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Teaching the world in Lishui, China

'My favourite country is Africa. I love New York.'

sunny 21 °C


The assignment, on the face of it, should have been simple. Choose your favourite foreign country, write seven sentences about it and then read your work out to the class the following week.

I had given all the Senior One students a 45-minute lesson on Major Countries of the World (a bit of a misnomer, I know) which included six or seven examples of countries they could talk about. They also got ten or 11 suggested categories such as population, location, language, leaders etc. All they had to do was copy one of my descriptions or write one of their own in the suggested simple style.

The results were, well, pretty bad. Many of them obviously hadn't bothered to do the homework at all, and were just bluffing their way through about 2.5 sentences in the hope they would get away with it. And many couldn't even do that much - at least one stood up and said: 'USA. I like NBA. Thank you'. And promptly sat down. X is for fail, mister!

The most popular country was Canada, but only because loads of students had found a stodgy piece about it in their English textbook. The result of this was that I must have heard the same spiel - 'My favourite country is Canada. It is north of the United States. It is the second largest country in the world. It has a population of only slightly over 30 million people' - about 40 or 50 times over the course of the week.

Out of the some 350-odd students a few, to be fair, were quite good. One girl gave a presentation on Switzerland that could have doubled as a Wikipedia entry. One boy said his favourite country was South Africa because it had lots of gold, and that when he found it he would be very rich. A few chose Ireland but seemed not to know what to say about it except to ply me with compliments. They all passed!

Many more in the middle ground had perfectly acceptable mini-speeches primarily about the US, Canada (genuine ones this time), France and Japan. Even where they just regurgitated what I had said in my introduction, I felt that they had done their job for what was an Oral English assignment.

Culturally, the exercise was instructive despite the flawed results. Boys liking basketball while girls like romance (or clothes!) seems to be the benchmark of Chinese teenagerdom. Some of the wider-eyed ones like neighbouring Japan while the boorish boys at the back hoot in derision, though I'm sure they know little about contemporary geopolitical relations or their roots. And nobody seems to be able to pronounce 'cheese'.

In the end then, my first foray into assigning homework was a bit of a mixed bag. But addling, lazy assholes aside, it's mostly a pleasant job being a foreign teacher in China I reckon. You draw up a simple lesson on PowerPoint and just run with it for a week, improvising and fine-tuning as you go along. And once you're plugged in to it, the work goes by really quickly, leaving plenty of time for fun.

So until next time, dear readers, check out the new photos of myself and Megan's trip to Xiandu Scenic Area and assorted other ones, and remember - French is not a country and neither is Paris!

Posted by BillLehane 23:16 Archived in China Tagged educational Comments (0)

A school day in Lishui, China

A long, long day for the Chinese teenagers

semi-overcast 13 °C

To be a student at a boarding school in China is, it seems, not an easy task. Going by Western standards, in fact, their daily schedule is little short of eye watering.

They rise at around 6am, and breakfast is served at 7.10am. First class starts before eight, and the morning lessons are only punctured by little five-minute breaks in between and the collective morning exercises performed en masse in the school yard at 9.40am.

Lunch is served super-early at 11.35am - I imagine it's sorely needed though after all that. They do get two hours off for lunch, but it seems a lot of people take the opportunity to snooze. Then before they know it, they're back on again at 1.30pm, with only their compulsory eye exercises at 3.15pm to look forward to before classes finish at 4.10pm.

Their what? I know - at first glance, it's very weird to see them all rub their eyes in rhythmic unison, but soon enough you realise they'd probably be half blind without doing them given their workload.


Dinner is served right after the end of lessons, and then the students have about two hours to run around - this mostly consisting of basketball, the sport of choice around here - before they're whistled back into class at 6pm for three hours of 'self-study', which is actually supervised study in the classroom.

After that, if they have any energy left, they get to go mad for 25 minutes before they have to get into their rooms, and then it's ten minutes before lights out at 9.40pm. Then Exeunt, with no exceptions. From myself and Megan's perch on the hill, we can hear the teenage madness for a short time every evening, then like clockwork all is dark and perfectly quiet until the next day. It's like how I picture military school.

For us though, living on campus is an advantage in this place I think because you get a proper sense of the students' daily grind and you can aim for a realistic mid-tempo in the lessons. Unfortunately, it also means we're within earshot of the bells, which ring around campus 26 times a day by the schedule, if not more. There is a two-minute warning bell as well as a start- and end-bell for every lesson - there's even a bell marking half-way through lunch! Granted we don't hear them all, but the pa-rum-pum-pum marching music for the morning exercises in particular is hard to miss.

As for the weekends, well they're a bit of a wash for the students. Some or all of them appear to have classes on a Saturday, and self-study is back on from 6-9pm on Sunday. This coming weekend is a holiday weekend for Qing Ming Festival (comparable to All Souls Day) - one of the Chinese teachers told me she had no confirmation of the Monday off but was looking forward to her 'two holiday days', otherwise known as Saturday and Sunday.

For us, meanwhile, it's a bit of a life of privilege as a foreign experts. We're contracted to do 18 teaching hours a week plus five extra-curricular hours per month, and so far we're only doing about three-quarters of that. However our grandly titled boss Mr Chen, the school's head of Foreign Affairs, is wont to call us at any hour and summon us to his office straight away. More about that and the life of a teacher at Xueyuan Fuzhong next time, dear readers. Until then, thank God you're not a Chinese boarder!

Posted by BillLehane 20:03 Archived in China Tagged educational Comments (0)

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