, irrelevant crap. We often argue about the pronunciation of Nintendo characters' names. I quite enjoy it too as I am really on the same wave length as a ten year old, so it's not like I'm even putting it on. During a game where I get her to write a list of items of a particular lexical set (vocabulary relating to something), she wrote down "bring bring", her pronunciation is usually spot on and is certainly not a major issue. I asked her "What on Earth is 'bring bring'?" And she said "you know, jewellery, I saw it in an American movie"... it took a few seconds for me to click but I soon realised she meant 'Bling Bling'. Which earnt her a fair bit of mockery that lesson!... Another thing she has absorbed naturally is "Dirty Poo Face" for which I admit resposibility. I often don't call her by her real name anyway as the school has managed to write it down wrong on the folder. I just call her 'Beanface'... she doesn't seem to complain. Although children learning language naturally that could be used in a negative context is also frowned upon here. I got a minor telling off for this but it's not really possible to completely control the way students are able to adapt language. Granted I make fun of the kids when they make small mistakes but that's part of what keeps classes fun and highlighting mistakes is absolutely necessary so I'm a bit confused as to what I'm supposed to do if a future situation similar to the following one arises, which it will. A lot. One of my teenagers, who is a bit of a clown, learned the word 'rubbish' from me. He decided that he would use it to banter with his classmates when they volunteered an incorrect answer in class. But for this I resent the criticism, solely because I have never spoken the utterance of "labbish" in my life!
With working 30 classroom teaching hours – not including marking and planning time – a week, I have recently been quite stressed. However, now that I'm back down to 20 I'm feeling a lot more comfortable. I was being criticised by management a bit more due to things like kids bumping their heads in activities. But I was also teaching a lot more classes – all of them younger kids – and playing games and being fun also results in kids potentially getting a boo boo (small, minor, bump or graze) the only problem is that 'injuries' here are not really dealt with by the level of severity and that is my only counter-criticism towards Taiwanese management of late. Other than that they are perhaps a little hard to please at times. You can't really expect me to stop an entire class for five minutes when a student bumped their knee on a chair and needs an ice-pack and savlon for something that needs nothing more than a little manning-up! Kids here are molly-coddled. This molly-coddling has been a bit of a problem with controlling one of my teenage classes. They will always do what I say but with a bad attitude or a level or despondence or reluctance which is very frustrating as I never make unreasonable requests of them. It's not like I ask them to wash my car!... I don't even have a car!... A big transition for me has been the advocation of a TA in Taiwanese language schools. The teaching assistants are always local and usually young, around 19-22 years old. They are in almost all instances very polite and usually support you and the kids in anyway they can. In some ways I think they are a cultural security blanket of sorts for the children and the parents and provide an understanding intemediary between teacher and student. This can become a problem, which it has in this case, when the kids are disrespectful to the teacher and the TA doesn't want to support the teacher in light of being seen as uncool amongst the teenagers. So in this case I've just become a little distant from the students and walk in the classroom and go through the motions. It's not as if I'm not teaching them anything but it's hard for me to care when the kids are disrespectful, rude and arrogant. Something I thought the management were also reluctant to support the teacher on as criticising Mummy and Daddy's little angels isn't usually good business practice. Actually I was wrong and when I was asked by my TA in this class to solve a situation in class "because it is my job" where one student is leaving and I need to rearrange classroom seating as a result "but these students can't work with those students because they aren't cool" etc I just shrugged my shoulders and said "you deal with it!"... it's not my problem. These kids need to learn some respect for each other and me. I just told my manager and she not only completely supported me, she went into the classroom and completely reiterated my sentiments. So I think sometimes my distaste for criticism from management, which I usually attribute to cultural differences, may not always be as justified as I think. In this case I was not only completely supported the kids got a right good old-fashioned bollocking, something I'm not sure if they are used to!