"Can I read?" Danny asked me as he pointed to his paper. "I cannot recite."
"Can you read well?" I asked him.
"Okay, you may read."
Yesterday, the students were to tell me something of various holidays. This, an oral examination, was to be the conclusion of the mid-term examination which they took a few weeks ago now.
Over half of the class was not ready. In their defense, I gave them a vocabulary quiz yesterday as well. Most of them were prepared for the quiz except for Leon. He got fourteen out of the fifteen words wrong. What am I to do with Leon?
Recitation is a cornerstone in the learning of English for native Chinese speakers. This is a practice that all of the Chinese English teachers rely on to gauge where their students stand in their English abilities. This is not something that I am particularly fond of but I feel as if at times I must play by the rules. And, Sometimes, playing by the rules is not even that hard.
The recitations involve students memorizing a page or so of a text and then reciting this page to their English teacher. Most of the time the English teacher is Chinese. The teacher, for the most part, listens for correct pronunciation. With the public school students, these recitations occur in between classes, at lunch time, during the eye exercises, whenever they can fit them in. The subjects are usually predetermined by the text the students study in class such as the Oxford English textbook.
Since I was telling my students about Halloween when I assigned the recitation, I told them to research a holiday and tell me about it. Some of them picked famous Western holidays. Others picked famous Chinese holidays. Still, others picked more obscure holidays such as Lita's choice which was Water Splashing Day. Paul picked Teacher's Day which he described as an important national holiday. Venice informed me that Christmas is Chris's Mass. I told him the last name in question is Christ. Maybe he was referring to Chris Kringle or Chris Kristofferson. Really, at this point, this is anyone's guess.
The other detail I should point out about the recitation is often the students have no understanding of what they are reciting. The words are just words. In as much, many of the teachers have no idea the meaning behind the words because they often involve idioms with murky definitions. Thus, they are just words to recite. The meaning is not important. This is where they lose me in the whole exercise because to me the exercise is pointless if you do not understand the meaning of the recitation. The Chinese English teachers do not see it this way. I do not argue with them in this matter. This is their country. I am a guest.
So naturally I am not as stringent with the oral English as my Chinese colleagues. Sometimes, Edward asks me if I would listen to his students recite and give them a score. 100% is the highest score.
“Of course, I would love to listen,” I tell him.
These students are not familiar with me. They only know me by face when they come into the office to see Edward. A few of these students look visibly shaken when Edward asks me if I would like to listen to them. Nevertheless, the shaken and non-shaken students recite to me. At the end of the recitation, it never fails, the student looks to me with baited breath waiting for his or her score which many see as their assured academic demise.
Sometimes I have teacher fun and give them 105% which always gives Edward a big belly laugh. He is always proud and boasts of his students after I hear them recite.
“You are the expert,” Edward tells me after I have given the score. The student always leaves the teachers' office less intimidated by me which I think is part of my job as a teacher and as a visiting American, a guest in this big home of dumplings and noodles I call China.
The public school students are usually more ambitious than the private school students. Nevertheless, some of my students, the private school students, are very determined. However, over half of them are just floating along on Daddy's money. This I completely understand. Sharon is often infuriated. Me, I am usually bemused.
Nevertheless, sometimes the public school students are not so ambitious either. A few days ago, a gaggle of Edward's students honked into the office. He asked me if I would listen to one of the girls recite. I told him sure. While a student was reciting for Edward, before she began, the girl told me that she was to recite only half of the page which was half of the passage.
“Okay,” I told her not knowing any better. “Are you ready?”
As she read, she seemed nervous. I tried to allay her nervousness. She started and stopped many times during the recitation. Finally, she finished after what seemed an excruciatingly long time, like longer than an Oasis song, that long. My eyes honestly were starting to roll back in my head and I am sure I was starting to foam at the mouth. As I stated earlier, I usually am pretty generous in my oral English marks but really, this student was the worst I had encountered in the public sector. I gave her a 90% which was absolutely more than generous.
Her friend, who had just read to Edward was standing beside her. There was a small heated discourse in Chinese. Edward asked her something, maybe to squash a Chinese cat-fight. I am not sure. Whatever the case, Edward told me that the student was to recite the whole passage to me, not just half. She would have to come back and recite to him later when she knew the whole passage, not just half.
Yesterday, I raffled off the order in which my students would give their recitations. I wrote numbers, from one to nine, on little bits of paper and handed them out. I wrote the number '7' on a small piece of paper and put it in my back pocket. Naturally, each of them thought that number '1' would be first. So, when they got their scraps of paper most of them sighed a huge sigh of relief except for the person who held '1'. This is when I pulled out the scrap of paper from my back pocket and announced - “7!”
Paul groaned. He had '7'. He and I went to the back of the class and he told me about the joys and wonders of Teachers' Day. He did fine. After he finished, I started with '1'. From there, the students read in order. Jane was '1'. She did fine. Kevin was after Jane. He did fine. After Kevin, the recitations became excruciating. At that point, I would have almost have rather heard an Oasis song. Needless to say, I did not make them memorize, though some of them did (Kevin, Jane, and Paul and later Leta), but I did expect some sort of preparedness.
Venice, Elliot, Lillian and Danny were not prepared. Sadly, I gave them all failing grades. I told them if they wanted to change their grade they would have to do a better job tomorrow which was today.
Sometimes, in the teachers' office, Sharon talks about Lillian and Leon. She really does love to talk about the students. Often, Lillian's mother lets Lillian run out of money. Sharon told me she did not have money for her school uniform. She sometimes does not have time on her phone. Sharon also thinks that Lillian might have a learning disabilities. Actually, I think Sharon has gone so far as to call Lillian stupid. Leon she calls lazy and then she decides he is just plain stupid and then she changes her mind and decides he is lazy.
Leon is very sweet. His English is horrible but he is very sweet. I have a special place in my heart for Leon. He is often the butt of the other boys' jokes. He seems to take it in stride. With that being said, I give Leon a little more leeway. And, besides, Leon works hard in my class.
Today, I told the students who did not do well yesterday that it was time to pay the piper as it were. They had to recite. Elliot volunteered to go first. He did well. I was impressed.
Elliot has started to really impress me. At the first of the year, he sat in the back of the class and did not seem to pay attention. At one point, Sharon when she was scolding him asked me what I thought of Elliot. I told her and him that no one ever does well sitting in the back of the class. He would do a lot better if he moved to the one empty desk in front of the class in front of Paul and next to Lita. He moved up to the front of the class that day. Since that day, he has worked hard. His recitation was well prepared this time.
Venice is the lazy bad boy. I love Venice but he truly is lazy. Nevertheless, sometimes, he does apply himself. I suppose all of them have their good days and bad days.
This brings me back to Danny. Danny read. He did not seem that prepared. When he finished, I told him he must do better next time and I went back to the teachers' office.
“Masturbate,” Michael said out loud at his desk in the teachers' office. I surmised he was looking up English words and phrases on the computer. Michael is one of the Chinese English teachers with whom I share an office. His English is on par with Edward. Sharon was not around.
“'Whack off' is another term for it,” I said without hesitation.
“Wuckoff. How do you spell?” Edward asked as he started typing the word out on his computer to find the meaning in Chinese.
“It is two words. Whack. Off. W-H-A-C-K...new word...O-F-F.
“Whack OFF! That is good,” he told me as he gave me the Edward chuckle which to imagine this chuckle and Edward in general think of a Chinese Bruno Kirby and you will have a pretty close approximation.
“And there is 'Jerk off,'” I added.
“Oh, Jerk. Off. Very good,” he confirmed.
“And, choking the chicken.” I was on a roll.
“Chu-king the chu-king? Why chu-king the chu-king?” he asked.
“Choking the chicken,” I stated once more and with that I pantomimed choking a chicken.
“Choking as in 'choke,'” I added to clarify the matter. “This is the chicken,” I pointed to my groin.
“How do you spell 'chuke?'” he asked prepared at his keyboard.
After he spelled it on his computer he looked at the Chinese meaning.
“You have many different nick NAMES,” he put the emphasis on 'names,' “for this activity.”
“Yes we do,” with that Sharon walked in so I was not able to go into 'beat my meat,' or 'spanking the monkey,' or 'wanking off,' or 'pulling the pud.' But then, of course, I did not want to seem like a pervert so I left them to ponder the significance of 'choking the chicken.'
Really, this is not a bad job.