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New Semester

I’m half way through the first week of the new semester. I’ve got new students. Some new English names: Nectarine, Molin (she made it up herself and it has no meaning), Cookie (a boy who likes cookies), Stark *a boy), Jagger I the student never heard of Mick Jagger), Moco (?), Nikey (a misspelling of the shoe company), Ankh *suggested by an Australian friend of a female student), Tab(??) and Garcia (not inspired by Jerry) I’ve had a lot of Cherries and a couple Apples and an Olive as English names, but never “Nectarine.”

What’s very weird is I’m the only English teacher here. The other four are still waiting for their visas. One should arrive this weekend and the others sometime after. I can imagine their frustration with the uncertainty. There’s very little information during this process that started months ago and probably takes longer than any other country.

We’re having weird weather. This past weekend was in the high 60s and today we have snow.

We’ve got one new IT professor and she seems quite nice. She’s got a lot of food restrictions and hasn’t wanted to eat out, which is a shame since food is so central to the culture.

My schedule’s okay, but Thursday I finish at 10 and I don’t teach again till Friday from 2pm to 4pm. I did need Friday morning off to attend my online class, and am grateful for that, but teaching Friday afternoon every week . . . ? First World problem, I know, but how I’d like to move that to Thursday.

The books have all arrived in time and all my students have theirs. For another teacher, who’s teaching IT classes, they’ve boycotted the book because they feel it’s too expensive. I’ve been in classes where the book was expensive, but I just wouldn’t dream of not getting it.

I had planned a few projects for sophomores, but it turns out I’ll just have two sections of freshmen. C’est la vie. I miss my old students, but these new ones will be lovely too.

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Back to China

Tomorrow just after midnight I’m off to China. School starts on the 20th so I’ll have some time in Beijing, a day and a half, before I fly to Jinan. I’ll be the only American teacher there till Saturday night, when a new technology instructor arrives. The other English teachers, 4 of them, are still waiting for their visas. China sure has failed to improve this system. They may be in the same boat I was in in the fall having to make up classes. It’ll be especially rough on whoever is teaching 24 hours (a policy I’m 100% against).

I’m pretty well organized to go. I just have to pack toiletries and do a bit of laundry. I’ve got a few books to return to the library. (Ah, how I’ll miss using a library where I can take out books. We’ve never been encouraged to check out books in Jinan.)

I’m flying Eva Airlines for the first time. First I fly to Taipei and then to Beijing. On my way home I’ll spend a couple days in Taipei, but that’s not till June.

I’m hoping I’ll be able to blog and get online to most sites. There’s been news that China’s cracking down on VPNs. We’ll see if that’s so. It’ll be weird to be the only teacher at school from Friday – Saturday. It’ll be rather eerie. Usually everyone arrives the Wednesday night before the semester begins. This time they might be an entire week late.

Leaving?

I’m supposed to get my passport and visa tomorrow. I had emailed my supervisor asking to get Sunday delivery for my passport if it came today. I proposed that if my passport arrived on Saturday, I could get the airline ticket to China and get reimbursed. That way I could arrive on Monday and teach Tuesday and Wednesday so I wouldn’t have to make up so many classes (twelve hours). That part of my email was ignored in the first response.

I have been busy today rather than just sitting at home waiting to go to China. After a trip to the bank, yoga and lunch with a friend, I got home and saw another response to my email that said the supervisor, who’s very strict Monday-Friday in his hours would book my travel on Monday. Ugh. I’d leave on Tuesday and now there are no seats available on direct flights. So I’m looking at a 45 hour journey via Korea, Taiwan or Western China (Chengdu).

None of these options are inviting. By Monday there will be less options.

At least there’s an end insight to this saga.

What will I do?

Well, like Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau is known to have said, “Just watch me.”

 

What to Wear, Teachers

As the new school season approaches, teachers, especially new ones may wonder what to wear to work. I’ve noticed a lot depends on the context. Yet overall, I tend to believe in looking professional. We’re not paid highly in most places so you don’t want to rack up dry cleaning bills so I’d go with pants, skirts and dresses (the last two for women) that are washable cottons or synthetics. I’m also conscious of the weather. Air conditioning isn’t a given everywhere and you don’t want to melt in August. The first week play it safe by going with short sleeves and skirts or dresses that go to the knee. Once you’ve seen how the other teachers dress and note any negative comments made about other teachers, you’ll figure out the norm.

You want the administrators to have a good impression of you so don’t be too rebellious.

If you’re teaching overseas note what the local teachers wear and be as or a little more formal than they are. While in North America some professors wear jeans, in Korea suits and outfits you’d see bankers wear was the norm. In China they’re less formal. Some men wear a nice shirt and pants, while women can wear dresses and skirts. A few would wear athletic clothes, but I would avoid that. We did have some foreign teachers who dressed like they were going to do chores, i.e. they wore an oversized t-shirt and shorts. None of them got a whole lot of respect.

Jeans are popular and can be dressed up. It all depends on what you wear with them. Still I’ve avoided jeans. Gossip is part of teaching and when someone’s writing an evaluation or criticizing they’ll say, “the teacher wears jeans all the time,” not “the teacher wears dark blue jeans with tops from Ann Taylor all the time.” I also figure if I want the profession to earn the sort of salaries business people and lawyers make, why not dress accordingly?

In Muslim countries women’ll probably be told what’s acceptable. Always ask first. In Indonesia most settings are pretty open, but cover your shoulders and knees. At my last setting we sometimes were asked to wear veils. It didn’t seem to be worth the fight for a three week stint, but we were told that the faculty was debating whether or not non-Muslim visitors from overseas should have to cover their hair. Thus a respectful conversation would be fine. What are the guidelines in the Middle East? Comment below if you know.

Below is a fashion take from an American Middle School teacher, who does go more casual some days than I would.

Pekanbaru, Indonesia

I agreed to teach a group of Indonesian teachers for three weeks through a program associated with Ohio State University, which is part of a consortium of universities that offer scholarships to Indonesian students so they can study in the U.S. The problem has been that many scholarships go unused because the Indonesian students lack the English proficiency to get accepted.

So after a three day (yes three days) journey from Chicago to Los Angeles, to Tokyo, to Singapore, to Jakarta, I arrived in Pekanbaru. Flying Singapore Air made all the difference. They offer such gracious, thoughtful service: hot towels, good food with lots of choices for special meals, lots of drink choices, cleaner bathrooms. I could check two bags for free.

I’m working with another teacher, Tara, who’s completing her doctorate and has been a conscientious, kind companion whom I’m enjoying getting to know. We’re at Pesonna Hotel, a new nice, clean mid-range hotel, just 10 minutes from school. The staff is taking extra good care of us trying to offer plenty of vegetarian dishes for Tara and going out of their way to ask us what services we might need.

The teaching schedule and goals of the program are challenging. In three weeks, I’m to get my students to write a 3-5 page article for publication and Tara’s to get her students to make a conference presentation on that topic. We’ve got students for 4.5 hours a day. and the students have an extra hour in the morning and in the afternoon with co-instructors who reinforce what we’ve taught or give students time to do homework.

Our students are young instructors or graduate students. One class consists of English Language teachers and the other has an assortment of fields including IT, economics, Islamic accounting, animal husbandry, banking, dentistry and public health. Some students in the mixed class have very low English so I’m not sure why they don’t take a regular English class to up their basic skills, but that’s how it goes in Asia.

The students have been pleasant and eager. Teaching adults should be easier than kids and while the levels may not be what I’d suggest, no one’s been forced to take this class, which makes a world of difference.

 

Last Class: IMIS 14-2

Before the semester started I emailed our Foreign Affairs liaison to say I thought the IMIS 14-2 sophomores would be best served if another, more authoritative teacher taught the class. I said while I liked the students as people, I felt they weren’t learning as much as they should. Moreover, I’d taught them for two semesters already.

They were a handful and their grades in English 2 were lower than English 1, when I’d hoped the grades would have gone up. Several students had been caught cheating so a clean slate seemed like a good idea to me.

However, I would up getting them. That was okay, and while many goofed off and chatted in Chinese about whatever, I did enjoy teaching those who tried.

We only offer three English courses in this program. The last class for me is usually a movie or something fun. This class should have been held on a Thursday morning, but due to some ball-dropping by an office worker a colleague and I had to go get our medical exams for our work visas on Thursday morning. We had to make up the class on Thursday night, which was inconvenient for several students.

So no one really wanted to be at this class. Well, we watched an episode of Doctor Who after reviewing our finals. When the program was done, I told the students I had enjoyed teaching them and wished them well. I said, I’d see them around campus and would love to hear from them from time to time. Then I dismissed them. What surprised me was that many didn’t leave.

Then Irina, a woman who rarely speaks in English or seems to like school at all, came up and hugged me. More followed suit as they thanked me and a couple said they loved me. It was so touching, especially since China is not a hugging culture. Some started to cry and I did too. It just goes to show, you never really know how you affect people and it’s a big reason why I do what I do.

I Miss Time

I haven’t had much free time. As usual, teaching requires so much preparation and grading. I won’t bore you with that, but suffice it to say, there’s no end to the work. This term I’m trying to introduce a few basic research skills since our students come with almost none.

I’m taking one class, which usually isn’t too hard to fit into my schedule, but this time the teachers are disorganised, They roll out the syllabus week by week. I like to work ahead to balance my school and work responsibilities. There are just 10 in the class and we’ve got three T.A.s and a professor. Too many cooks. It never rains but it pours as last week we had to hand in the drafts of two papers and set up a digital library program on a remote server. We have to hand in drafts, because the professor gives such vague directions and then we “get” an opportunity to rewrite. I’d rather just get specific directions (or be given free rein) and do the paper once.

I haven’t had much time to blog or breathe. I have a long to do list, but it’s just getting longer. I could really do with an assistant, one who I can explain tasks to who doesn’t need much supervision. How do I get that?

Back to grading.

No Wonder I’m Doubting My Efforts

I had to share this email my colleague received. I’ve changed the names to protect the writer.

Dear Mr.X:
How are you everything going? I’m C. It’s my pleasure that I can learn English Culture 2 in this semester with you. I want to improve my spoken English and listening during this semester. Of course, I will make no efforts to learn to achieve these goal.
I am looking forward to recieve your e-mail. Good luck to you.
C
ELAC2

Major X

Fall 2015
I do hope she will put in some effort, but you never know. Sometimes I’ve been too optimistic.

First Week of School

Despite my jet lag and not sleeping all through the night once, I’ve made it through week one of the semester. It’s always hard as I’m learning new names (70 new ones this time) and getting used to where each class meets, learning the idiosyncrasies of each room’s computer. Also, I’m trying to answer questions from the newbies and help them find their ways around town and around the neighborhood.

This time two of the new Australian teachers live off campus. Their lead teacher hasn’t shown up yet. A sub has been here and leaves tomorrow. She seemed nice but not at all taken with Jinan. Since we’re such a small group, I tend to socialize with the Australians and there will be a void if that’s not part of the experience.

I’m looking forward to the new semester and am trying to figure out what sort of projects to have my students do. I like that creative aspect of the job.

I’ve also been struck that although I was here two months ago, I’d forgotten how little English many of the students know. It’s limiting and I’ve scaled back what I plan to cover.

There will be some changes. Yesterday we got an email saying that we shouldn’t be surprised if Chinese teachers and administrators pop in to our classes to observe unannounced. It sounded like this would happen many times and it wouldn’t just be one person observing. If it is frequent and if several people observe that creates a weird vibe. I Don’t know why they’re starting this measure. We’re told that they want to make sure teachers are prepared. For the last few years, the English teachers all seemed to be conscientious. I can’t speak for the business or IT teachers.

Another change is that the new president of the university has moved into our building between a business and IT instructor. The middle apartments don’t even have closets. I’m not sure why he wouldn’t live somewhere nicer. Is he observing the IT instructor, who’s had some complaints I won’t mention here?

Bad Teaching

My new library class got off to a bad start last week. It’s an online class in digital libraries. The professor has had three and a half months to travel the world for research and what not. (There aren’t too many conferences in the summer.)

He didn’t show up for the first class. If he had an emergency, I could cut him some slack but he didn’t plan on teaching the class. He just told the Teaching Assistant to take it and to just read us the syllabus. For undergraduate classes that’s common, but in grad school, the class hits the ground running.

The reason for the professor missing the class was that he was in China and he figured it would be too hard to get online. Since I’ll be taking all but two classes from China, I wasn’t convinced. At least try to give the class from China and have the assistant prepared to take over. Tape a class and post it on YouTube. Get a VPN or use the University of Illinois VPN.

My teacher from San Jose State, a lower ranked school, where they seem to take the teaching part of their job more seriously, gave classes when he was in New Zealand and I think Europe. Also, the course featured guest teachers from the Library of Congress, Denmark and top libraries in the US. These were in addition to, not in lieu of, the teacher giving the lecture.

I wouldn’t mind guest lecturers in lieu of the assigned teacher, but that wouldn’t work for the first class.

In addition to missing class, the teacher disappointed me by assigning 2 group projects. One’s horrid enough online. Two just makes me think he doesn’t want to spend much time grading. (Perhaps he needs to find a job where he doesn’t have to do all this annoying teaching-related work.)

I wish he’d learn from my rare books teacher, who was so down-to-earth and appeared to like teaching.

So far of the full time teachers I’ve had at UICU, one has seemed as though she didn’t mind teaching. They’re in stark contrast to my visiting professor from University of Indiana, and the profs from San Jose State or University of British Columbia. I think I’ve learned that students are best attended to by professors not working at a school ranked #1. Ironic and sad.

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