Mid-Autumn Festival, Days with the Juniors, Ali's Training School


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Asia » China » Hunan » ChangSha
September 27th 2016
Published: September 27th 2016
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Huangxing Square (Downtown, shopping area)Huangxing Square (Downtown, shopping area)Huangxing Square (Downtown, shopping area)

This is Huangxing Square which is located in the city center. Its a shopping area connected to Walking Street and about a 5 minute walk from Wuyi Square.
Mid-Autumn Festival:

Mid Autumn Festival or Harvest Moon Festival is a major Chinese holiday that occurs on the 15th day of the the 8th moon on the Lunar calendar. (China along with many other countries such as South Korea, Japan, and Vietnam also celebrate this holiday). America uses the Gregorian calendar but in China I’m operating on Lunar time. If you’d like to know more about this festive holiday here’s a link to Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mid-Autumn_Festival

During this holiday people get together with family and friends. Sort of similar to Thanksgiving. A lot of people travel to see their family members and for anyone who knows how crowded China is, you do not want to be caught up in that traffic. I had three days off for the holiday but decided not to travel to avoid the huge crowds. Luckily I live in the city center so there was plenty of stuff around to do. About 12 of us volunteers, including some who traveled in from other cities got together in downtown Changsha and hung out. We had a nice dinner at a famous dumpling spot in the middle of Huangxing Square (a huge shopping district in the middle
Mid-Autumn Festival DinnerMid-Autumn Festival DinnerMid-Autumn Festival Dinner

Eating dumplings at a restaurant at Hunagxing Square with fellow World Teach volunteers.
of downtown. About a 5 min walk from Wuyi Square which is the city square). We later took a long walk across the bridge that goes across one of the main rivers in Changsha and walked to Orange Island. Orange Island is a big Island in the middle of the city with beautiful scenery, restaurants, parks, and fun things to do. Of course because of the holiday, everyone and their grandma was there. I have never been in such a crowded space in my life. It was so crowded, I had to hop a fence at one point just to keep up with my group. We constantly kept losing people.

Jody’s Birthday:

One of my best friends, Jody recently had a birthday. HAPPY BIRTHDAY JODY! Although it was still a weekday when it was her birthday, we still went out. We went to ID city mall. A humongous mall that’s located right next to Huangxing Square (city center shopping area). It was Jody’s birthday so of course we splurged and got expensive food at a nice Western restaurant. It was perfect. The food tasted just like something I could get back in the States. It was a themed
Walking the Bridge to Orange IslandWalking the Bridge to Orange IslandWalking the Bridge to Orange Island

This is the long bridge we walked across to get to Orange Island. The bridge goes along the main river in Changsha.
restaurant that was supposed to showcase America. It was nice to have a little taste of something familiar but it also made me a little sad. The food was excellent, and we even had some amazing live music on the harmonica. The next day we happened to meet again, this time at Wuyi Sqaure and got more Western food splurging on KFC and Starbucks (expensive in China). We also happened to get Subway with another friend the very next day. We had a ball eating Western food three days straight. And for those who don’t know, Western chain restaurants, even fast food are always extremely nice. And for whatever reason, KFC is more popular than McDonalds. I don’t even go to KFC in the States, but I certainly will in China. After departing with our friend Alyse, Jody and I stayed out a little longer and walked around for a bit. We found this cute mini food court with street food stalls, desserts, and restaurants. We will definitely be stopping by here again. On Saturday, our field director treated anyone who wanted to come to a joint dinner for all the September birthdays. We had fun eating together and later in the night went out to a foreign owned restaurant/ bar and had some drinks, played games, and met more foreigners.

Sunday:

As mentioned in a previous post, I made some new friends at English corner (a space where Chinese people go to meet foreigners and practice their English). One of my new friends, Ali, invited me to hang out on Sunday. Although I love my World Teach family, it was nice to get out and meet other foreigners. He lives in the suburbs of West Changsha on the campus of a medical university. He’s in a 6 year program. Ouch! Ali’s been in China for a little over two years and knows some of the ropes of the city. I got to travel to a whole new part of Changsha. It was really pretty with a lot of green spaces. It was so refreshing to go into the international students’ dorm and see foreigners from all over the world. (I got to see so many black people. Woo!) Ali and all of his roommates are from Pakistan. My American privilege came out when I realized that I probably should have asked Ali about religious and cultural
Changsha at  NIght on Mid-Autumn FestivalChangsha at  NIght on Mid-Autumn FestivalChangsha at NIght on Mid-Autumn Festival

This is a gorgeous view of downtown Changsha from Orange Island.
customs of his friends. Ali is Muslim but he is not as traditional as his roommates. I assumed his friends were the same. I walked into a dorm room full of men dressed in religious garbs with the rugs that are used to pray to Allah on the floor (some of which I accidentally stepped on). I was so thrown off and didn’t know what to do. I then realized that I remembered seeing some Muslim women dressed from head to toe as we were walking up the stairwells. I looked down at my clothes and felt embarrassed that I was wearing very short shorts. (While I don’t have to politically agree with the role of women in Pakistan, I still want to respect another culture when I am walking into their space).

It was awkward at first but everything went smoothly. His roommates were so nice. They gave me some Pakistani snacks and made me some black tea (which they told me is really famous in Pakistan). The teas was amazing! (its tea but looks and taste like coffee). They asked me a lot of questions about America and told me they grew up watching American T.V. I
Crowds! Leaving Orange IslandCrowds! Leaving Orange IslandCrowds! Leaving Orange Island

I walked up that stair case with tons of people to get back up to the bridge.
felt so ignorant as they knew so much about me but I only knew the bare minimum about Pakistan (I didn’t want to come off as an ignorant American. I don’t know how that went). I later asked Ali if everything was okay. He said, “Yeah. They really enjoyed you, but they did comment on your clothes when they were speaking amongst themselves in our native tongue.” When I asked if I offended anyone he said, “No. It’s fine. You’re an American woman so it’s fine.” After sitting with his roommates for a little while, Ali I said goodbye, rented an e-bike (electric scooters that are really popular here) and went on a nice ride though the suburbs of West Changsha. E-bikes are so much fun! Ali even taught me how to ride it once we were able to stop somewhere. We ended up stopping at a Buddhist temple he wanted to show me. It was really quiet and almost empty. It was so beautiful and peaceful. I would love to go back there to just sit and meditate when I’m stressed. After we left the temple, we went back to campus, ate lunch, and went to the training school where he teaches English part-time. I had a pretty bad experience there, worse than the average everyday microagression. I’ll explain in detail later in the post what happened. After leaving his training school, we went back into the downtown area near my school and had dinner. We were out all day so we were exhausted, but I had a lot of fun. I need a change of both pace and scenery.

Being a Foreigner:

I always want to start this sort of conversation by first claiming that I am a black woman in China and my experience is not THE experience. It is completely different from other peoples’ experience, including the good the bad, and the ugly. With that being said, I am also American which affords me many privileges here in China. One of the most common questions I get when someone meets me is, “Where are you from?” When I say, “American,” half the time I literally see someone’s complete demeanor change. People don’t even realize unconsciously that they have decided to treat me differently, in most cases probably better. A black person from America is not going to be viewed the same as a
Jody's Birthday DinnerJody's Birthday DinnerJody's Birthday Dinner

Me, Jody, and Alyse eating out.
black person from Nigeria. Unlike in the States, my Americaness often out trumps my blackness. When I am assumed to be African (and yes people in China also say African as if Africa is a country, just like many Americans do). If you do happen to be from an African country, it may be assumed that you are poor. If you are American, it is often assumed that you are a well-educated well off person. I have literally heard people say, “What country are you from. Africa?” I usually say “No” to save time but sometimes I like to push people and respond by saying, “Africa has over 50 countries.”

While it is often tiring constantly answering the same 5 questions every time you meet new people (Where are you from? How long have you been in China? Why did you choose to come here? Is your hair real? How do you speak Chinese so well?) it is also fun to meet new people. People are constantly coming up to me wanting to start a conversation. People are literally excited at my existence. Many people, even in a big city like Changsha have never seen a foreigner before. You’re
Jody's Birthday DinnerJody's Birthday DinnerJody's Birthday Dinner

Here's a little of the decor of the restaurant.
basically a celebrity and diplomat all at once. Because of this I often get free stuff and amazing service. I recently went to a Korean restaurant by myself (yeah for eating alone in public) and the staff acted like the queen of England walked in. I’m nobody special but people often treat me as if I am. They literally had five waiters serving my table. This does not happen all the time, especially at spots where foreigners are not hard to come by but I have been out both alone and with other foreigners where we get over the top service. While the constant staring, picture taking, and yes sometimes touching is irritating at times, my general experience has been very positive. Your average person in China is very friendly and hospitable.

Being a Foreigner, Ali’s Training School:

As mentioned earlier I had an experience this week that was not the regular microagression I experience being a black woman in China. On Sunday, when I spent the day with my new friend Ali, we stopped by this training school where he works part-time teaching toddlers English. He had to teach a one hour class. I thought it
Sunday: Riding Through the SuburbsSunday: Riding Through the SuburbsSunday: Riding Through the Suburbs

Here's the day I spent with Ali. On our way to the temple.
would be fun to watch. I teach kids much older so I thought this would be both fun and educational for me to watch. China is generally chillax concerning English teachers. I have visited other foreign teachers at their jobs and have watched them teach. It’s no big deal. Students like meeting new foreigners, and the school generally doesn’t care, especially because the more foreign teachers the parents see around, the more credible the school seems. I wanted to make sure it would be okay for to come and watch Ali teach. He said it would be fun and that I could even participate and help with the lesson. He even told me he’s had other foreign friends sit in on his classes so everything would be fine.

When we got to the training school Ali and I went to the teacher’s office where I met some of the Chinese English teachers. Most of them were nice enough and smiled and said hello but they were also very busy so I tried to stay out of the way. When I asked Ali again if it would really be okay for to sit in on his class, his TA interrupted me and said, “Um Dee. Maybe you should stay here.” When I asked why, her response was, “Um. A lot of the children haven’t seen many foreigners before. So maybe you should stay here. You might scare them.” I was a guest in this place, and this was my friend’s job. In most cases I would’ve respected their wishes and would have simply said okay, but the tone of the conversation was not what I was expecting and I felt it was an appropriate time to push what felt like a prejudiced answer. I responded with, “Why would they be scared? Ali is also a foreigner. I don’t understand.” She answered nervously, “Yes. But they haven’t seen many people like YOU. I think if you go in there, you might make them cry.” Both Ali and I were shocked.

I understand that young children need time to adjust to new faces. Especially, two and three year olds. However, I live downtown in a big city therefore I walk everywhere. I see toddlers waking with their parents all the time and somehow (I know its magic), I have yet to make any of them cry. If anything they are excited and approach me themselves, stare at me for long periods of time in curiosity, or have their parents push them towards me to practice speaking English. This could have been a great opportunity for the training school to promote themselves as an inclusive, diverse program. The students could have been exposed to a person much different than themselves at such a young age. I was not necessarily upset at the ignorance of this one girl but I was upset at the passive systematic racism that was taking place. We were in the teacher’s office. All of the teachers were sitting doing work, the head of the program also happened to be in the room and not she nor anyone else said anything. No one disagreed or spoke up on my behalf. (Well of course my friend Ali did but I expected that. If at least one of the Chinese teachers said something, I would have felt better) I was upset because not only was the whole staff by being silent, being compliant with allowing this to happen, but they were also fostering the prejudice these young kids will inevitably end up having if they are told they should not interact with certain people. This is how racism begins; when adults tell young children whether directly or indirectly that they shouldn’t interact or can’t quite yet handle interacting with certain groups of people. From the get go, whether intentionally or not, they are promoting the idea that black people are a bit too exotic, too foreign, too monstrous to have just a simple conversation with. If Ali has had other foreign friends come and interact with his students, what is so different about me?

My friend Ali was so embarrassed and tried to continuously convince them that everything would be fine. He kept ignoring his TA saying, “You should come in. The students will love you.” I told him I did not want him to lose his job over me. He responded saying, “This is just part time. I can teach anywhere else.” I told him I could just wait for him. After going back and forth he finally gave up because I would not budge. Although I tried to push the envelope and ask questions that might make the TA evaluate what she was actually saying, for the sake of Ali’s financial wellbeing I told him I understood and
Teaching the SeniorsTeaching the SeniorsTeaching the Seniors

This is a picture I took of Lesson 3. Teaching Seniors how to give directions.
left. Ali and I still hung out after he finished teaching for one hour but I was not going to sit in that place and wait. I decided to go and sit in a nearby KFC and eat some not so healthy food to clear my mind while I waited. (sometimes you have to splurge when you’re upset) For anyone who is black, or a person of color, especially if you have dark skin this sort of story is not uncommon. Many foreigners would rather go through a program to teach English because it will be pretty much guaranteed that they will be hired. English teaching companies can simply place you at a school and provide you with an apartment and stipend. There are tons of programs like this nowadays. But if you apply to schools directly on your own, the further away you are from white and American, the harder it will be for you to get a job. I knew this before I came here. I watched the YouTube channels of many foreigners living abroad and almost all of them mention the reality of racism in China’s job market. Of course I knew that this is the reality,
Goody Bag: What's Inside?Goody Bag: What's Inside?Goody Bag: What's Inside?

Here's the goody bag full of Chinese snacks that I made for my winning senior classes. They loved it! The store owners of the snack shop even helped me pick out the most popular snacks eaten by students.
but the shock of the situation still hit me nonetheless. I am not sharing this story to scare or discourage anyone from teaching or working in China, but it is also important to be aware of what is real. Always be open and expect the best, but be aware and prepared for the worst.

Teaching Juniors this Past Week:

The juniors seriously make me evaluate myself as a person. I constantly ask myself these questions: Am I a bad teacher? Why can I reach the seniors but not the juniors? Am I not meant to teach younger children? Is it going to be like this all year? Am I going to grow to hate my job because of the juniors? Am I expecting too much out of 12 year olds? Am I the boring teacher? Are we not having fun? Is my class uninteresting? How can I more engage the junior students? How can I better enforce discipline consistently? How can I better reward and discipline simultaneously? Will I make a breakthrough soon? Will my junior classes get better with time? Is it only like this because it’s the beginning? If things keep going the way they are will my juniors grow to hate my class?

I constantly come home feeling quite sad and unsatisfied. I may have had some good classes and some bad classes, but I end up focusing on the bad classes. For example, I have five classes on Monday. It’s my heaviest load of the week. I teach three senior classes and two junior classes on Monday. If I teach three good senior classes and my two junior classes are just okay, or even worse, bad, does it matter? I know everyone reading this will say, “Yes. Of course it matters. You taught three good classes. Focus on the good.” I know many people will probably say something like this in order to make me feel better but I just can’t agree. I want to do everything well or else I’m not satisfied. Maybe this is a bad habit that I need to get rid of but I also feel that anyone who cares about their job would not be happy with doing well 50%!o(MISSING)f the time. I know I am often too tough on myself but I don’t think this is one of those times. If my junior classes consistently don’t go well it is not because of my students. I am trying everything I can to change. I feel like I am trying everything. Maybe I am trying too much to the point that I could be starting to confuse my students. I have consulted my parents, other veteran English teachers in China, other world teach volunteer junior teachers, and my field director. I am reading books on how to better do classroom management. I have looked on YouTube and multiple websites and have tried to implement different learning styles and activities in order to make the class more interesting.

This is my first time teaching so it’s impossible for me to know. Maybe everything is the way it is now because I’m still new, it’s only the first month, and my students are still getting used to me and how our class will run. Maybe two months from now I will be laughing about how worried I was. Man that would be great. I can see myself reading this now and cracking up. I seriously hope that prediction comes true. I have so much to learn and I am trying my best to adjust to this age group. They are extremely energetic and have to be told everything multiple times. I have to be more patient, make my class more fun, and occupy my students with more speaking time. If you give them one second of extra time you will lose them. Children are children. I am trying to learn to let them be just that. This does not mean that I allow them to act crazy but the classroom does not have to be dead silence in order for me to teach. I just need a low controlled noise level. I am learning what to and what not to address. Things are constantly suddenly happening such as two boys suddenly start fighting and hitting each other. I am always thinking on my feet with the juniors. To be honest, I often have no idea what I am doing but I guess that’s just a part of the job.

Hope with the juniors:

This week a representative of one of my poorly behaved junior classes came and found me and handed me a letter. I’m surprised to find out that she is the class representative (every classroom in China has a banzhang or head student). She is insanely pretty, one of the popular girls, and boy does she act like it. Most of the head students in both my senior and junior classes are very charismatic. They have good grades and they’re a people person. Most of the students look up to them and respect them. However, some of my head students were chosen by their peers simply because they are cool and popular. As long as they can help run the class smoothly, I don’t really care the reason. This particular girl who I didn’t even know was the banzhang because she usually acts like she’s too cool for school gave me the letter. She was a completely different person; maybe it’s because she was away from her friends. The letter was an apology for the behavior that took place last class. It was so cute and heartwarming I almost cried. I will post a picture in this blog post of the letter.

I was dreading teaching on Tuesday since I knew I had that one poorly behaved class. It was clear to me that their head teacher gave them a good talking to as I left a few notes about their performance last class on her desk. They were so much better behaved this time around. Of course the class was still a little rowdy but I enforced the rules more, gave out more rewards (which really works well) and tried my hardest to make it more fun and engaging. They were a much tougher crowd than my other junior classes, but I will call it a success. I even had a group of girls (the most popular girls too) from that class come up to me after class. They asked me, “Teacher Dee, are you going to stay here?” I laughed confused by the question. I think they thought they scared me so much that I wouldn’t want to teach them anymore. “How long?” they prodded.” “One year.” “YES!” they yelled in unison. I couldn’t believe it. The cool girls. The girls who often look bored in my class were excited that I’m here to stay. I don’t understand children. Sometimes it seems like they hate you and then the next moment they’re all buddy buddy. It’s kind of funny. It’s as if my school decided to put all the cool kids in one class. In some junior classes I have to get my juniors to chill out enough that they don’t fall over. In other classes I don’t get volunteers and the energy level is low. I need to continue to figure out what works for each class.

Teaching the Seniors:

While I don't have any huge disciplinary problems with the seniors I worry that some of the students are beginning not to take my class seriously. I think my class is still too easy. One of my greatest difficulties is scaling. Meaning, making the my lesson plans scale from easy in the beginning to hard or challenging towards the end of the lesson. Students still have fun in my class but I see that I am beginning to lose the interest of some students. I just finished teaching Unit 1 for the senior 1 students. I evaluated them by doing a day full of review games related to all the lessons. Lesson 1 was on Introductions, Lesson 2 was on school life and recognizing places on campus, and Lesson 3 was on giving Directions. Lesson 4 was review day. They really enjoyed the games. Students who are normally quiet were so eager to participate. I have about 60-70 students in each senior class so it is normally impossible for me to get everyone to speak, but since I was evaluating I found a way to get almost all of the students to speak during the review class. I need to figure out more ways to do this more consistently. The most popular game was the tongue twister. Students had to say tongue twisters using the direction words we learned. Each class was split into four teams. I prepared about 6 sentences and the sentences got harder to say as we went along. I had two students per team say one sentence. I would time them to see who could say the tongue twister the fastest and add up their times. The team to say the tongue twister the fastest with the combined time of two students got a point. The students had a lot of fun. As a part of my tracking system for discipline I have each class (10 senior classes) compete against each other. The best 3 classes could get a prie. They have 10 rules to follow each class so 10/10 = A. If they are really good they can get extra points. The highest score you can get is 12 points. Since we had three class before the review day, the total score was out of 30. My top three classes had these scores. 31/30, 30.5/30, 30/30. The lowest class had 25/30. I gave the winning classes three choices for the win. Choice #1: End class for Lessons in Unit 2 a few minutes early. Choice # 2: Start class for Lessons in Unit 2 with a music video Choice #3: Have snacks next class. Two classes chose snacks. And one class chose the music video. I had to make goody bags for about 120 students. Yes two classes makes over 100 students. (Don't worry. The cost of the snacks were cheap).Overall I really enjoy the seniors. Although they are easy to discipline, their English is so good sometimes it is hard to lesson plan for them. It is quite easy to interest the intellectual mind of juniors who are 12 yrs old because everything is new and exciting to them. The activities and games are also easy to prepare because they only have to be but so hard for younger students. It is much harder to keep the intellectual interest of the seniors who are 15 yrs old. They already know so much. Games for the juniors. Skits, dialogues, projects, and advanced games for the seniors.

Well that's it for now. So much happened in the past week and a half. If you have any comments or questions please feel free to let me know. Peace out for now.

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