We now resume regularly scheduled programming, now in progress

JISHOU, HUNAN — Nothing like a server crash to slow down your writing projects. I had practically all of last weekend free to write, and the drive to do it, but as I said in the last post, my site was down for the count until midweek. Coincidentally, that big Bitcoin exchange in Japan, Mt. Gox, also went dark about the same time. Their situation is more dire, as they’ve “lost” more than 850,000 bitcoins somehow and have filed for bankruptcy protection. Their site remains dark. I don’t have those bitcoins. I promise. If I did, I would probably be sitting near some tropical beach now, sipping a piña colada, not sitting in my flat at Jishou University sipping green tea. Unless I were being sly. Muhahaha! In fact, my experiment with Bitcoin is doing better than I had expected. Prices are still not above the levels when I first entered Bitcoin land in early December, but Bitcoin has not tanked completely, even after the Mt. Gox fiasco. I successfully used Bitcoin last week to transfer some of my pay from China to the USA, netting $25 in the process because of changing prices and arbitrage. You can read the ...

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 ...

Teacher technology upgrade 4

Teacher technology upgrade
JiSHOU, HUNAN — Last week our classrooms all became multimedia rooms. Four years of waiting, and it finally came to pass. Here’s what the master console looks like: Operation is easy. Everything starts up as soon as I unlock the console desk: screen comes down, projector lights up, Lenovo ThinkCentre boots up. Internet is not yet working, but I don’t need it immediately anyway. They came just in time for my lectures on Western music in two weeks — part of the Western Culture course I have this term. You can see a slide in the pic from my lecture on literature this week. This is second time I’ve taught the course, using the same all-English, Chinese-made textbook as before. This time around, I set aside the book’s chronological presentation and organized my own topical syllabus. It creates more work for me, but I hope the subject becomes somewhat more approachable. Here’s the plan. See what you think. Quick review of Western civilization: Mesopotamia to the Modern Era Political systems Religion Midterm exam Science and Technology Literature Art and Music Economic systems Final exam The course is only for one term, so we have to move quickly. Too quickly, I ...

2012 Hunan Friendship Awards 2

2012 Hunan Friendship Awards
CHANGSHA, HUNAN — More than two years, my college nominated me for the Hunan Friendship Award 潇湘友谊奖. So, when my foreign affairs officer Anna called to tell me I won an award, it took me a minute or two to realize what she was talking about. It’s a pretty big deal here. Out of the 4,000 foreigners in the province, only 20 of us — six teachers and 14 businessmen — were selected for this biennial award. It’s given to foreign experts for contributions to “the economic and social development of Hunan Province.” The ceremony was last week. I got a metal-and-wood plaque (at right), a gold(-plated) medal, a classy red-and-gold pen, a red-and-gold thumb drive, a certificate, and a night in a ritzy hotel in Changsha. The governor of the province, Xu ShouSheng, handed out the awards. It may sound like nothing to an American, but in China government bigwigs only appear in public for really special events, like earthquakes or diplomatic visits. (In the photo above, Xu is front row center, next to the African-American woman, teacher Jackie Martin.) Besides all that, the uni picked up the tab for the round-trip bus fare and the two extra nights ...

You win some, you lose some 1

JISHOU, HUNAN — Anticipating the imminent arrival of another foreign teacher, I was looking forward to having more free time. I assumed he would teach the extra classes I picked up in his absence. Never assume anything. That’s true in science, journalism, and working in China. Because the new guy was not here in September to teach the juniors’ Business English classes, he and the students have to make up the missed classes. So, his schedule is 16 classes of just teaching those students that one subject. That means I will keep on teaching the freshmen, whom I was rather reluctant to give up, anyway. They were also not happy to lose me as their teacher this term. So, in that respect, it’s a win. (I also get paid extra for the extra classes, another winning point.) On the negative side, I won’t have a respite from my busy teaching schedule. I have 22 classes a week, Monday through Friday, and on two of those days I need to commute to the old campus where the freshmen live. That’s a 20-minute shuttle-bus ride each way. Still, it’s fewer classes than I had as a high school teacher, so I can’t ...

My latest Daily Kos diary makes the Community Spotlight

My latest Daily Kos diary makes the Community Spotlight
JISHOU, HUNAN — More personal horn tooting here — I wrote a longish diary for Daily Kos about my experiences here after three years, and it made the Community Spotlight. As of right now (1:30 am EST), it’s had 58 comments since I posted it yesterday. And its plea for foreign teachers has netted three responses so far. Not bad for a couple hours of work.

Teaching teachers English 4

YONGSHUN, HUNAN — I have participated in who-knows how many teacher workshops, training sessions and in-service days during 25 years of teaching. Last week, I approached the task from a new angle — as an in-service teacher — and it went better than I expected. Several weeks ago, my foreign affairs officer, Cyril, asked me if I was going to be around during the summer. The Xiangxi Prefecture foreign experts bureau (the people who hand out our teaching licenses) was organizing a one-week oral English workshop for local middle school teachers. The job actually sounded like fun, although the pay was also decent, so I agreed to do it. I was joined by Michael, an American teaching in the Foreign Language College in Zhangjiajie. Our duties were to teach pronunciation and intonation, useful expressions, and the differences between American and British English. Michael took the expressions assignment, and I did the nitty-gritty pronunciation/intonation tasks. Our students were 37 teachers from Yongshun, Huayuan, Luxi, Baojing, Fenghuang and Jishou — all counties or cities in the Xiangxi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture. Most were between the ages of 24 and 40 and, I am happy to report, had really good English speaking ...

Another term draws to a close 10

JISHOU, HUNAN — I’ve been up to my eyeballs in work these last two weeks, so I haven’t had time to post anything. Even this one will be short. This term I had only three subjects to teach, Oral English, British Literature and Academic Writing, but the last two upped my workload significantly. The juniors in Business English take those courses, and altogether there are 90 students. Their term project for the writing class was to read a novel by a British author, and write an analytical paper of 1,000 to 2,000 words about it. Given the average length was about 1,400 words, my ambitious assignment required me to read 126,000 words between the due date, June 16, and my self-imposed deadline of Friday (yesterday here). Most of that I did once classes ended a week ago. Meanwhile, I had already agreed to help out one of my Chinese teacher friends with her English school, so in the mornings I was teaching middle schoolers and the afternoons and evenings I was reading essays. Phew. As for the quality of the essays, they fit the standard distribution pretty closely: a few superb ones, a few truly awful ones, and the rest ...

Bachmann wants schools to teach religion in science class

JISHOU, HUNAN — CNN reports the not-very-surprising news that Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) favors teaching Intelligent Design (religion made science-y) in schools, right alongside evolution (actual science). It’s not surprising, because Bachmann (and most of the other candidates for the GOP presidential nomination), are stubbornly in the Science (and History) Ignoramus class. Global warming? Liberal nonsense! Evolution? Atheist nonsense! Separation of Church and State? It was never there! Intelligent Design is religious belief, Creationism with a different label, and the federal courts — most recently in 2005 — have ruled it cannot be taught in public schools, especially in science class. Period. Yet, Bachmann and others stubbornly insist ID must be taught in public schools. Don’t they read the newspapers? Here’s what she told CNN. “I support intelligent design,” Bachmann told reporters in New Orleans following her speech to the Republican Leadership Conference. “What I support is putting all science on the table and then letting students decide. I don’t think it’s a good idea for government to come down on one side of scientific issue or another, when there is reasonable doubt on both sides.” WRONG!! There is no “reasonable doubt” about evolution, at least among sensible people and ...

Recruiting students

ZHANGJIAJIE, HUNAN — This week I learned that colleges in China have the same problem as colleges in the USA. They need to pull students in to stay viable. Students in China choose their majors before entering university. So, each college in a uni (we call them “departments” in the States) would like to maximize the chances of getting sufficient enrollment. It’s not feasible to visit all the high schools in western Hunan on recruiting drives, but relatively easy to visit the preparatory college here in Zhangjiajie to attract some candidates. That’s what ten of us teachers and students from Jishou U did. We did two hours of marketing to about 200 students midway between high school and university: first our vice dean, then me (with student interpreter), then a sophomore from our college, then a Q&A. There were also two Powerpoint presentations, one by Vice Dean Song Jie and the other by sophomore Helen Xiao. Our greatest hits: our graduates’ 98% employment rate, the foreign teacher who can speak a little Chinese, the sophomore girl who has broadcast the weather on municipal TV, the dean who has met President Hu Jintao. To be honest, I was surprised and just ...

Tericka Dye = Tera Myers = Another lost teaching job 1

JISHOU, HUNAN — Back in 2006, a really good Western Kentucky middle school science teacher had to quit her job because someone (a student, it seems) saw her in a porn movie done when she was younger. She got married, left the Paducah area and found work under a different name in a school in Missouri. History repeated itself last week. Another student with too much …uh … time … in his hand .. on his hands … put two and two (or something) together, and found out his teacher, Tera Myers of Parkway North High School used to be Tericka Dye of Reidland High School, who once performed in a few porn movies as Rikki Andersin some 15 years ago. Apparently, the boy approached Myers with this knowledge, and she then went to her superiors, told them what’s what, and asked to be put on administrative leave. They agreed, and she is not in the classroom now. She should be back in it. From all the reports from her schools, Myers is an excellent teacher, and in Kentucky, was a great volleyball coach, well liked by parents and students. Considering the lack of decent middle school science teachers in ...

Curse of the survey lit course

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