It’s almost the end of the term

Heads will roll!

Heads will roll!

JISHOU, HUNAN — Today I gave my last exams of the fall term. Classes ended last week. Once I hand in my marks next week, I’ll be free for nearly two entire months!

My duties this year are teaching Listening Comprehension and Oral English to the freshmen and sophomores in our college. That’s about 160 students, so my load is much lighter than in the past.

For the listening classes, we met in a lecture hall yesterday where I could meet all the frosh at once, then all the sophs at once. Judging from the groans of dismay, what I hoped to be a relatively fair exam may have been harder than I thought. More than a few students have told me they think they failed the test.

Both listening exams followed the same format. Part 1: A VOA Learning English report. Announcers for these reports speak more slowly and use easier words than regular VOA readers. Parts 2 and 3: Short exercises from their textbooks. Part 4: Dictation of the first paragraph of Matilda.

It seems they did OK with the VOA Special English section, but the readers on the other section spoke too quickly for the students. Granted, they did, but the exercises were pretty easy, so until I start reading the exams I won’t be able to diagnose the problem.

As for the speaking exams, I tested the freshmen and sophomores differently. The first years met me in my office two at a time, and I asked each one to give a self-introduction then gave them a topic to talk about together. Meanwhile, I judged their pronunciation, rhythm and speed, and conversational abilities. Listening comprehension was a side issue, which will go toward their Listening Comp grade.

The second years had to present an original story, with each person in a group speaking at least two complete sentences. It was a mixed bag. Some groups took to heart my commandment that the story be totally original or they would suffer lowered grades. Other groups procrastinated till the last moment (they had a month to prepare something) and performed skits I have seen previously these last six years. So, while their performances were pretty good, their marks are going to suffer penalties.

It’s been a busy month.

I took a week’s leave from Dec. 6 to 15 to hang out with my son in Hong Kong. Before I left, I had to submit my listening exams for printing. After I returned, there were rehearsals for the college’s annual Christmas Eve gala, dinners and luncheons, and my usual class schedule. Officially, foreign teachers get Christmas Day as a holiday, but rearranging classes is such a pain in the ass, I’ve never asked for the day off. I figure the lengthy winter holiday more than compensates for working on an American holiday.

Tanya, the Ukrainian voice teacher, and I visited the Xiangxi Children’s Welfare Home on Saturday. It was her idea to buy some snacks, milk, books and toys to give the kids there. Most of the children there have some disability. One little girl has Down’s Syndrome. A 12-year-old boy is blind and mute. A few others have developmental disabilities. They are all well cared for, by the way.

Yong Fu and I

Yong Fu and I

My young friend, Yong Fu (Xiao Fu), is a teenager and still lives in the facility. We’ve known each other for at least three years. She can speak a little English now, and can play songs on her electronic keyboard. (It’s missing some keys, so I plan to get her a new one soon.)

Carla in 2012

Carla in 2012

Tomorrow, I will take the train to CiLi, a three-hour trip, to visit Carla Wu (Wu Shuang), the same young lady who a year and a half ago was in hospital being treated at age 23 for osteosarcoma. Aggressive chemotherapy seems to have done the trick. Carla says she’s gained weight, and her hair has started growing back in — in time for her wedding party, which is in CiLi.

Carla also reports she’s pregnant. So, it’s just one happy event after another for her.

Once I finish grading papers, I’m free to do what I want. I’ll probably travel someplace, but those plans are still in flux. Details as they develop.

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