Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Recitation Jerk

"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. 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.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Mr. Softy

“I’m a softy.”
“You are softy,” Sharon agreed emphatically. Friday morning, as she was scurrying to class, she told me that this was the last day possible to give the students their mid-term oral examination. This was the deadline. I told her that I would give it to them without fail. I didn’t.

There was a more substantial reason than the fact that I am a softy that I did not give the students their oral examination. Let me explain. Friday is now my big day, 5 class periods with the same group of students, now that Markus is in place and Dolly is gone Dolly gone. Since Friday is in fact my big day, I thought this a perfect excuse to do something major on Friday.

The easy thing would be to put in a DVD and be done with it. That is what I would have done in the past and I did not rule out the fact of putting in a DVD but at the same time, I wanted to do something that would benefit the students instead of something that just gave me a rest. That is when I hit upon the idea of studying Hamlet.

Recently, I happened upon Sir Laurence Olivier’s film version. Sadly, Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s plays that I knew in passing but I had never seen or read all the way through. When I watched it a few nights ago, I was completely enthralled by the story. Without a doubt, I am aware that I am not discovering some sort of obscure Elizabethan treasure .
Hamlet, though far from obscure, grabbed me and held me which truly surprised me. I appreciate Shakespeare but I am not one of those people that worship at the Shakespeare altar. Now that I am a teacher, I do appreciate him more because I must view films through my students’ eyes and not only that but how what they see and learn may benefit then down the road.

As I watched the film for the first time, I wondered if it would hold the students’ attention like it held mine. Would the black and white film and the lack of elaborate sets keep their attention?

Granted, if I showed the students the film, I would still be sticking in a DVD which could still be viewed as taking the easy way out. Nevertheless, this is a work of literature that might greatly benefit them in the future. Thus, I decided to devote Friday to Hamlet.

In between my first two classes of the morning, I passed Sharon on the stairway. She was rushing off to a meeting and in flight she asked me to give the students their oral examination. As I mentioned previously, she told me that this was the deadline. However, Leon was not at school so he would have to take the test on Monday. Although I had already had the Hamlet plan in place, I agreed that I would give the oral examination to the students. At the time, I thought it would be easier to agree and not do it than to disagree and have an argument.

Of course, you ask, why did I not just put the film on hold? Since I had already started the film, I thought the best thing to do was to see it through. At this point, I know how the students respond. They actually really enjoyed the first 40 minutes of the film. If I had taken a break from the film and let them prepare for the oral examination and then let them take the oral examination, I was afraid by the time we got back to Hamlet they would have lost all interest. Anytime I can get the boys interested in something, I know that I must completely take advantage of the situation.

At this point, I have learned to just go along with Sharon and do things my way. She and Edward argue all of the time in the teachers’ office. I have decided I do not want to be a part of this dynamic. I like to think of myself as a ‘go with the flow’ sort of person.

Needless to say, all of this planning and strategizing could be for naught. At the end of the day (literally), there was no way to be sure if this plan would work. After four class periods of Hamlet, I had no way of knowing if the students would even still be interested. Really, that was a lot to ask especially in this age, this age of instant rice, noodles and gratification.

Surprisingly, at the end of the film, the whole class was completely rapt, the whole class but Venice who was asleep but everyone else was rapt with the exception of Venice. As a teacher, this was an amazing moment in my teaching experience. Never would I have predicted that Hamlet would hold their attention so completely. Maybe in some way, Hamlet is much like the Chinese epics that are so popular among the Chinese masses. There is the king and the turmoil within the family and sword fighting and love into madness, all of the components that make a fascinating story, crossing all cultural barriers.

Thus, at the end of the film, everyone was excited to talk about the film. Usually, I have trouble getting the boys to speak. This time, Kevin wanted to be the first to answer questions. Danny responded without his usual shyness. He told me that he liked Horatio the best because he was a good friend to Hamlet. Elliot who never speaks chimed in that Ophelia was in love with Hamlet. That made her sad so she killed herself.

At the end of the day, when I walked into the teachers office, Sharon told me that the students had informed her that I told them we would have the oral examination on Monday. She was not angry. She was more amused than anything. In her mind, I spoil the students which I suppose is true to some degree. Maybe I am a softy. But, in my defense, the students have a impenetrable love and understanding of Hamlet now.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Ding Dong the Dildo is gone!

Of late, there has been cause for celebration, celebration at someone else's expense more or less. Ding Dong Dolly the Dildo is gone. She resigned a few weeks ago now, the week before the mid-term examinations which were last week. Of course, I couldn't be happier because I talked my old friend Markus from XiangMing into taking her place.

And, yes, she left with a fluttery flummox of ding dongery and Dolly dildo kissie kisses. Her last day, her grand finale of dildo excess was no less than a bang. She decided to show the students funny videos on her farewell Dildo Miss Kissie day which is a very fine thing to do. I have no problem with that. However, she decided to borrow my computer without asking me to show these videos. She has her own computer. She decided not to bring it that day.

Now, let me back up. At the beginning of the year, she made the biggest deal over the fact that she would always bring her own computer. The school need not furnish her one. I stated the exact opposite. No way was I lugging my computer from home. I love this school but I am not bringing my computer as the sacrificial Apple to the slaughter. Especially after what happened to my last computer when I left the room for a second and the Shanghai 90210 jacked up the sound jack, broke it basically because they were horsing around and knocked the computer off of the desk. With computers and students, I have learned my lesson never shall the twain meet when my computer is concerned. The school needed to furnish me a computer ASAP. They offered to do the same for Dolly, she declined their offer.

Nevertheless, I digress. I somewhat got on everyone's last nerve at the first of the year because I belly ached and belly ached and moaned and groaned about needing a computer which is something that is to be furnished to me according to my contract anyway. It is not like I am asking for caviar and champagne for my daily lunches. A computer is a basic necessity for a foreign teacher with little in the way of text books and other resources.

Finally, I was given a computer at the end of the first week of classes and I have not had to worry about being able to do my lessons and such because I have a fail-safe system. I keep my work laptop at work and my home laptop at home.

This concept went completely right over Little Miss Dildo's head. On her last day, she decided to just take my laptop from my desk without letting me know. She could have sent me a text to ask. She didn't. She is a complete idiot. La la la! Needless to say, I came to school prepared to print off my lesson which I had prepared at home and emailed to myself. I was not rushed for time but, at the same time, I did not have an entire class period to spare. Always, I take into account that there might be little bumps in the metaphorical school road for which I need to adjust. My computer being swiped from my desk was not one of the bumps for which I had adjusted.

Naturally, when I walked into the teachers' office and saw no computer on my desk, I assumed it had been stolen. Michael, one of the Chinese English teachers, informed me that Dildo Broom Hilda Dolly took my computer. Needless to say, I was stunned. I was completely stunned. I did not mind telling him how much I disliked her because of this sort of thing which when I think about it now should not have surprised me. I was stunned, really stunned, but by no means speechless. This sent me on a rant.

What she was thinking I really don't know. I just have no clue how a mind like hers works. I would never take another's computer or actually anything from someone especially when there is a really good chance that person does not like me very much anyway. I mean I know that people do stupid things and all but this was just ridiculous. Did she not know how low of a tolerance I had for her complete and total dildo-synchrocies already?

At that point, when Michael told me that Dolly had my computer, I stormed down to the classroom and told her in the middle of class that I needed my computer. This I did with a smile. Of course, she told me that she thought that I did not teach until the end of the day which was completely wrong. I had the class right after her last class. My class was the last morning class before lunch. Admittedly, there were a few times when I switched classes with Sharon in the afternoon but this was not often. And, the reason that I switched with Sharon was to avoid Dolly doo dah Dildo. In no uncertain terms, I thought I had made if fairly clear for her to stay out of my way. I always completely ignored her in the teachers' office even when she tried to get my attention I told her I was busy and had no time to talk when I had plenty of time to talk to everyone else. What sort of disconnect did she have going on in her dildo brain?

On this computer swiping day, smiling, I told her that I was glad this was her last day. With that, I yanked the computer off of the podium - as she half-heartedly tried to stop me because she was not finished - in front of the class and took it back to the office so I could carry on with what I had originally planned. I was steaming. I did smile and wave at the class as I left but I gave her one of my patented 'go to hell why aren't you dead?' looks.

After her class, Dolly came in all kisses and smiles and I was not smiling. I really did not say much to her other than she really was not very considerate. I think she even tried to hug me which made me just about puke. I'm serious. Get thoust dildo behind me Satan!

What was beautiful about the whole episode is that Sharon came in a few moments later, after Dolly was apologizing and going on and we started discussing Markus while Dolly listened. Markus can only teach on Wednesday and Thursday mornings which I had told him was okay when I had begged him to come teach when I heard that Dolly was giving notice. Of course, I had forgotten to tell Sharon. I told him I could switch my classes around to accommodate him not realizing a few other teachers would have to switch their classes in accommodation as well.

Dolly, of course, overheard this conversation and butted in that the reason she was giving notice was because she wanted to switch to lessons on Wednesdays and Thursdays as well. Naturally, I had the pleasure to ignore her and tell Sharon how excited I was to have Markus as the new teacher.

Dolly's gone. Bye Bye Dolly!