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Monday, June 11, 2012

Final Reflections

It’s hard to believe that two years have already gone by, and that I am preparing to go home. These two years have been an unforgettable experience. My last blog will be a reflection on my time in Peace Corps China. I have split it into 3 sections: What I will miss; what I won’t miss; and what I learned. I hope this final post can give you a good idea of my overall experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in China and what I will take away from these two years of service. What I will miss: 1. My students 2. The food (spicy Sichuan food, baozi, jiaozi, food with lots of vegetables) 3. The flexibility (flexibility in my lesson plans and schedule) 4. Respect for teachers 5. Cheap beers that we could walk around with 6. Travelling with Peace Corps friends 7. Tea (sitting for hours drinking tea, chatting, and playing cards without worrying about anything) 8. The countryside outside my school (the farmers, dogs, chickens, pigs, cats, and ducks). 9. Friends (Peace Corps, Chinese, and other foreigners) 10. Fresh vegetables and fruits that are easily accessible 11. Good public transportation 12. Free lunch 13. Being given random advice (put more clothes on, drink hot water, take an umbrella). At first this really irritated me, but after a while I really felt the love and care behind those words. 14. Sense of community (shopping at the same stores, eating at the same restaurants, being cheered on when running through the countryside) 15. San bu (walking slowly through the countryside after meals or just to talk) 16. The feeling of safety (China is a very safe country, aside from theft which doesn’t bother me) 17. Having hot water readily available for drinking What I won’t miss: 1. Lack of organization 2. Spitting 3. Laughing 4. Pollution, and dirt 5. children relieving themselves wherever they please 6. Water and electricity randomly being turned off 7. Being stared at, laughed at, or not understood (when other people understand me just fine) 8. Winter 9. Personal questions and the obsession with marriage and having babies 10. Stomach problems 11. Internet censorship 12. Being illiterate (I can read more than when I first came—such as signs and menus, but it’s hard for someone who loves to read to not be able to do so) 13. Little pieces of bones in fish and chicken 14. The geese 15. Fighting to pay the bill 16. Guanxi (the art of forming relationships in China) What I learned:

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Student Speech

This semester I have asked my students to write and give a speech—either persuasive or expository. One student wrote a speech on the topic “her favorite teacher.” Here is her speech:
“This is the voice of Sichuan Preschool Educator’s College.” I believe, you guessed the teacher who I will talk about. Yes, you are right. This familiar voice comes from Katie D’Souza, our foreign teacher. Katie is a volunteer teacher from America. In 2010, she was sent to Jiangyou, Sichuan. This is the second year she has been teaching at Sichuan Preschool Educator’s College. As I know, Katie likes sports and often does exercises, like playing Ping-Pong, basketball, and running. Because of this she is healthy and strong.
For her work, Katie is a great teacher. Her lesson plans are so meticulous and diversified that her lesson is funny and active. In her class, you will learn much Western culture and how to express your ideas in English. If you are active you can get a lot of chance to practice your English speaking. Katie will communicate with you face to face. After her class she and Mary, who is another volunteer teacher in our school, elaborately design weekly activities, including women’s club, English corner, singing club, and writing workshop. The purpose is to encourage and help the student who is interested in English to come by to chat or practice their English. In their effort, the school provides them a room which they use as an English Library. They accumulate and buy many English books, novels, magazines, children books, text books, and so on. There are more and more English books in the library.
In addition to these, for herself, Katie is very gentle, generous, and easy to get along with. Like all of the volunteers, she is selfless dedication, responsible, and hard working. Thus, her spirit will influence my teaching life in the future.
Thank you Katie, you are my first teacher who moved me. I give you my highest respects”

Teaching Plan for 4th Semester in China

The following is my teaching plan for my last semester. Thoughts?
Culture class:
Week 1: introduction
Week 2: food
Week 3: influential women in US and UK history
Week 4: festivals
Week 5: culture of dating, love
Week 6: engagements and wedding
Week 7: leisure activities
Week 8: education
Week 9: travel, places of interest
Week 10: government and politics
Week 11: religion
Week 12: etiquette and taboos
This class will finish earlier than my others because they will be graduating in May. They don’t have a grade.
2nd year Oral English classes
Week 2: writing a resume, interviewing for a job
Week 3: English Children’s games
Week 4: International Women’s Day
Week 5: how to give a persuasive and expository speech
Week 6 and 7: present speeches
Week 8: leisure activities
Week 9: etiquette and taboos
Week 10: government and politics
Week 11: education
Week 12: Chinese culture presentations in small groups
Week 13: English Children’s songs
Week 14: group thematic lesson practice
Week 15: group thematic lesson practice
Week 16: environment
Week 17: food and restaurants
Week 18: end of the year party
They will write a resume, give a speech, teach a thematic lesson, and give a presentation on a different culture in China.
1st year Oral English classes:
Week 2: resume writing
Week 3: interviewing for a job
Week 4: International women’s day lesson
Week 5 and 6: English Children’s games
Week 7: how to give persuasive and expository speeches
Week8-10: present speeches
Week 11: English children’s songs
Week 12-14: group thematic lesson practice
Week 15: leisure activities
Week 16: etiquette and taboos
Week 17: environment
Week 18: end of the year party
They will have to give a speech, give a thematic lesson, write a resume, and sit with me one-to-one to have an interview.

Teaching Reflection

The Peace Corps offers us the opportunity to apply for a TEFL certificate from the experience of our time teaching. In order to receive the certificate I should submit a detailed lesson plan and a reflection of my teaching. The following is my teaching reflection from my time in China:
“When I first joined Peace Corps China I had limited teaching experience, particularly related to teaching English as a foreign language. I had previously had some experience as an English tutor for Hispanic migrant workers in Florida, as well as my teaching internship in a middle school. These two experiences helped direct me in the beginning of my teaching in China, but did not prepare me for the challenges I faced as a teacher here.
Some of the challenges I faced were how to teach large classes, the maturity level and attention span of my students, multi-level classes, beginner level students, expectations of the students and of the school, and how to prepare my students for their future (i.e. what topics were necessary to teach my students and what English ability would are they expected to have when they graduate). These are just a few of the questions that were immediately brought to mind my first semester in China, and I am just now beginning to answer them.
My teaching experience here has been fulfilling in that it has given me a lot of insight into my strengths and weaknesses as a teacher. I have realized that one of the biggest challenges I face is with classroom management, discipline and consequences. I struggled to find the right punishment that didn’t cause my students to lose heart, but rather challenged them to better themselves. I found three solutions to my troubles.
The first is realizing what I can and cannot deal with in class. Every “issue” might not be possible to solve, but most could be if I am adamant about it. I realized that speaking a little Chinese didn’t bother me as long as they were speaking on point and were prepared to answer questions on the subject when asked. On the other hand, laughing at other students when they made a mistake is something that I cannot tolerate. I realized that if I tried to correct every little thing students try to do I would drive myself crazy, instead I should choose a few things that truly disrupt the flow of the class or present obstacles to my teaching and goals.
The second is consistency. If a student is not behaving appropriately in class I should reprimand him/her every time, not just once. Failing to do so, I realized, would result in my students behaving worse because they, maybe, wanted to see what they could get away with.
The third is knowing students’ names. This may seem a simple task, but with 500-700 students each year it presents a difficult feat. The solution was nametags. At the beginning of every class I would hand out the students’ nametags (this also provided a simple way to see if students were attending class regularly). During class I could call on students by name to answer questions—or if they were being disruptive to call their name to quiet down. After class I would pick the nametags back up. I also used this method as a way to assess participation in the class. When students answered, or attempted to answer, my questions I would mark their nametag with a star. At the end of the semester if a student didn’t have any stars I would lower their grade. Being able to call out the students for participation reasons, and for discipline reasons, was a key moment in my classroom management problems. After this, along with my first two rules, my classroom management problems disappeared.
Another lesson I learned during these two years teaching was on the structure of the class. When I first started teaching I thought that students would respond well to a class that had the same pattern every week. But I realized that this was only true to an extent, and was also a deterrent for some students. Some students found the pattern monotonous. Knowing what to expect before it happened made some students tune out during parts they found irrelevant, and tune back in for parts they thought were more useful or to their liking. Some students, however, appreciated knowing what we would be talking about and what things they could expect from class. I realized I could appease both students by giving students a clear syllabus and expectations in advance, but changing the structure of my lessons each week. The students that liked to feel prepared could do so by looking over the syllabus I taped on the classroom wall, and the students that liked each class to feel different appreciated that my lessons never followed the same pattern.
I also learned how to do without. The school that I have been teaching at for the past two years doesn’t have access to technology, getting copies made is a headache, and students have trouble to remember basic things such as bringing a pen and pencil to class. Though technology would enhance my lessons, not having it didn’t hinder it. I learned to make do without it by relying on visual aids that I could bring in, coming to class extra early to write on the board and making copies that I used in every class. I also made use of small groups.
Small groups became an easy way to have students practice, especially considering the large class sizes. My first year I would have the students form different groups every week as needed. I soon realized that this wasted a lot of time because some students would wander around for a while choosing their small group. The first semester of my second year I assigned students groups they would do activities with every week and would sit with every week. For some this was difficult. They didn’t feel comfortable trying out English with students they were not particularly close to. So, my last semester teaching I let the students choose their own groups. I informed them that several of their grades would be based on group performance, so they should choose wisely. So far this is the better choice. Students are willing to work more when they are in a comfortable environment, which they are in with their chosen groupmates. I have also heard more students attempting English than I heard last term.
Using small groups also made teaching multi-level classes and beginner level students easier. Students would be able to help each other and guide each other throughout the activities. In order to help those that struggled more in the language I wrote all directions clearly on the board (since students reading ability was better than their listening). If there were some words or directions that were complex I would ask a student that understood to help explain to those that didn’t. Having clear instructions, and being able to read new vocabulary words is important for those that are at a beginning level. I also used activities that could easily be more challenging for those that could handle it, and easier for those that couldn’t, for example, having more open-ended questions that allowed for deeper discussions and/or more simple discussions.
With regards to teaching I try to teach using different multiple intelligences. In the short time of class it is not always possible to reach every intelligence group, but throughout the term I try to provide students with chances to use different abilities so that all students have a chance to show their strengths. I have used games and activities that use artwork, singing, movement, outdoor activities, small group talking, large group talking, reading, writing, listening, debate, imagery, music, and more. I think this is crucial to teaching. If I spend every class lecturing, or every class doing role plays then not every student will benefit. By changing the activities I give every student the chance to connect with the language and the class.
I also try to teach relevant information. My first year I just taught what I thought was important to know about English. I didn’t consider that learning how to discuss a certain topic wouldn’t be helpful or interesting for my students. At the end of every term I asked my students to write an evaluation on the class and on my teaching. My first semester I asked very vague questions, trying to leave the door open to new ideas, but the answers I got pertained mostly to my physical appearance (“I like your smile.” “Maybe you can try a new hairstyle”). Obviously these aren’t helpful for improving my teaching. My second semester I chose more specific questions and my third semester I chose very specific questions that steered students to only respond in reference to classroom related things. All of these evaluations have helped me to improve my teaching, see my strengths and weaknesses, and to better meet the needs of my students.
In order to better meet my students’ needs I always tried to make time to have personal interviews with students. Talking to them one-to-one has helped me to understand their background, their needs as students, and their goals, plans and paths in the future. All of these are important for teaching. The majority of my students will be preschool and primary school teachers in the future, so knowing how to describe food in detail isn’t necessary, but knowing food in English is important. Once I realized my students’ goals, their future plans, and the expectations they had from the school and society (pass the CET-3, maybe the CET-4, and if I am really lucky the CET-6) I altered my lessons to meet them where they were.
Through this process I also began to understand my students’ maturity level. This is a difficult characteristic to describe. Some volunteers describe our students as immature, but this isn’t true. On the surface the students seem to act similar to middle and high school students in America, with the giggling, not bringing things to class, forgetting to do their homework, asking to use the bathroom, etc. Besides this the students have a great understanding of responsibility to each other, to their teachers, parents and society. They understand the expectations they have from others. So in this respect they are quite mature. But due to the fact that most students have only focused on studying for their entire lives and haven’t been given the chance to explore, they do lack in maturity for their age-mates in America. I realized that I couldn’t approach my class as I might if I were teaching in a college in America, but I also couldn’t treat them exactly the way I treated my middle school students in America (though they seemed to act the same way). I had to view them in a completely new way and not compare them at all. In this way, just seeing them for the way they were—mature in some ways, and immature in others—I was able to better meet their needs in the classroom.
During these two years I have learned a lot about myself as a teacher. I feel much more confidant stepping into a classroom than I did two years previously. I understand better the ways to approach classroom and lesson planning. I have learned more about what works and what doesn’t work, and that what works for one group of students doesn’t necessarily work for another group. Teaching is about being flexible and open to change. I think I am much more prepared to teach English as a foreign language than I was two years ago. “

Beginning My Last Semester

Right after my training, I hurried back to Jiangyou to begin classes. Actually classes had started the Wednesday before, but since we still had training, we started the following Monday. This semester beginning was a major headache. Some third year students had returned for further study after spending a semester practice teaching, and the school wanted them to have some foreign teachers. This meant a complete rearranging of our schedules. Despite the fact that school started ½ a week before our arrival—Mary’s and my teaching schedules were all out of whack. I was told I didn’t have any classes on Monday, so I took my time in the morning on that first Monday and went for a run. Towards the end of my run I get a text, then another, then a phone call “Where are you?! We are waiting for you in class!” I didn’t know what to think. All week I had similar situations—why aren’t you in class? We are waiting for you. I was simply following the schedule I was given, but there seemed some major miscommunication going on between departments (I teach in multiple departments). By the end of the week my schedule was resolved and my teaching schedule is as follows:
Monday 9-1045 (culture of America and England. 3rd year students)
Tuesday 9-1045 (oral English. 2nd year students)
Wednesday 9-1045 (oral English. 2nd year students)
11-1150 (oral English. 1st year students)
130-225 (oral English. 1st year students)
320-405 (oral English. 1st year students)
Thursday 9-1045 (oral English. 2nd year students)
11-1150, 130-215 (oral English. 2nd year students)
225-405 (oral English. 5th year students—students that come to the school after middle school and study for 5 years)
Friday 11-150, 130-215 (oral English. 2nd year students)
Another headache this term was the new English Library. I finally have a place for the books, for an office, and for student activities. I purchased books using money from a grant that I wrote for, and received books from Darien Book Aid—a book donation organization. It has been a long process but it is nearly done. I cannot express how much stress it caused me, though—having to wait, ordering books via a Chinese website with someone who didn’t know how to use it. But next week I will turn in my final report for the grant and, hopefully, be finished. Despite the stress it has all been worth it. The students have really taken to the library. We have a good group of students that come to volunteer to oversee the running of the library. Students come to watch movies on my old computer that I have donated (though I am not sure how much longer its lifespan is), and about 200 students and teachers borrowed books within the first month of it opening.
Besides the library, I have several new activities that Mary and I offer students on a weekly basis.
Monday 130-430 office hours (students can come to borrow books, ask me questions and get help for things)
430-530 culture club
Wednesday 5-6 English Corner
Thursday 630 Women’s club
Friday 430 game club (I used some of the grant money to purchase games, such as scrabble, twister, pictionary, guesstures, clue, monopoly, life, uno, cranium, etc.)
Saturday 10 writing workshop (practice and learn new writing skills)
This semester has been busy for the students—with tests, performances, practices, etc.—so attendance for activities is not as high as it was last term, but there are still students attending. As long as 1 student is in attendance, I will continue to have these activities every week.

Winter Vacation Year 2

Wow, it has been much too long since I have written a blog entry; my apologies to those that enjoy reading it. Last semester ended quickly, but well. Similarly to last year I had a Christmas party for teachers. A few teachers came, and two brought their child with them. It was really nice. The children added a nice element to the party. We had a nice dinner at a restaurant, sang Christmas carols, and decorated cookies.
For the New Year I had the pleasure of meeting Leo’s mom, sister, and his future brother-in-law when they came to visit him in Yibin. My students were kind enough to help me prepare some gifts for them—calligraphy for his mom, and a beautiful red paper cutting for his sister and fiancĂ© (a common decoration for newly married couples). When my students were preparing the gifts, they kept asking me if I was nervous (I should make a note here that Chinese people usually only introduce their boyfriends and girlfriends to their parents when they plan to get married—and it is usually “hello Mom, this is my boyfriend. We are getting married.”), but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. I was a little nervous. It was a nice time spent around Yibin—bamboo sea, a banquet hosted by his waiban, a lunch with his students, a hot pot dinner hosted by Leo, and hanging in and around the town.
Not long after Leo’s family left, his best friend from high school flies over. This time we spent little time in Yibin, though we did manage to go to a nearby hot spring (very nice in the damp, cold winters of Sichuan). The three of us travelled to places around Sichuan. I appreciated that Eric was willing to put up with me when he came to visit his boy Leo.
Naturally, when everyone was done visiting, Leo and I were pretty tired. We spent the week we had between visitors and our Peace Corps training just relaxing. The training finished up our winter vacation. It was a busy (and cold) winter as compared with last year, but meaningful.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Women's Club

Women’s Club
Women’s club (and men’s club) is an important secondary project that Peace Corps volunteers undertake around the world. Women’s issues (I will focus mainly on women’s groups since I have started one myself) are prevalent in all countries throughout the world, including developed nations like our own. The reason we put so much emphasis on these women’s groups in the developing countries where we work is simply because there is a lack of education and voice concerning these issues in these countries. The concept of the free, strong, and independent woman is hard to find. In many parts of the world women are confined to the house. Their duties are limited to housework, raising children, and pleasing their husbands. An understanding of health concerns, like STIs, menstruation, pregnancy, and healthy weight gain and loss, are not discussed openly. Pressures from society, family, and self are ever prevalent in these women’s’ lives without a means of escape. Thus, I have undertaken this secondary project during my service in China.
I have mentioned in a previous blog my reasons for starting the club, as well as topics that my students wish to cover. Since that initial blog and initial meeting, I have had 3 more meetings. The introductory meeting was followed by a meeting focused on the topic of fear. I realized that many of the issues the students mentioned in my initial inquiry came down to the problem of fear. Fear to speak up, lack of confidence, fears about the future, finding a boyfriend, etc. So what better place to start than at the bottom?
I decided to follow another volunteer’s practice and start every meeting with the high points of the week (this volunteer did highs and lows, but I have found that negativity and only looking at the bad plagues my students, so I only want them to focus on the positive in their lives. It may seem unrealistic, but I guarantee the negatives will always be there, so I don’t need to put any more attention to that). I gave each girl a paper and told them to write down their fears (either in Chinese or English. It didn’t matter because no one was going to look at it). When they finished they put it in their pockets.
Then I asked them some questions to make them think, but weren’t intended to be answered (what is fear? What does it mean to be afraid? Why do we have fear? What makes us afraid? How can fear damage our lives?).
Next I read from an article I found online: what is stopping you from getting what you want in life? Your friends? Your family? A sense that failure—or success—might change your life and maybe that will make you feel uncomfortable? A sense that the people around you might disapprove of you aiming for what you want, or succeeding or failing? Whatever the reason it comes down to fear.
We also talked about how to overcome fear. I wrote down 7 suggestions that I mashed together from various websites (1. Identify the fear; 2. Take small steps; 3. Lean on friends; 4. Be positive; 5. See failure or rejection in a new light; 6. Be in the now; 7. Find motivation). Then we looked at some motivational quotes (nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood; many of our fears are paper-tissue thin and a single courageous step would carry us clear through them; to conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom; fear cannot take what we do not give it; the only thing we have to fear is fear itself; fear cuts deeper than swords; you block your dream when you allow your fear to grow bigger than your faith; if we let things terrify us, life will not be worth living; the greatest barrier too success is the fear of failure).
I asked the girls to make a poster to motivate themselves to overcome their fears. They were to write one motivational quote that I taught them, and words (in Chinese or English) that can motivate them to overcome their fears. When they had finished I asked them to follow me to the kitchen, take out the paper that they wrote their fears on and burn it. I explained that the smoke was carrying their fears away, and in the future when they find themselves becoming afraid, they should remember this moment and of their fears going away.
Afterwards we watched a scary movie for fun, and also because it was the week before Halloween.
Meeting 4: The topic of the fourth meeting was dreams. I am one of those persons who think that anyone can achieve their dreams if they work hard at it. Of course I am speaking of realistic dreams. Marrying a rich doctor might not be so realistic, but marrying a person who loves you for who you are is realistic. That being said I asked the girls to write down their dreams for the future. Then we had a discussion about what keeps us from our dreams? How can we achieve our dreams? I realized that the advice I had given them for overcoming our fears can also be applied to achieving our dreams, we just had to change the wording. Then I shared a poem by Langston Hughes with them
Langston Hughes
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
And two quotes. ‘Shoot for the Moon. Even if you miss, you will land amongst the starts.” And one by Walt Disney “All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” To top off the evening I taught them PB&J sandwiches and watched an inspirational movie about realizing your dreams, called Soul Surfer. It recounts the true story of a young surfer, Bethany Hamilton. She had her arm bitten off by a shark, survived, and later courageously overcame her difficulties to achieve her dreams of becoming a professional surfer. Based on their faces and reactions, the girls were definitely inspired. I told them that if she can, they can, too.
Tonight I will have my 5th meeting. The topic is “how to get along with others.” For some this is an issue many Chinese face. In my opinion it is a result of the concept of “face” and being indirect with others. If we are incapable of directly talking to others about the things that annoy us, then we cannot move forward from this. I will begin the night with asking if they sometimes find it difficult to get along with others. When is it difficult to get along? Who is it easy to get along well with? Then I will give them some suggestions. With Mary’s help I came up with a list of suggestions on how to get along with others.
-be considerate
-walk a mile in their shoes
-be friendly (say hello, ask about their day). You don't need to talk long, keep it simple
-don't get angry. express your feelings and work together to find a solution
-respect peoples' difference
-be open minded, share ideas, don't be stubborn, your idea might not be the best idea
-find something you both have in common
-don't judge a book by its cover
-you won't be friends with everyone but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be polite and friendly
-everyone doesn’t have to do everything with you (find someone who wants to do that activity with you and don’t be angry at those that don’t)
-don’t laugh at people
-be open to change
-remember small things about them (name, hometown, etc). things to let them know you care

Some of these may seem obvious, but most of my students will never consider the above as a way of dealing, or managing their relationships with others. I will also have them try to look more closely at themselves and identify three behavior patterns that most impede their ability to get along well with others. What would they wish to do to change that behavior?

Lastly we will go over several different scenarios that deal with other people. I will ask them what they think are some solutions.

Scenarios: (based on Mary and my observations we came up with these scenarios)
• You want to study in your dormitory, but your roommates are playing games. What should you do?
• One of your classmates is very shy and doesn’t talk to the other students much. What should you do?
• You are at a party with your friends and there are some people you don’t know. What should you do?
• You go to eat in the dining room by yourself. You see some other students eating alone. What should you do?
• You are walking to class and you see a student you don’t know drop something. What should you do?
• You meet a student at Mary’s house that you never met before and you get along well. What’s the next step?
• You get good grades on your English writing, but one of your classmates always gets bad grades. What should you do?
• One of your roommates is always very messy but you like a clean room. How should you talk to her?
• You aren’t good friends with one of your roommates. How can you still get along?
• One of your roommates doesn’t have a lot of money. Everyone else wants to go out for a nice meal, but it is too expensive for this girl. What can you do?

To end the night we will watch the movie Stepmom which is a good example of people who overcome their grievances with each other and are able to get along.
If you have done a similar group or some life skills training I would welcome any advice.