Five of my great students 1

Five of my great students
JISHOU, HUNAN — Teaching is a people profession, a concept that many of today’s corporate-minded “reformers” of education ignore. Students and teachers are more than just cogs in a machine. Ideally, they should be partners in a joint venture, to learn. For me, my students are among the greatest delights — and strengths — of my job. Allow me to introduce a few more of my Chinese students. During National Holiday, I visited two of former students, who were among the first I taught in China. I met them when they were seniors, and only taught them one term. Chris and Sophia now live in Tianjin, near Beijing, and work at Nankai University. Chris and Sophia were classmates and got married soon after graduation. Now, they have a two-year-old girl, and comfortable jobs. Chris was the first Jishou University student I met here. He, Sophia and their classmate, Ava, all worked as interns in the Foreign Affairs Office. They were my right-hand man and women for the first several weeks of my time here, before I got my feet on the ground and found other students to help me out. Chris’ special area of expertise was as a tech guy. ...

Linguistic revelation, courtesy of my Thailand travels

JISHOU, HUNAN — Over the last five years, I’ve been puzzled by the manner in which one or two students in each class pronounce English. Talking with my Chinese colleagues, it seems some of these students have the same indistinct pronunciation in Mandarin, as well. We concluded it was a syndrome which used to be called “lazy tongue,” but (I have just learned) is now referred to as an apraxia of speech. Now I am not so sure, after hearing the way some Thais speak their own language. My students’ diction problems may result from the speech patterns of their mother languages, which are often not Mandarin. Some disclaimers, first of all. I have no formal training in linguistics or speech therapy, so take whatever I write here with a grain of salt. I am proposing a hypothesis, based on an amateur’s observations. Briefly, here is the situation. Several of my students’ English is blurred or mushy. Their voices seem to come from way back in the oral cavity, instead of more toward the front of the mouth. In addition, their consonants are often indistinct, so I have to pay close attention to what they are saying to be sure ...

Summer holiday update 1

CHANGSHA, HUNAN — Here’s my summer so far: 3 T’s. Teaching, travel, Thailand. Except Thailand starts tomorrow. (4 T’s, then) The spring term wrapped up for me around July 4th. Right away, I started teaching some middle school students English four hours a day for 20 days straight. I also finished up working with some university faculty preparing study and research abroad. Together, these two jobs netted me 10,000 RMB. With one group of students, we spent one hour with oral English and the other with their textbook, New Concept English 2. Despite its title, NCE was first written in the 1970s. It’s more suitable for adult learners than teenagers, but that’s what they use at their training school. I tried to make it not too boring. The other group has better English, so we read an American juvenile novel, The Midwife’s Apprentice. I had found a classroom set in a Louisville St. Vincent de Paul store in April, and brought back eight copies. It was slow going, because the vocabulary is pretty advanced even for American young readers, but the story is interesting and it held their interest. Explaining the culture and history behind the story was harder. We ...

Graduation season means busy-ness

Graduation season means busy-ness
JISHOU, HUNAN — Before I begin another list of excuses why I haven’t blogged anything, here is some ear candy courtesy of Mother Nature. This song bird was perched outside my bathroom window early one morning, and I got him on tape (as it were). So, aside from birdsong, what else has been happening here? Well, there was the farewell dinner for the two graduating English education classes June 4, the graduation variety show (called a “party” in China) June 6, the dinner for the four graduating business English classes June 7, and their graduation ceremony June 8. (There was another activity just for our college, but I was teaching at the time.) Following this spurt of activity, we had to teach our June 10 and June 11 classes (Monday and Tuesday) on the weekend, because of the Dragonboat Festival holiday June 12. This results from the peculiar Chinese habit of shuffling class schedules to permit one-day holidays that fall midweek to become three-day holidays. Then, there were more farewell dinners and a blowout party — this time for Maddie and Daniel, the other Americans teaching here this year. They are on their way back to America by way of ...

American visitors, part 1

JISHOU, HUNAN — I haven’t done much blogging lately, despite having a lot to blog about, what with my daughter’s boffo wedding and some nice traveling afterward. I was just too busy, or too tired. Even this post is a bit of a cop-out, since it features a video. Last week, a group of professors and students from Wayne State College (Nebraska) came for a visit, as part of a two-week tour of China. Among them were Max and Karen, who had taught her two years ago. The university invited the visitors to a demonstration of classical Chinese arts, and I took video of each performance. Depending on how good my connection to YouTube is, I intend to showcase what we saw here. This first one is a performance of Miao drumming. The Miao are a minority group in this part of China. Then comes a bamboo dance, which is common around Asia. The performers are students from the Music and Dance College.

So, you think your trip to school was hard?

So, you think your trip to school was hard?
JISHOU, HUNAN — In Sangzi, Loudi, Hunan, which is a few hours from here by bus, children have to climb ladders up the side of a mountain to get to school. Watch this video, courtesy of The Guardian and Reuters. Hunan is a mountainous province, so we’re used to climbing hills, but the last time I took a trip like that was visiting a park in Zhangjiajie. Those ladders were metal, had safety cages around them and the angle was less steep. These kids are negotiating 70-meter (229-foot) vertical drops in some places. I can only imagine what they’ll tell their grandkids: “You think you have it rough? When I was a boy, I had to climb up ladders 300 meters to get to school — coming and going!” I’m including a screencap from Google Maps to show where Sangzi lies in relation to Jishou. Jishou is on the left (west) and the red pin is Sangzi village. If you want the satellite view, enter “Sangzi, Loudi, Hunan, China” in Google Maps. And no, I haven’t been there. Yet, anyway.

Springtime in Jishou 1

Springtime in Jishou
JISHOU, HUNAN — Just some pretty pictures I took with my mobile phone while walking around this week.

So, classes started last week …

JISHOU, HUNAN — This term is shaping up to be a lot more relaxed than the last three have been. First off, I have only 10 class sessions a week, on Mondays and Wednesdays. Those are for Oral English with the sophomores and Listening Comprehension with the freshmen. Then, a new feature (since I am expected to have at least 16 class sessions a week) is six periods of “office hours.” Having never really had office hours in the past, this is a new concept to me. My initial impression was office hours similar to those at American universities. The professor sits in his office doing what-not, waiting for anxious students to appear. But no! Those office hours are expected to be tutorials, à la Oxbridge. So, for three of those hours I was asked to make a schedule for the students I will meet (freshman class 1) and devise some kind of exercise for them. The other three “office hours” will be devoted to meeting with a gaggle of non-English majors preparing for the English speaking contest. These have yet to be scheduled. Since I didn’t teach the freshmen last term, I’m using the first session as a get-acquainted ...

Another panorama of Jishou University

Another panorama of Jishou University
JISHOU, HUNAN — This is not the same panorama I posted earlier, but maybe it’s more clear. I found it on the Jishou government website, dated December 2011. It’s new enough to show the new dorm just below my apartment building. The road passing the campus is Renmin Lu 人民路 (People’s Road). Taking it to the left (north) leads to downtown Jishou, ending at the railway station. Taking it to the right (south) leads to the neighboring sister city of Qianzhou, the up-and-coming “new” Jishou. There are orange groves on the mountains above the campus, and nicely paved and well lit footpaths leading to them. From this angle, you see that my building is just about level with the top of the Premier Building (Building 6, the main classroom building), 16 stories tall. That’s my climb at least twice a day, and doesn’t include the fourth-floor walkup to my flat! The Premier Building is named for Zhu Rongji 朱镕基 (1928 – ), a former premier of the People’s Republic of China and a native of Hunan province. Most of the other white buildings clustered around the track and canteen are dormitories and faculty housing. One girls’ dorm sits left of ...

Happy Blog Anniversary! 14

JISHOU, HUNAN –Seven years! Can you believe it? I’m not sure I do, considering how quickly those years went. Seven years ago, I was a high school physics teacher with the lofty goal of combatting scientific ignorance and the less lofty goal of giving vent to my opinions. Now I also blog about my life in China, including teaching English as a Foreign Language and traveling around the Middle Kingdom, music, movies and anything else that pops into my head. In other words, it’s a smörgåsbord of topics. (And boy, I could really go for some smoked salmon right about now.) My WordPress dashboard reports I have made 931 posts, which have received 1,506 comments, in those seven years. That works out to roughly 11 posts and 18 comments a month — not exactly a super-busy blog, but good considering how busy I am sometimes. Some bloggers manage at least one post a day. Clearly, they are either more dedicated or less discriminating about sharing their thoughts than I am. Or maybe they re-post a lot. WordPress continues to be my favorite application for this sort of thing. Thanks to it and my webhosts at PEHosting.com, I’ve had very little ...

Beware of floor 1

Beware of floor
JISHOU, HUNAN — Last night’s snowfall jogged my memory to blog about one of the most treacherous aspects of living in China — the floors and sidewalks. What jogged my memory was slipping on the way to class. Boom! Down on one knee and one hand. (I’m OK, nothing injured but my pride.) For purely aesthetic reasons, I suppose, in many places around Hunan — and probably elsewhere in China — the preferred flooring material is mirror-glazed ceramic tiles. Most of the buildings, including my flat, are floored with 2-foot-square tan tiles. The plaza around the main classroom building (where I wiped out this morning) is paved with hexagonal pavers bracketed by what appears to be marble rectangles. These are also as smooth as glass. Now, tile floors are eminently practical, being durable and easy to clean. And shiny ceramic pavers surrounding impressive buildings are also pleasing to the eye. But, they are not the safest choice for wet or icy days. I learned this early on during my first year, after I skated part way to class several times inside our building on the wet floor tiles. (Corridors in many classroom buildings here are open to the outside.) I ...

Are most academic theses merely regurgitating others’ work?

JISHOU, HUNAN — This question is addressed in all seriousness to you academics out there, specifically those with more experience reading bachelor’s and master’s theses in Western countries. I ask because most theses that I’ve been reading here just seem to be retreads of the same basic paper, with little or no original thought in them. Students ask me to read over their theses, for grammar and what not. Maybe in all I’ve read a dozen bachelor’s or master’s thesis, which for the most part are absolute drivel. The assignment seems to be a pro forma exercise toward obtaining their degree. Whether the paper makes any contribution to world knowledge seems not so important. Is this strictly a Chinese thing? Or is it because this university is a third-tier institution? Or is it more widespread? In other words, are most American graduation theses also merely summaries of what others have published? Let me explain further. Our Business English majors have to write a 6,000 to 8,000 word graduation paper in English in their senior year. The college has a list of about 50 suitable topics, such as, the difficulties of the translation of contracts, cross-cultural business negotiation strategies, the translation ...
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