TESMC 六: Hexa-Sense

How do!

Writers use language resources as a key to organize texts, very much as I am doing now, albeit very amateurish in style, so that you, like the students as readers have a sense of what shall follow. When reading, a reader must orientate to a subject. For most who have experience reading in their native tongue, experience plays an advantage in determining the subject. For English as a Second Language (ESL) students, that experience may be lacking. For many of us, we may be able to pre-read and digest a news article, magazine piece or a book blurb just from experience. Our pre-formed ideas and exposure to templates could settle our mind on a track to read with ease. The imagination and interpretation of a seasoned-mind will draw out bold titles, enhance key points, find text captions, and articulate the who, when, what, why and how etc.

Achieving a proper semantic level via syntax isn’t a bad starting point. How many of us can clearly and quickly distinguish a cohesive conjunction from a rhetorical conjunction? How do we view phrases rather than look at individual words? Do we see the Lego castle or the loose blocks? Do those phrases serve as roles in conjunctions? Students face multiple texts, in differing formats, in varied lengths across countless textbooks, journals, magazines, booklets, instruction books, and so on. Students must use a range of complex resources and processes to make sense of the materials.

foreground/ˈfɔːɡraʊnd/ verbgerund or present participle: foregrounding

  1. make (something) the most prominent or important feature.

Knowing that a strap-line sits over or under a title, elaborating briefly on a subject is useful. The headline or title will grab the attention of a reader. There may be a byline with a writer and their expertise. So, before, even reading a sentence or paragraph, the reader could be parachuted into the story beyond, just by a few simple well-positioned words. From the introduction, a piece of writing will be elaborated on. There will be interpretation within the text and then quotes. Just to make things interesting, some publications make their ordering flexible, bullet-pointed, short and sharp, whereas others pad the hell out of the article. Rather like the teaching cycle, a reader must learn that things can be flexible. This learning cycle is subject to change, like all else in life. Orders change.

Some aspects can be skipped if students demonstrate they can satisfy the earlier stage of the cycle. It is advisable to set a clear context, to create a model, deconstruct it all, make a joint construction and then set independent construction.

Teachers must be sensitive when we go through books or texts. We read for meaning across the text. We read for context. The use of five different skills to comprehend the meaning will be decisive in thorough interpretation of text.

  • Pronouns refer back (and sometimes forwards) to content within the text.
  • Vocabulary is part of grammatical English. Grammar teaching requires cohesive conjunctions. Words like when, while, although, in other words, in the case of this, and so on are often new to students. Creating a list or glossary to assist will be useful.
  • Rhetorical conjunctions
  • Foregrounding at the whole text level.

By unravelling these pieces, peace in reading should follow. The purpose, schematic structures and language choice are all connected. Foregrounding is essential when it comes to almost all forms of texts. If a student is expected to look at and understand an article, then giving them the bigger picture and idea about reading the whole article is a must. Students from ESL backgrounds may be unfamiliar with conjunction forms and how linking words are used to tie together unknown vocabularies into their related sentences. Conjunctions should be provided to students, whether by heading, indexing or other means. Examples must be given for each and every one whether provided steadily or as a block. Familiarity takes time, and with gentle nurturing a student can be supported in focusing on reading text to know exactly which keywords of an introduction paragraph to look for. How do those words lead into the following paragraph and so on…

Cohesive conjunctions:

Conjunctions and connectives are cohesive devices that work to improve the flow of the writing.

Conjunctions operate within sentences and connectives relate to meaning between sentences.

Different types of conjunctions are used to express different types of relationships between ideas.

Ta’ra!

TESMC III: Colonel Bogey March

In the morning, the familiar tune of the Colonel Bogey March blazed out from tannoys filling the air. The nearby high school were performing their morning exercise. Lieutenant F. J. Ricketts had penned this tune way back in 1914. It has been rather odd to hear a pre-Great War marching song, based on a golf term, penned in the Highlands of Scotland. The Tragedy of Macbeth by William Shakespeare is more apt, but no, here I find myself in Dongguan, Guangdong, the P.R. of China, humming Hitler Has Only Got One Ball”. I doubt very much I can teach this song over here. Well, just in case you were wondering…

“Hitler has only got one ball; The other is in the Albert Hall; His mother, the dirty bugger; Cut off the other, when he was only small; She threw it into the apple tree; It fell in to the deep blue sea; The fishes got out their dishes; And had scallops and bollocks for tea.”

The above discrediting tactic [Trump move] first appeared in August of 1939 in the U.K., yet I found myself learning it from classmates in Chapel Street Primary school as early as year 5/grade 5. Between the Jurassic Park novel and goals from Niall Quinn’s disco pants, Mike Sheron and Garry Flitcroft against Q.P.R. on September the 11, 1993, I was picking up the habit of reading at school. I am sure this is when I penned a story called Sam The Wonder Dog. Think Lassie meets Superman.

Using vivid and colourful games or activities like jigsaws can be advantageous to many students. It can be fun, creative and allow for thinking within teams. Group work solidifies strengths in teamwork by allowing discussion, and giving everyone roles to perform. It lessens worries and burdens. Everyone is valuable. It encourages relevant and meaningful communication with an emphasis on thoughtful questioning skills. The learning pace is dictated by the students and their needs. Collaborative working skills can be transferred to other activities later on. Afterwards it allows for a joint analysis of their work. This was evident in my grade 4 class when practising the Anna Kendrick song When I’m Gone [Cup Song] actions and lyrics. Two groups of four students, and two solo students seemed disjointed. However, with gentle persuasion and leading, eventually one student, Jimmy, encouraged a group of 6 to work together. Later he led both the group of 4 and his group of 6 to join forces.

Through sequencing the information in a classroom, it allows clear communication. With that collaborative working has a good chance of being followed through. The aim has to be visualised and that end goal can then be met. Some thinks can appear easy or simple, but maybe some of the scaffolding is lacking in the instructions. That’s why sequencing is so much more important to the learning environment. A huge advantage of team and group work allows for students to work through problems.

Deconstruction, however, allows for a clear context to be set. Modelling and construction can follow. With joint construction it can allow a group of students to work together. Independent construction can happen equally well but holds less advantage in terms of enhancing classroom dynamics and group work. Some students need to work alone. It may be in their character to feel better when acting solo, or feel more confident. Support and guidance from classmates may not make a student feel confident. They might already have the spark of self-belief to go it alone. Within my classroom, I’ve seen Amir demonstrate practical exploration, review and evaluation before then joining Terrance and Harry to show their final workings as one team. It allowed Amir to work efficiently and show his ability before joining others. The model of language they used throughout their interactions and participation differed according to their audience. With myself present, it was much more formal and well thought. With other students, they played and joked more, between little instances of shy behaviour. In front of a camera and no audience they started off shy and unsure, before gaining a rhythm and moved away from the tension of a camera being present.

Macro-scaffolding is the bigger picture. It’s the pandemic that grips the world right now. To the world of football this is like the great Sir Alex Ferguson speaking to his squad in the Old Trafford Theatre Of Dreams Swamp scaffolding stadium using encouraging words through growls, “Don’t be afraid to go down in the box on the 96th minute and get us that draw.”

Meso-scaffolding corresponds to the goals and activities required of a specific class. It’s the middle of a pandemic and the world are searching for vaccinations or a cure.

Micro-scaffolding zooms in up and close like a microscope on a COVID-19 virus strand. In football coaching some managers go in up close and personal. They take players aside and put an arm around the shoulder and talk about how to improve that player.

Without building on a student’s current knowledge and understanding, teaching would be like going up a creek without a paddle. Through the use of concrete experiences we can further understanding which will enhance their concept of English. Learning language allows the learner to have the tool to use it. The more contexts they can experience or talk about, the easier it is for them to understand it. Expecting a student to understand language without a proper concept means that student is now knee-deep up the. creek without the paddle or a suitable kayak. Language needs context. Let me write that again: language must have context. Without context, language is near useless. Think about the last time you were in foreign lands and used a handful of limited phrases. You wouldn’t say ‘Namaste’ or ‘danke schoen’ as ways to request directions in Greenland. Or maybe you would. I’ve never been there. I may head there after hearing of a catastrophic asteroid heading to Earth.

A clear plan of action when working with groups is important because it can give each student the opportunity to assume different roles, have enclosed experiences and learn using a different context. With every group work activity we need to evaluate it. This gives us an idea on how to improve the learning experience for future instances. Clear guidance gives a clear pathway for learning.

Oral language teaching is central to supporting the learning of a secondary language. The teacher has a crucial role of interaction that supports and scaffolds students during their development. Through a range of classroom tasks we can provide opportunities to use and develop oral language. This is an integral and essential part of teaching each and every subject effectively. The task shapes the talk. The talk shapes the talent. Now we can move on to the use of oral language. How should it be interpreted and how can it produce oral texts? This will allow us to scaffold students to become more effective in their listening and speaking.

Sometimes we must be reminded constantly of the best or better teaching practices to better serve our students. Waiting for a student to respond for over three or four seconds would significantly allow students time to use better language than the quick and easy answers by the first hands up. Students need to take a few more moments. Think time is essential. Give encouragement to think and then respond after rethinking. As an adult we need time and a conscience effort to think sometimes. So, why not give extra thinking time for students?

Having read about and watched students performing experiments before being introduced to key vocabulary, I find it clear that with experience those same students can relate and build on the knowledge they had prior. After some time and reflection, students can use new vocabulary more simply to describe what will happen. Having examples to relate to vocabulary matters. Practising vocabulary becomes more about directions and learning how to describe and use new concepts than the weight of new words (often without context).

Chaos can be avoided, in favour of a more comprehensible class, simply by instructions appropriate to the level of the students. The descent of chaos bobs up and down like an angry turkey’s head, knowing that Christmas is close by, but with an Ikea booklet to hand, the turkey can face up to some vegans for this year. Speaking, of course, leads into the development of proper critical literacy skills.

“Don’t worry about a thing; ‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right.” – Bob Marley & The Wailers, Three Little Birds

Negotiate the field. The farm is tricky without navigation aids.

Deconstruction. Why not break the farm map and layout down?

Joint construction. This has nothing to do with Bob Marley. The farm is a mess now. It has been ripped to shreds. The tatters and remains need piecing together carefully, and with thought. Sit down and chill to Three Little Birds, as the students perform their tasks.

Independent Construction (of text). Well now the farm is running smoothly enough to advertise and run an article in the local Farmer’s Weekly magazine. E-I-E-I-O.

After the between module readings and module activities, many thoughts, as broad as as wide, popped into my noggin. Time constraints can inhibit development using these techniques. How can we ensure something isn’t rushed for all the individual students? Do those higher up the grade and year levels need further ESL support? How about giving extra support to incoming students that arrive midway through an academic year? What if fewer lessons were given to higher level students, would it allow more time to develop their English skills by way of concrete experiences, scaffolding and to find a range of appropriate contexts? Are all learning cycles considered in a proper integrated approach?

MATE MASIE – “what I hear, I keep” – wisdom, knowledge, prudence [from Adinkra, the language of west Africa]

You’re welcome.

You have no idea what I had to trade with the devil for that. No problem. Not a worry. My pleasure. Don’t mention it. It was nothing. Nothing makes me happier. Happy to help you. You are so welcome. Welcome, anytime. Anytime you need help, ask me. I am glad it helped you. I’ll count on your vote for the next election. I’m sure you’d have done the same for me. You’re welcome. You would have done the same if you were in my shoes. Sure. I’m happy to be of assistance. Happy to be of service. Sure thing. No big deal. The feeling is mutual. That’s why good friends do. I’m glad that you’re satisfied. You’ll get my bill by the morning. Oh, stop it, you! The invoice is on the way. You deserve it. It’s just a token of my appreciation. After all, it was my privilege. It was my honour to have helped. I’m just returning a favour. Let me know if I can help you in the future.

If only you had said thank you.

You’re welcome.

You have no idea what I had to trade with the devil for that. No problem. Not a worry. My pleasure. Don’t mention it. It was nothing. Nothing makes me happier. Happy to help you. You are so welcome. Welcome, anytime. Anytime you need help, ask me. I am glad it helped you. I’ll count on your vote for the next election. I’m sure you’d have done the same for me. You’re welcome. You would have done the same if you were in my shoes. Sure. I’m happy to be of assistance. Happy to be of service. Sure thing. No big deal. The feeling is mutual. That’s why good friends do. I’m glad that you’re satisfied. You’ll get my bill by the morning. Oh, stop it, you! The invoice is on the way. You deserve it. It’s just a token of my appreciation. After all, it was my privilege. It was my honour to have helped. I’m just returning a favour. Let me know if I can help you in the future.

If only you had said thank you.

Understanding Thursdays.

Bonfire night in England has been marked by an explosion of COVID-19. As Guy Fawkes Night comes and goes, Britain goes back into lockdown for an entire month.

“And then mother took me to Grammar School; But I stopped all in the vestibule; Every time that bell would ring; Catched me playin’ with my ding a ling” – the song My Ding A Ling by Chuck Berry

Meanwhile on a murky Thursday night in a warm Dongguan, at Tungwah Wenzel International School, I found myself taking notes on Teaching ESL in the Mainstream Classroom [TESMC]. There are several modules which start from a zoomed-out overview to a much more-closer and specific look at our teaching area. Quality of teaching matters, especially for English as a Second Language learners. Collaboration is key withing all teaching environments, so here I was surrounded by technology, Chinese, English, science and other specialist teachers.

Interrelatedness of culture is important. ESL (English as a Second Language) students bring culture capital and funds of knowledge that can be tapped and used in the weapon against Minecraft and all other manner of distraction. Sat with Mr Jason, Miss Keats, Miss Cindy, and others in groups around, we all observed teachers Mr Ben and Mr Cherlito in leading a great classroom workshop.

Classrooms should set high expectations and resource in their mainstream classes. There should be a bar to jump up to, rather than a bar to meet level. Expectations should increase to allow students to learn the language through the language and learn about that language. There is a plethora of learning theories, many tried, tested and tired, but a good teacher should know that there’s always more out there to bring about a good learning context.

Oral and written language must be treated separately. In our youth we make sounds before we scribble words. Those sounds and phonetics become words, sentences and eventually conversation. We crawl, walk and then run – until we get old enough to walk, drink beer and crawl again. Writing needs codes. We start with a few letters, then we pair a few more, and we build words. Following that a few simple sentences, and then they expand bit by bit, until we’re banging out sonnets like Shakespeare was our teacher. Some of the braver kids that write carry on writing and move on to be Dan Brown or Anne Tyler. They all started with the ABC though. Patterns and a need to make technical and abstract meanings fit educational contexts a little before we hit our double-figure years. Why do we do it? The world is demanding and so are parents. Teachers backed by educational curriculum standards encourage students. Students push themselves – or not. Accountability is something learned or not within teenage and early years. For some it takes a little longer than others. Some will never learn it.

Teachers and the school community adapt and evolve support language, not just to improve students, but to find strategies relevant and achievable for the classroom, and in this instance the ESL classroom. Improve our teaching, improve our target students. With that we must recognize that not all students have the name needs or motivations. There are many variables that need to be taken into account to ensure students participate in schooling and beyond.

What do I hope to gain from the course? Self-enhancement, bettering one’s self, being more invaluable and experienced in order to help and work closer with my colleagues. Yes, all that and some. Actually, I really want to understand my students better.

Students cross a broad range of identities. We all have multiple identities. I act differently around colleagues, friends, family, football friends, near strangers, and other groups. This is life. We are social butterflies and act accordingly to comfort surroundings and situations. What identities do we have?

Think about diets. Do we eat differently or behave in varied ways? Perhaps around vegans, vegetarians, American Embassy-eaters (that’s McDonald’s) and so on. How much respect can you give a total fructivore? Does a sister command a special response that is distinctive to that of an aunty or a mother? What’s the atypical reaction to dad? Relations matter. The position within the family, the runt of the litter is that kid that gets the passed down Manchester City F.C. shirt, according to their big bad bold brother.

If you want division, look no further than religion, it’s an age-old area of conflict. Don’t trust me? Google it. Even your choice of search engine can separate you. Sorry Baidu, you just won’t do for me! Age category, maturity, sexuality (LGTGB+ etc), members of book clubs, groups, communities (C’mon CITY!), neighbours (noisy or other), sports, language-speakers, ethnicities, creeds, hobbiesprejudices, Marvel or DC comics Star Wars or Star Trek; Trekker or Trekee… The list goes on. And on. And on, and on, and on and on. With all that in mind it is clearly difficult to understand your colleagues, let alone your students. We still must push on (gently, softly or otherwise) and probe ways to understand any potential barriers to learning and find range and depth suitable for extraction. Some negatives can be turned into positives. Some cannot. Here as good teacher is digging for positivity and the factory in each student that manufactures optimism. What do students struggle with? Locating a pencil case? Someone looked at them with a squint? An ant walked into the classroom doing ballet?

Some of the roles or aspects of having multiple identities will cause internal conflicts, doubts, and worries. One place that I feel tensions are my political views and belief in human rights. So, to be in America or China, I must respect the head gaffer and the regime that rules the joint. As a guest, I can only say or do so much. Imagine being a Chinese kid flung into international education. Will that kid’s neighbours or young relations also be in that same international school setting? They’ll be strengthening and weaking on one and the other. You can’t follow two systems perfectly. ESL students, a widely used terms for many nationalities, at a school that uses English as a primary target language are privileged to expand their cultural window, but they may find their own cultures closing from them. As they develop language for an increasing range of purpose of contexts, their world is changing in ways that they may or may not notice.

For an Irish kid learning at an ESL school in Wales, who studies only in English, they may not be exposed to much Gaelic language other than that at home, infrequently. The Welsh kid at school may be using English at home, attending Welsh classes online and immersed in a bilingual environment at home. The Chinese student on exchange from Dongguan to Aberystwyth may get to speak English, Welsh and a spot of Chinese with fellow students. They will all face improvements in their English language, but which students will improve their native tongue? What range of langue will they be exposed to? For the ESL teacher, this, like many other factors sits outside the scope of control. Awareness of these facts is important. Which students enjoy the same access to range of language as their peers? Is immersion in English to the detriment of other tongues? Do some students slip, trip and flip-flop from one school to the next? I know of at least a handful of students that I’ve taught that are in their third primary school in as many years. I shouldn’t judge because I also attended three primary schools as a kid. However, I didn’t have the pressure of a second language… unless North versus South Mancunian dialect was it. Barmcake or muffin?

The evening featured acronyms galore. EMI wasn’t Electrical and Musical Industries records; it was English as a Medium of Instruction. When CALD was mentioned, I expected to hear the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats, but it turned out to mean Culturally and Linguistically Diverse.

Other notes (not typed up in any depth yet):

WHAT FUNDS OF KNOWLEDGE MIGHT AN ESL STUDENT BRING TO THE CLASSROOM?

Understand classroom exposure (Chinese vs Int’l); different opinions about the future (environment; conservation; search engine exposure) …

LANGUAGE/COMMUNICATION – visual artifacts / bilingualism / translation /

/ EXPERIENCE/WORLD KNOWLEDGE – A.I. / surveillance / icons / cultural exposure /

/ ATTITUDES OF FUTURE

/ WAYS OF THINKING – Wikipedia/media literacy / transfer of knowledge / attitudes in academic context / curiosity

/ MULTIPLE IDENTITIES cultural norms / family backgrounds / expectations / regional knowledge / local

Possible consequences of failure to acknowledge the above include neglect of diversity and cultures. Value it. Ignoring the valuable resource will limit their world view. Disenfranchising and discouraging, devaluing, disempowering – don’t handicap

Attitude of a teacher: transition / support / how do students feel in terms of students who finish first or take longer? /

My homework (A.K.A. the between module activity) is as follows. Select one class student. Understand their life, experiences, impacts on their ability to learn, hobbies, favourite biscuits, and so on. I can use any strategy to do so. Perhaps an untargeted questionnaire, a survey of the class, discussions with other teachers, an insight from their family, a photo of their favourite thing at home and so on… What do they miss when they’re at school? The old who, when, what, why, how, do, etc scenario is with me until next Thursday’s class. That student’s funds of knowledge will be valuable to teaching them.

And with that, I’m sat listening to Chuck Berry live and reading about things other than books that students can read to enhance their reading skills. Books are the gateway to knowledge, but in these modern times books are not the only medium for reading. In the age of information, words are all around us. Students should be encouraged to read (digital or hard copies):

books written by each other

dictionaries and thesaurus

play scripts

road signs

maps and atlases

song lyrics

poetry

travel brochures and leaflets

blogs

websites

encyclopedias

newspapers

magazines

social media and micro posts

catalogues and listings

programmes of events/sports meetings/games

manuals and ingredients on food labels

recipes

Anyway, that’s all for Thursday night. Let’s hope this COVID-19 scatters away soon. Keep busy. Eat a toffee apple for me and some Parkin Cake. I had to make do with McVities Hobnobs (the ones without chocolate). Stay strong. Peace and love x

John

ALL CHANGE.

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

August 2020 has seen a few new components to my life. A new apartment. A new place of work. A new kettle. A new model bridge in the balcony garden. And finally, like Star Wars, a new hope. Moving from Changping to Songshan Lake and Dàlǐngshān (大岭山) was relatively straight forwards.

The new apartment sits over the line of the township borders. I live in Dàlǐngshān but I work in Sōngshānhú district (piànqū / 松山湖片区). Dàlǐngshān Zhèn (大岭山镇) is part of Sōngshānhú but these days Sōngshānhú is a very high-tech centre within the 6 townships that surround Sōngshān lake itself. Shilong (石龙), Chashan (茶山), and Shipai (石排) aren’t really that close to the lake area but they’re part of the district. The lake area is mainly surrounded by Dàlǐngshān, Dàlǎng (大朗) and Liáobù (寮步). Sōngshānhú as a town has grown from 2003, from a simple high-tech park to the mammoth green living space around the lake that is now. Huawei and many other tech giants are here. It has a railway station on The Dongguan West to Huizhou railway and will soon join the subway with three stations in Dàlǐngshān on the line 1 route (东莞轨道交通1号线/Dōngguǎn Guǐdào Jiāotōng Yī Hào Xiàn), and one at Sōngshānhú itself. The new line opens in 2022, so I won’t get too excited right now. The subway Line 3 will also have 4 stations in Sōngshānhú but that hasn’t began construction.

The new job has been welcoming, well-paced and full of encouragement. I am confident that this is a new start with great potential. Two former students are following me from grade 3 at St Lorraine Anglo-Chinese School to the new Tungwah Wenzel International School (TWIS). I’m sure that they will enjoy their grade 4 class – and I will have to work hard as their Home Room Teacher to ensure that they do. Between various conference calls, meetings and introductions there has been good coffee and ample time to down tools to think of a plan of action. I am terribly excited about the coming semester. Even amongst these COVID-19 times there is a lighthouse and beacon when we look in the right places.

Dàlǐngshān town isn’t far away, and in the relatively short time since I first went to Dàlǐngshān, the place has grown and has modern districts, several branches of Lauren’s Pizza and even a Walmart. There are universities and amongst the Guangdong Medical University is just over the road from me and DG University of Technology (东莞理工学院) isn’t far off. The lake has one large section that is completely free of cycles and cars. There is a parallel cycle route below a highway and under a cooling tree canopy. Cycling around the rest of the lake is a must. It is a great spot for tourism with backdrops of Huawei’s impressive European-style town and numerous picturesque places along the way. Lotus leaves, lush green sprawls, flowers and bird call should be abundant. Around the many tranquil pathways, you can see Tai Chi, yoga, dates holding hands and families flying kites. I can’t wait to hang up my hammock sooner or later.

“I feel invigorated.” – Those were my words spoken to a new colleague on Friday. The evening was finished with a leaving day drink for Calum from Murray’s F.C. He’s only moving to Shenzhen but felt the need to arrange a leaving meal and drinks. I didn’t attend the meal as all new team members of Tungwah Wenzel International School were treated to a splendid buffet meal at the stylish Dongcheng International Hotel (owned by Tungwah/Donghua group). Even the coach journey was on a Tungwah group coach. They own factories, gardens, estates, hospitals and schools. They’re a sizable group and well-known in this region. Between the blooming peach and plum trees of Dongguan, the group’s assets aren’t far off. The ministry of optimism within my head is thankful for such a great opportunity. My only regret is not buying a crane from the car park exhibition at the Dongcheng International Hotel. Dahan Construction Machinery have some great pieces, ideal for placing hammocks within.

There are plenty of places within a short cycle ride now. Tongsha lake and the parks around it are just a stone’s throw away. Dalingshan Park is between here and Houjie. I’ve already cycled back to Irene’s Bar for a sandwich. There’s much to see and do in the area that I have yet to explore. On my doorstep, I will find the Tongji Bridge (通济桥 Song Dynasty, 920-1279) and cross that bridge soon. It will help me forget my worries. That’s the literal meaning, I believe.

“Quite apart from its meaty content, we believe we have found a real dramatist” – Gerry Raffles of Theatre Workshop speaking about Shelagh Delaney’s play A Taste of Honey.

Every story should have a beginning, an end, and some middle parts. There should be a plot, a setting with characters, some form of conflict (because something must happen), and a resolution (the smooth end). Some books carry the resolution or conflict over a series. That is life. Some things drag on. Others happen and fade away. There is no one-size-fits-all story to life. There will le a logical following and flow to a story because they must run smoothly to allow the follower to tag along. British dramatist and screenwriter Shelagh Delaney (who featured on album cover Louder Than Bombs, by The Smiths) intended A Taste of Honey to be a novel. It is a very famous play now. The drunken working-class single mum of Helen, and a daughter called Jo have spread from the monotonous 1958 skyline of a desolate Salford to London’s West End, Broadway, BBC Radio 3 and the Royal Exchange Theatre amongst other places. Peter, the wealthy southern lover of Jo’s mother Helen and a black sailor called Jimmy feature alongside a camp art student called Geoffrey. It is a complex and heavily questioning piece of drama. Class, gender, sexuality, and race are dissected which for mid-twentieth-century Britain was highly risky. The stars have followed the play with Stockport’s Sally Lindsay, a cluster of soap TV stars and Dr Who extras, Joan Ann Olivier, Baroness Olivier, DBE (born 28th October 1929) and notably Dame Angela Brigid Lansbury DBE joining the productions. A certain Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian) has also featured on the stage for this production. From Salford to Home and Away to a Galaxy far, far away…

But, right here, right now my story at Dongguan’s Tungwah Wenzel International School has just began.

Optimistic Toddlers?

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

The cure is coming! There will be an end to all of this! The miraculous rays of hope are out there and all across the planet scientists are scurrying about, digging deep for elements and combinations. The manufacturing of the optimistic cure for COVID-19 is deep under way. Do you believe that we’ll win? The future if humanity may be riding on it, but we’re a species who can create great things. Anyway, you’re onto a win. I guarantee it. You have already done something wonderful today. Now, go and find someone and make them smile from ear to ear.

Science has constantly been like a toddler asking too many questions. It looks. It makes an assumptive comment that may in turn resemble a loose understanding. It is a bright toddler though. It then goes to ask its toddler peers. The little toddler grows up far too fast and then starts to collect bits and bobs. Before long it has a Filofax of data. The toddler is now enrolled and fast-tracked into school. Between the extra piano lessons after school and the pre-school Latin classes, our toddler is rampant for knowledge. Soon enough, this toddler is taking tests, is full of excitement and thinks he or she has found the meaning of life. They’re on to something. The latest edition of Children’s BBC’s Play School is released with our toddler’s work to date. It isn’t National Geographic but this kid is really onto something. They’re already rewriting Sherlock Holme and other toddlers are literally tearing the first toddler’s work to shreds. There are bits everywhere. Some of it has found its way into nappies and diapers and cracks that shouldn’t house a kid’s work. This toddler stands out though and is a modern exemplar of the highest standard. Other toddlers and older students can’t compete or find a way to headbutt this toddler off their highchair. The toddler is the epitome and personification of the New Scientist-reading U.K. government right now. They are lining themselves up for either the Nobel Peace Prize or the Oscars. Any flaws or shame will be avoided by glossing over the unsmooth surface and painting over any cracks. A win for ‘the science’ at the very least.

COVID-19 is the new Brexit. These are the defining annoyances of the 21st century for those who are British or inferior. Right or wrong? Emotions are real in the moment, and right now many people are struggling with their minds. This COVID-19 is an annoyance that has been here on Earth for the blink of an eyelash and seemingly won’t go. It will. Just remember that so many people over the history and sands of time have been in utterly dire moments with horrible situations right in their face. What did they do? Something, surely? We’re still here.

The U.K.’s dealings with the COVID-19 cannot be collectively described as horrifyingly abysmal with a dash of utterly extreme rotten hard luck. Boris Johnson, ever-present during so many key moments has led from the front. He didn’t use private healthcare, so BUPA and his care plan wasn’t troubled one iota. He went full state service and utilised the very NHS he has always loved. He and his party have been consistent in telling hard-truths at both daily press conferences and within the Houses of Parliament. Thankfully none of the Conservative party members’ friends have benefited from this outbreak and no deals or contracts have been slotted their way like a croupier would in a bent casino.

Financiers are going extinct too. No matter your belief or state of mind, compare yourselves to others. It is natural to do so. Where are they? Where are you? How are they feeling? What do they have? What don’t you have? Look around you, what’s missing? What’s there and there for you alone? Who is with you? Who is truly alone? What help mechanisms are there? Who started out with nothing and still has most of it left? Be optimistic. Be energised. Be inspired.

There hasn’t been any gross ineptitude by the incomparable leadership of this government. There will certainly be movies made and speeches replayed for the next 70 or so years, about the defining hours of the year 2020. It isn’t the Great War, or World War II, but it will be remembered for the few. Those great few who gave their all and opened the treasury wide open to eliminate social and financial divide. As always, the nation obsessed with calling other nations corrupt is tendering left, right and centre to bat away any claims of British exceptionalism. This is a nation that resolved a growing homelessness crisis and stabilised the care home industry at the right time.

The virus and its associated disease COVID-19 rocked up to these secure island shores of Britain and was left floundered by a questionnaire. All the flights from struggling third world and developing nations such as Italy and Germany were halted. Instead Britain went on the offensive supplying help overseas and partnering with countries in need. Red Nose Day after Comic Relief after Children in Need was not needed. British aid was bolstered by fair-trade loving tax paying corporations and syndicates. “Help!”, they cried overseas in foreign lands. Britain dug deep and exported ‘the science’ and the world was grateful. You could feel bad because other nations and people have it better. Don’t. Don’t look over the garden fence at what they have. Don’t assume they’re better than you. Think on how good or bad things used to be. How can you get back to that? It could be much worse, right?

The concern of the everyday normal people running England has been overwhelming. The openhanded and transparent display of sharing ‘the science’ was praised globally by China, the W.H.O. and the successful President Trump, currently running away with a sweeping presidential campaign. The rise and accomplishment of near-100% testing within the U.K. was credit to Matt Hancock’s half hour of power. As he deputised for Boris Johnson, who was allowed a free weekend away from the spotlight (as thanks from the adoring nation), he practically rebuilt Public Health England so well that Wales, Scotland and little Northern Ireland came begging for the recipe. Even the Isle of Man came knocking. It has been so refreshing to see the love and admiration of down-on-their-luck types on their rags to riches rise into politics and their effect on the population.

Seeing how good it is over there in Switzerland or Sweden and how bleak it is here with you, that’s ony going to erode your mind. Those negative moments will multiply. Forget it. Kick the self-torturing in the dick and move on. Do we always deserve a raise in salary of someone else gets one? You be your judge. Fairness isn’t for everyone. What about those around you who didn’t get a pay rise? What about those who have no opportunity to get a pay rise because they haven’t even got a job? So, your flights and lifestyle changed. It hurts. Did you die? No. Did someone you love get hurt? Hopefully a big no. Be thankful COVID-19 didn’t enter your house. Wait a minute! Be thankful that you haven’t had it worse.

Thankfully hijackings of scientific methodology and terminology has been avoided. The general public have been treated to an open and clear display, free of patronising speech and overbearing experts with words longer than attention span. The steady messages have been clear. NHS workers: Stay alert at home safely and save protected lives or something like this or that: stay at home in order to protect the NHS and save lives. Whilst other nations scramble and scratch to replace their liars, their dealers of death, their wasters, their corrupt and their tyrants, Britain stands firm with reliance and love for the very institutions set up to make us one. Without the traditional household names of Virgin, Epson, Reliance, Yahoo, Facebook, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s, Ebay and Delta, we’d really be up a creak without a paddle. Many companies have been on hand to rescue the faltering National Health Service.

Perceptions are tools. Flip a switch to off for pessimism and bang the button of optimism. With that your emotional state will shine. With a little extra focus on what we have as being good, we can focus on how to make things better – and with that share to others on how to improve ourselves as people. As a species we have excelled and have dominated the planet, but now we’re of the mind that we need to bring balance to the world around us. Is it too late? That depends on the contents of your glass. If you look back five years, ten years and twenty years, you’ll see changes and adaptations. It may seem like the road ahead out of COVID-19 road or over the plastic seas is impossible, but look back at the journey, and we’ve got far. A few more steps and new things shall be possible.

For example, just look how far little 126-year-old Manchester City have progressed in 5 years, 10 years, 15 years and 20 years. Yes, there was investment but that’s professional football. Okay, no wins of the Champions League, but that’s work in progress. Look how far that they have moved. That’s motivating and inspiring for City fans. Now compare that to Leicester City, Manchester Utd., Real Madrid, and so on. But, keep in mind City were in the third tier of English football as recent as May 1999. Now it is 21 years later. So much is possible over the next 21 years.

Independent experts have been using their bias and brown paper envelopes globally to distance themselves from independent and pure nations. Within the broader cultures of the planet Earth, we’ve learnt much in recent months, and science, it seems, is s collection of lies spun by flat-Earthers and know-it-all-types alike. A beautiful British common-sense approach is all you need to bat away the virus that refuses to play cricket. Just wash your blooming hands to the tune of ‘Happy Birthday’ and all will be fine.

In 2017, I went to Nepal, I walked for many days and didn’t get close to my aim. I returned in 2019 and surpassed my now-based-on-experience-aim. In 2020, I returned to Nepal with a realistic aim of exploring new areas and setting no target for dates and times. It was all about new steps and progress. A bit further, a bit more, and a bit less worry. I may not want to climb every mountain or walk every trail, but I do want to be in a better place tomorrow than today. I’m sure as COVID-19 cures and treatments come about, humanity will be there too.

This week:

Three students entered the classroom of class 3F. Their eyes barely visible as small pools of dark pigmentation above their pale blue facemasks. Their long hair hung too low to be considered a maintained fringe. They greeted with hellos, as if the events of recent months hadn’t happened. Each had hand gel sanitizer strapped to their bags. They shuffled to their desks and sat quietly, awaiting the arrival of further peers.

The new term is well under way, albeit a wee bit later than planned. Around seven weeks of online teaching, and home-schooling was now at an almost end. For most. One student, in Taiwan and a further student in Japan cannot return. The border is closed for overseas visitors – and my student in Taiwan has valuable family time at this time of international emergency. It has been a disruptive period of a few months for students and teachers alike. Thankfully, much is salvageable with some crammed lessons, adapted revision and continual efficient planning. As my colleague Nick is trapped in Serbia, I will take his middle school classes twice a week, otherwise my timetable is not too dissimilar to last semester. The usual seven classes a day has been adapted to eight classes a day for the poor old hard-working students. Morning exercise is earlier in the day and mealtimes are allocated into slots to allow reasonable social distancing.

The reality of social distancing is rather different. As schools in France resume and 70 or so cases of COVID-19 have been linked to them, students elbow for space in corridors and staircases here. I type this having heard passers-by in the road expectorating throats from their mouths onto the road by our school I truly worry about complacency. Masks are being relaxed outside now and inside many places people are far more laissez-faire about wearing personal protective equipment. Yes, China has the virus in a suppressive state, but cases are emerging every now and then. The perfect storm only needs the right level of guards being dropped for COVID-19 to continue its survival unhindered. Personal protection equipment seems to be on the way out here. Is that good or bad?

There is no cure. There isn’t a valid vaccine, but big pharmaceutical companies, nations and leading scientists are working around the international clocks, together or separately, in order to find that final cure. The breakthrough will bring major amounts of money to many – and if available to all, hope for a brighter and more free future. Humanity has had a huge wake-up call to come together yet many are drifting apart. There’s a change coming. We can either sit back and watch it crumble or dig in deep and do something wonderful. Stubbornness and blind faith will only get us so far. Now is the time to manufacture some optimism and stoke up the fire of positivity. The world is a wonderful place, full of great people and during COVID-19’s reign of destruction, it is not a time to lose hope. There is no cure – at present. One day there will be. Right?

On the plus side, this week, I’ve played football for two hours (with great people) and I’ve just finished reading the Jack Reacher novel titled Blue Moon, written by Lee Child. Between the frantic handwashing, panic, worry and speculation, it isn’t easy to find time to switch off, but years of procrastination have prepared me well for…