Orientation


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December 26th 2016
Published: December 26th 2016
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All of the new WorldTeach volunteers. (Jaime is not here because she's been with WT for 2 years already, so she didn't have to come to orientation.) There are 20 volunteers this year.
I've been in China almost five months now, and I've neglected my blog, but I'm going to try to go back in my mind and compress these past 5 months in a few blog posts. This blog is going to be about WorldTeach's Orientation!

When Dee and I finally arrived in China after nearly 48 hours of traveling, we were exhausted. We met several of the WorldTeach volunteers on the plane from Beijing to Changsha, and then we met a few others after we arrived at the Changsha airport, along with our Field Director, and the lovely WorldTeach Assistant, Papaya!!! (Note: Papaya is a Changsha native who has been working with WT for a few years. Papaya is her English name!) Once all of the WT volunteers were rounded up, we all boarded a charter bus and headed off to the Jinjiang Hotel. The first few days were jam packed, and we started actual orientation right away!

During orientation we discussed different teaching methods, learned what a 5-step lesson plan actually was, created lesson plans, talked about culture shock, and covered so many other topics that I honestly cannot remember! We also dined for lunch everyday at Pa Nai

On my first day of Practicum.
Nai's house, and it was (and I still rank it pretty high) the best Chinese food I'd ever tasted in my life! (Nai Nai means grandmother, so I'm assuming that Pa is her surname and we just called her grandma Pa everyday because she was an elderly lady.) Typically, WorldTeachers get two weeks of orientation and training and then they have one week of practicum... However, this year the Hunan DOE (Department of Education) changed the school dates, so we only had time for one week of orientation/training before we were thrown into a classroom for the first time...

Practicum:

All WorldTeach volunteers must undergo one week of real teaching. With only one week of orientation and never having stepped foot in the front of a classroom, I was terrified! I've always had stage fright... In fact, I have fond memories of twirling off the stage and into the curtains during a dance recital many, many years ago. I hate giving presentations, and I usually hate voicing my opinion in groups larger than three. How was I going to be able to get up in front of a group of 60-80 students on a daily basis and TEACH with only one week of orientation?? Well, the answer is this: I just did it.

During practicum, WorldTeach put 4 volunteer teachers together to teach one class of 50-60 students for four days straight, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. On Saturday the practicum groups would have to teach two lessons, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. (Saturday, you ask? Yes, Saturday. Chinese students go to school every day of the week, and yes, that includes the weekend.) That means each volunteer would need to create five (5-Step) lesson plans for the week. Wow. Sounds like a lot, right? At least it did to me, and then we finally received our groups... And my practicum group only had 3 people in it: Jody Spence, Anahita Kumar, and Griffin Caruso. What? Only 3 people? Yes. Only 3 people. We must have gotten a break though, right? Nope. Because my group only had three members, that means that each of us had to make up the lessons for our missing group member...Thus, each of us had to create 7 lesson plans each... In one week... With very little knowledge on how to actually do so. The stress just kept

This is the student that wrote the touching story about me being kindhearted. :)
adding up.

Here's the model of the 5 Step Lesson Plan for anyone who is curious:

5 Step Lesson Plan:

1.Opening (2-3 mins explaining the topic of the lesson, maybe with review from last class as well)

2.Introduction to New Material (10 mins of introducing new vocabulary and sentence structures)

3.Guided Practice (the teacher guides the students to put new material to use)

4.Independent Practice (the teacher designs a 10-15 minute activity for the students to do on their own, for ex. A skit)

5.Closing (2-3 mins reviewing content of the lesson, explain the importance of the lesson topic and close)

That's when the real storm hit. The day after I got settled into my hotel room, which I was lucky enough to share with Dee, I realized that I had left my laptop charger at home... In Georgia... So while everyone else was making these nice PPTs (Note: In China they say PPT not PowerPoint, so now I’m used to saying PPT), I was stuck with pen and paper... My lessons weren't going to be good. The kids were going to be bored. Hell, I was
I see only darkness ahead of me...I see only darkness ahead of me...I see only darkness ahead of me...

I found this written on one of the desks during practicum...
going to be bored. BUT THEN, my lovely friend Dee told me that I could just use her laptop when she was done. Great! I'd just write up my ideas and then put them together in a PPT when she was done with hers!

However, as the week went on, and because I had more lessons to plan for, things got harder and harder. Dee wanted to work longer and harder on her lessons, the same as I did, but I had extra lessons to create, and no time at all... So Friday came, and I had been up until 6 AM working on two lessons for that day, and then I'd had to be up by 8 to shower and make it to the classroom by 9, and then I got hit with another kicker:

Our Field Director (FD) had told us that he might take away our technology for one class period, because it's China and sometimes you might not have power, so you should be ready to teach without it. However, I'd been up all night, and our group already had the short end of the stick, so when he told me that I wasn't allowed to use the PPT that I'd been up making all night, I kind of lost it. I started crying on the spot. Not wailing and getting snot everywhere, but just letting silent tears roll down my face. I felt defeated. I could have gone to sleep much earlier the night before! But class was about to begin, and I couldn't show any weakness to the kids, or they'd tear me apart like vicious animals. So, I sucked it up. Right then and there. I leaned over the balcony, took a deep breath, wiped away the little salty betrayers that were trying to escape my stress filled body, and I marched into the room. I told the kids something was wrong with our computer, to which they all wanted to try to help me fix it, but I had to tell them no, and I went on with my lesson. The lesson was about Being Healthy, and some of the vocabulary that we were learning were things that I could act so, and so that's what I did. I became a Grade A performer for those kids. Coughing, hacking, wheezing, YOU NAME IT! I did it! The lesson actually turned out pretty well, and the 45 minutes flew by! However, anytime I saw my FD after that incident, I gave him the evil eye.

Practicum ended up flying by, and my FD was right. Sure, my group got the short end of the stick, but we also go to practice teaching more than the other volunteers, which did actually help.

During Practicum I taught on: Giving Introductions, Rural versus Urban, Health and Well being, Video games, Comics, Magical Creatures, and Storytelling. What a mixture, right? (I’ve included a few photos that my friends snapped during practicum!)

An example comic that one of my practicum students wrote about a Boy and a Girl:

Boy: "I love you, could you be my girlfriend?"

Girl: "You should show me how much you love me."

Boy: "I can do anything for you!"

Girl: "Really? Jump out that window."

Boy: "Oh that is crazy! I can't do that!"

Girl: "You don't love me as much as my last boyfriend..."

Boy: "If he loved you so much then why did you give him up?"

(The last comic panel depicted a window with a swirly line

An obligatory pose at Kaifu Temple.
falling out of it with the caption "Her last boyfriend".

I DIED LAUGHING WITH THEM! This was so funny!!!



Back to Practicum:

While the practicum experience was emotionally and mentally jarring, I’m so glad that I got to experience it! I have so many takeaways, like learning how to shell out 7 lesson plans in 4 days, but my biggest takeaway is the actually teaching experience. During the lesson on Storytelling, my students were asked to write a story of their own. I videotaped them all, and I’m so glad that I did, because one of my students wrote her story about me. During her presentation of the story I was awestruck. Had I really made an impression on this girl in 4 days? Well, I guess I did, because this is her story:

“One day, teacher Jody, Anahita and Griffin came to No. 1 Middle School in Changsha to teach us English. They don’t know Chinese and I know a little English. At first, I was very scared to communicate with them.

On a sunny morning, I saw teacher Jody and a person I don’t know talking with each other. I had

I really liked this little guy.
a question and I wanted to ask teacher Jody. But because of my poor spoken English, I was very nervous. When I finally talked to teach Jody, my fear went away. Because teacher Jody is very kind and warm-hearted. She answered my question and chatter with me. I felt very happy.”

I know some might think it’s a bit cheesy, but I couldn’t have been happier. You see, because the class sizes are so large here in China, it is very rare for a student to have any sort of friendly relationship with their teachers, so when I chatted with her that day, it really did have an impact. Typically, Chinese teachers will not do that with their students, not because they don’t care, but it just isn’t part of the culture here. So when I gave her my time and chatted with her, it really meant something, and I took that away from practicum as well. I try to treat my students like human beings and not just numbers. (Fact: Most Chinese students are given student numbers and they are called on by their numbers, not their names in class. For example, Teacher: “Number 17, can you answer this question?”)

I also let my students pick English names, and while there’s no way that I can remember 800 student names, I wrote up tiny slips of paper with my student’s English names and their student numbers, so I’m able to call on my students by name and not by number, but if they forget their English name, then I can also call on them by their number. Why don’t I use their real names? Well, because I don’t want to butcher their names and have the class laughing hysterically at me and the student for five minutes.



Just a little bit more on the Chinese education system:

The Chinese education system is generally set up to focus on test taking. There are two major tests that every Chinese student must take. The Zhongkao (the high school entrance exam), and the Gaokao (the college entrance exam). These tests are the most important things in a Chinese student’s life. More important than the new GTA, Fallout, or World of Warcraft games. Even more important than having a boyfriend or girlfriend. In fact, in most high schools, dating is forbidden. At the school that I teach
Little CricketLittle CricketLittle Cricket

My friend found this cricket seller on the sidewalk, and she ended up buying this little guy. (He died like 3 days later...)
at, if two students are found to be dating, then they will be kicked out of school for at least one year. (Do they still date? Yes, but it’s way less obvious than in the U.S.) Also, unlike in the U.S., where if you mess up on your SAT or ACT and you can take it again in a few months, if you mess up on either the Zhongkao or the Gaokao, you’re screwed. You can only take it once a year. So, if you do badly, you have to study for another entire year before you can take it again. The Gaokao also decides which colleges you can go to, as most Chinese schools do not care about the Arts or extracurricular activities.

The Gaokao is so important that typically Oral English teachers (which is what I am) are not allowed to teach Senior 3 (the equivalent of 12th Graders in the U.S.), because they are studying and reviewing everything that they have learned for the past 3 years. It’s also memorization and regurgitation, and it’s really no way to actually learn, but recently some schools have been putting some focus on sports and school clubs, so there may be a huge change in the future, but that is still at least a few years off. Until then, Chinese high school students will be plagued by nightmares of failing the Gaokao.



Back to Orientation:

After dealing with the headache (and heartache of having to leave those students that we all bonded with for 4 days during practicum), I was ready for it to be over with. (Let me also say that our practicum students were with us from 9 AM until 12 PM on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, and then from 9 AM to 12 PM and 2 PM to 5 PM on Saturday.) When practicum was over, however, I was so thankful. I would finally be able to get a full night’s rest!!

As I stated earlier, typically WorldTeach gives its volunteers two weeks of training followed by one week of practicum, but our group was different. So, after only one week of training and one week of practicum we finally made it to the last week of training, but what could we possibly learn that we hadn’t learned in an actual classroom? The answer: A lot.

We went over classroom
Anahita and IAnahita and IAnahita and I

We were at the last orientation dinner!
management and behavior (tracking systems), how to assess students, how to travel (and where to go) around China, curriculum planning, and so much more. We also gave a presentation on something that we love, which was supposed to help with public speaking, and I’m sure it did, but at the time I was still getting to know these people and I really didn’t know what to present on… So, what did I present on? My photography portfolio from my last semester in college: Body Positivity. I’m so glad that most of my fellow WT members are so open-minded, because I was really nervous that I was going to seem strange for giving a presentation on such a topic, especially in a country where anyone over the size 10 is considered a lesser being. (More on being plus size in China to come). However, they all commented on how artful my photos were and I felt a lot better after my presentation. They knew more about me and my passion, and was also able to figure out whose personalities would mesh well with my own, because I knew that I was going to need a strong support system here!

And sure, we all felt much better about having practicum and the presentations behind us, but we all knew that we were just a week away from beginning a year of teaching… In China… So while we were all more relaxed, we were still on edge. However, to combat this a lot of us decided to spend our free time that week getting to know the city that ten of us would be calling home for the next year. (If I haven’t mentioned it before, all of the WorldTeach volunteers are spread out in the Hunan Province of China, so not all of us are stationed in the big city of Changsha.) Some of us went hiking, clubbing, sight-seeing, getting massages, food tasting (Stinky tofu), to see the firework shows (there are firework shows every Saturday night in Changsha), venturing into the parks, and also to KTV. KTV is “karaoke-ing”, and it’s so much fun! People in East Asia looooove KTV. In fact, I’d say that KTV almost takes the place of going to the movies here. No one really goes to the cinema, but you could go to KTV every weekend and you’d find someone to go with you. We also went on this really cool outing to Kaifu Temple. (I'll include some pictures).

On the last day of orientation, we were all taken to an auditorium on the school campus where our training and practicum had taken place and the head of the DOE came to speak to us… (The night before we were taken to our last orientation dinner, and I've included a photo of Anahita and I!) And then, one by one we were introduced to our liaisons. These would be the people that we would go to from now on with any problems that we faced at our new schools. They also worked at the school that we were placed at. My liaison’s English name is Mandy, and she speaks decent English. She is an English teacher for Senior 2’s. I would be the Oral English teacher for Senior 1’s. I was also lucky enough to have a site mate. His name is Ray Zhao, and he’s from Philly. He’s also Chinese-American and speaks decent Chinese. Score, right? Our school’s name is ZhouNan (That’s roughly pronounced like “Jo-non,” but there are different tones…). My school is located in the northern suburbs of Changsha, which is about forty minutes away from Dee’s school in the heart of Changsha.



End:

I feel like I’ve ranted enough, and I want to make a whole post on moving in and my first impressions of ZhouNan, so that will be coming soon!

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