Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Brain Fart


As I'm writing this, the realisation that summer has gone and winter has finally arrived is upon me. This realisation comes with the unfortunate reality of two days of ceaseless drizzle. I'm also listening to Journey and the B52s amongst other assorted cheesy music but all in the name of late night brain farting, so as you can imagine I am pulling at straws for entertainment! Basically I can't sleep and I'm bored so I thought I'd share some musings from my classroom...

When I walk past daycare the kids shout: "Teacher Lee!... Earthquake"... apparently...

Teaching here in Taiwan is “results driven” to say the least and this leads to a very assessment focused classroom environment. Sometimes I think to the point that the kids aren't necessarily learning much. What I mean is that in my most advanced kids' class, any of the kids could reel off a sentence in the future perfect tense with ease in a classroom activity or recognise it in a test and work some magical mathematical grammar formula in their head to produce a perfect answer and yet they will amaze you in a freer writing exercise or speaking activity where they have to produce an idea. Without picking on anyone in particular, sometimes I feel like I'm teaching in a vacuum. To try and avoid rambling incessant shite I'll try and give an example of one of the students from this class that has improved immensely over the last few months – in class and in tests and homework – but yet sometimes can't produce the most basic of sentences despite having the target language nailed down in the confines of an assessment. During the most recent oral test with this student, I had a picture of two children with faces caked in chocolate and asked the question “what do they need to do?” and after an extremely long pause I was given the answer: “don't know may be wash face”... The target language was “need to” so I was hoping for something along the lines of “They need to wash their faces”. This doesn't sound like a big deal but it is when the kids are learning pretty advanced grammar and yet are barely capable of producing it after passing written tests. Actually something more poignant is that the same kid produced the target language about ten minutes prior to the test perfectly during a quick language review and was quite capable of accusing his mate of needing to kiss a pig or some other such nonsense. I'm certainly not hoping for anything intellectual from the kids but I guess I really need to work on helping them to apply the stuff they learn to real life situations. Saying that everyone is happy because they got good results in last weeks' test so I guess my gripes are viewed as unfounded by the locals.

My new beginners classes are now in full swing and in general I find them very fulfilling. They are pretty straightforward to plan and the activities are simple. I still have a few gripes with the general parroting style of teaching at this level but actually, as they have only been learning for a matter of weeks, I think it is a completely justified method for the teaching of basic verbs and nouns. The thing I love the most about teaching young beginners is that somehow you really get to grips with the nature and character of the kids. So I'll limit my discussion of kids' personas to the larger of my new classes. There are all manner of personas in this class – as it is quite large – so I'll share a few of them with you. First of all there's the 'naughty kid' persona: basically he's the kid in the class that gets under the teacher's skin, in the class I'm referring to, 'the naughty kid' is quite viscious and rebellious, but is perpetually away with the fairies, dribbling and looking at the wall or trying to put a pencil up another kid's nose or some other pointless endeavor. However, rather fortunately for me I have a TA to handle that. Now, anybody who has ever taught kids for a prolonged period of time is familiar with the 'class clown'. Class clowns differ from 'naughty kids' because they are usually quite capable and aren't intentionally disruptive; they just can't help it. In this particular class I'm rather fond of one of the clowns. He makes monkey type giggles and is really clever so I know that he's paying attention. I guess my favourite personality type is the 'space cadet', I'm in fact rather blessed in this department and these kids are oh so loveable. These kids usually have a flaw in their approach to learning which reduces their ability to apply themselves in class. These hindrances are usually quite cute and elicit many a classroom chuckle from myself; some 'space cadets' have conditions such as sleep apnea and fall asleep while completing worksheets or answering the register, others are merely a little bit stupid or have a complex where they believe they are a cartoon character. I love them because they allow me to temporarily relive parts of my youth on a daily basis without losing focus and screaming “by the powers of grey skull!!!!” at the top of my lungs... Moving on from this there are also the 'boffins'. These kids are usually girl,s and as much as I hate to admit it – as the education system here is quite meritocratic – the boffins get the best grades and are the easiest to teach. My 'boffins' are awesome and I wouldn't change them for the world but in this class I have made a revolutionary discovery; or at the very least a very rare 'boffin' specimen. I believe her to be a sub-category of 'boffin'... She is the smartest kid in class so she is definitely a 'boffin' but she can be relatively disruptive to the flow of my lessons because she will antagonise the chorus of parroting during choral drilling merely to reduce the numbing of her super-brain. This obviously causes swelling in the minds of the 'space cadets' yet really is only a mild annoyance. I would like to term her, rather oxymoronically, the first 'superboff class clown'... I guess the last kind of student is the 'quiet and cute' type and they do exactly what they say on the tin really, they're not spectacular but they are great nonetheless and fun to have in class. To those of you that are wondering why the fuck you have read this far I did state that these are merely musings from my classroom! =p …

The majority of my group classes fall into the aforementioned categories of rather advanced for their age (and usually ability) grammar focused classes or complete beginners so as you can probably imagine private classes are somewhat of a welcome relaxing change of pace when they arise. At the moment I am currently teaching a lot of private students and have intermittently been teaching them since March. I have really been enjoying conversation based elements and so far as the students are concerned they are enjoying their classes... I think . While easy for me to plan, conversation focused private classes tend to turn into loosely structured chats if I'm not careful. To bring the post to a close I'm just really happy at the level of comfort some of my students are showing around me and at times I feel like they are really progressing; but sometimes here I'd like to describe people as being like light switches. They are either on or they're not and by that I mean that they are either very shy and timid or completely open and share their innermost thoughts which can be amusing but in the interests of privacy I'll refrain from exposing juicy secrets... However, what I'd like to refer to as 'the light switch phenomenon' permeates into all aspects of society here – in my experiences thus far - and people are either completely polite and courteous or they really aren't and it gets really confusing. The most difficult thing for me is picking up and using the local lingo. The other night I almost managed to succeed in ordering a Mcdonald's meal after pointing and grunting something that sounds like 'san' and translates to 'three' – in this case referring to number 3 on the menu ;) - everything was going smoothly until I said 'bu yao cur lur' which she seemed to understand and what intended to communicate was that I didn't want cola but hot tea, in order to express my desire for a soothing cup of tea I kept saying “Cha... Cha... Cha... Tea... Tea... Tea” and after a few repetitions of this I started to add “lur lur lur... hot, hot, hot...” which only further confused her and upon further reflection I realised that I probably sounded like a retard trying to beatbox. After what seemed like a few minutes of my painful ranting – of which the rhythm only gained momentum – it turned out the lady was fluent in English and said: “ohhhhh... you want a hot tea?!!!!” and I replied rather relieved with “yep”... and all was right with the world once more!... Apart from the fact that a guy watched me eat my entire meal without once pausing to blink. I smiled and said “ni hao” rather awkwardly and continued with my dinner, but he continued to stare but added a brief smirk :) … This was the first time that I have felt like a rare commodity in Taiwan and oddly, only by being a fat man eating a burger in Maccy D's!...

Big Hugz... Lee =p xxx

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