Setting Sails

Good day/Namaste/S’mae/How do/Hello/Nihao,

“Here we go”… “all aboard”… “the packet steamer is ready for departure”… “the flight is ready to depart”… “my God, it’s full of stars”…

BLAST OFF!

I’m not going to lie. It has been an eventful and busy few weeks. Today is the final day of the first teaching week. This marks the third week within Tungwah Wenzel International School. It’s been emotionally charged, eye-opening (in a refreshing kind of way) and wonderfully welcoming. This school is modern and dedicated to the International Baccalaureate methods and standards of practice. It aims to develop rounded young people that enquire, have broad knowledge and use their skills with care. The idea is to create peace and harmony whilst ‘promoting intercultural understanding and respect.’

The school is very well organised with clear hierarchy and methodology. There’s much to learn and many places to look for the knowledge. Resource is plentiful and accessible. Each classroom is equipped with a Smart Board (digital white board/multimedia unit) and at least four white boards. The room started out as a blank canvas. With the aid of desks that can fit a variety of teamwork positions or solo working spaces, and great chairs, the students can work at a breakfast bar-style workspace overlooking the green sporting facilities or slot in and out of double, treble, quadruple or quintuple team areas. I think up to decuple is possible, but I have yet to try that configuration. Differentiated instruction at its best.

The first few weeks involved introductions, meetings and workshops. Between brainstorms, buzz groups, bug lists, stepladder techniques and synectics, I discovered mind maps, which I have seen and can interpret but have never attempted to create one. My mind map virginity was lost to the theme of transdisciplinary learning.

I like the I.B. mindset. Classrooms encourage open celebration of diversity through their displays and their activities. The reading corner it Chinese and English, but Spanish and French should and will be included to facilitate the students from those backgrounds. Their mother tongue is just as important as the primary medium we teach in: English. Multi-lingual exposure will widen everyone’s minds. The displays will mostly be at the eye-level of our students. At the end of the day, they’re learning more than we are. So, parents should expect to come and crouch down to see their kids’ best efforts. We have a corner set aside for curiosity and special objects. Things are great examples of realia and generate wonderful questions. Our classroom is there to stimulate and be inviting. Whilst the framework may have been organized by myself and my assistant Miss Sheryl, the bulk of the display work will be a showcase for our students.

Learning stations are proving to be a challenge. Some students must get used to not playing with everything placed in one area. The literacy, numeracy and U.O.I. (Unit of Inquiry) class regions seem to be mixed up on a daily basis. House-keeping is something we’re encouraging the students to do, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. We have a couch, a proper sofa, beanbags, stools and chairs of various heights. Our common room and classroom are separated by a wall, but hopefully a doorway or a crawl space will bring the two spaces together. Different activities are blessed by different zones.

Resources are important. The students have an iPad each, books, things to use such as stationery and so on. The facilities are spacious and numerous with dedicated areas and ample room for multi-purpose functions. Of course, there’s a Godzilla-sized amount of responsibility, but few rules are seen. Instead students are asked to create essential agreements. They choose positive sentences and then pledge to abide by them. They even set them for their teachers. My grade four students elected the following essential agreements for me:

Make our school day special and fun.

Understand our students and their needs. [They even mentioned that this applies to the whole school, rather than just our one classroom]

Bring a smile to the classroom.

Make our classes interesting.

Be equal and fair.

Try to play more games in the classroom.

Help us to learn.

As for the students, there are the standard hints at keeping the noise down as well as about respect and politeness. Their collective of ten agreements are easily said, and I’m sure in time, they’ll also be habit. I will let them choose their content, but shuffle in some Roald Dahl and my own interests as and when fit and proper to do so.

The students could have even added, ‘Mr John must share his cakes’ because based on today’s lunch, they cleaned my dessert plate of fruits and three small slices of cake swiftly. I didn’t even have any watermelon left. I’ve two students in my class from three previous years at St Lorraine Anglo-Chinese Primary School. Kitty and Marline are now like best friends. They’ve linked up well with two other girls yet still seem to hate working with boys. So, as girls hit around 9 or 10 years of age, that’s when boys are ‘disgusting’ as they say. Maturity comes at different ages of course but the age-old battle of boys versus girls roars on.

These last few days have involved plenty of studying for myself, but with online resources and three libraries (teachers’ / primary / middle years) to select from, I haven’t had any huge problems. I know that smooth seas don’t make good sailors and the challenges ahead will present themselves in time, but I feel I’m in the right place surrounded by the right people, all with the right attitudes for the road ahead. There are trials ahead. Nothing easy is ever worth doing, right?

Thank you kindly for your time.

The Last Broadcast

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

“So here we are; At the last broadcast; Here we are; Our last broadcast” – The Last BroadcastDoves

To the students, parents, colleagues, the principal, the parent/teacher association, the board of directors, and those concerned:

I write to say the deepest thank you to all of the above. I thank you for a sincere and wonderful experience at St Lorraine Anglo-Chinese Primary School. The experience was an excellent one and one that has helped our class take many more steps forwards than sideways. The classroom life may be drawn to a close this week, but we all leave here with unforgettable memories, a new port of calling for everlasting friendships and a sincere view of both Western and Chinese cultures. This will only serve to inspire and give us ample opportunity to gather smiles from our warm memories.

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Each year has seen new challenges and requirements. The advantages of enjoying such festivals of Children’s Day or Mid-Autumn Festival helps bring balance to the routine of the teacher’s daily life. We must be open and honest by evaluating our progress. What could we have done better? What could I have worked harder on? How can teamwork improve each and every single one of us? Take some time to review the matters that matter and invest energy and time into conquering obstacles.

Three school years is a long time to a child. It hasn’t felt so long to me. I haven’t met a single foreign teacher who has stayed with students for longer than two years. And at times, it has seemed like madness. Many students develop a familiarity that can mean that they now, what they can get away with. They know the limits of a teacher very soon. They know your blind spots of vision. Thankfully, 3F have been mostly wonderful. The days of Billy climbing me like a tree come to an end. There will be no Tony calling me “disgusting” at every opportunity. Marline’s daydreams and assortment of wonderful questions have come to an end. The quiet star Kitty can take her big voice to the next teacher. Marcus can talk about Lego and Aaron about travels with their next teachers. Roselle’s great artwork; Candy’s enthusiasm; Angela’s endless questions; Jimmy’s brilliant curiosity; Tyler’s reading passion; Leon’s sporting skills; Allen’s desire to lead every team; Alice’s requests for a new pet hamster; Evan’s lack of fear to pick up challenging reading materials; Kim’s conversations about her mammoth sleeping habits; Kristy’s great descriptive capabilities; Natalie’s cheerful drive for dancing; and Sabrina’s sense of humour. They will all be missed. These three years have been a privilege.

In the beginning there were lots of students, and through various reasons (change of location, new school choices), we’ve been reduced from 27 students to presently just 19 (although 2 have been unable to return this semester due to COVID-19). We had three fixed classrooms with temporary residence in one other classroom whilst mosquito guards were fitted. Everywhere we have been, we have tried as a class to decorate and leave a touch of our own warmth and creation there. From the original white walls, we made colossal suns, song words, signs, and warnings. There has been a blend of east and west, with lanterns, vases and hexagonal bee collages. Idioms have been learnt through curiosity and stacks of books lifted-up and put back down again.

When I first stepped into room 110 of St Lorraine Primary School, I was faced by a group of parents and colleagues. It was quite a friendly atmosphere and any nerves subsided soon enough. I was introduced to everyone by the principal, Mr Lam, and my co-worker Miss Zeng. Miss Zeng, or Cici as she is sometimes called would go on to be my co-worker for two years. Cici’s hobbies are sleeping and eating. Cake pillows are her dream. Throughout the initial year Cici really helped me communicate my ideas with the parents and create a pleasant feel for the class. Those foundation months were critical to where we are at now. Parents have been receptive and encouraging throughout my time with our class, our team and our journey. Many parents would be familiar faces throughout my three years with class 1F, 2F and ultimately 3F. I hope we all remain in contact. Miss Li has accompanied us throughout this third year of school. I wish them all the very best in the future.

Footballs have been humped around the field, kicked with passion and passed to friends. Rugby balls have looped over heads and basketballs dribbled through legs. There have been hours of games, laughter and creativity in action. Students have become teachers to me. English, like Chinese, is a wonderful and beautifully crafted language – and foreign teachers usually feel most welcome in learning your native tongue, whilst giving our all to give the students our command of English. The students enjoyed laughing at or teaching me one or two words throughout our time together.

Like I tell students, I advise them, “Don’t believe everything you hear and see.” In fact, believe nothing of what you hear, for until you see or hear, how do you absolutely know it to be true? A good environment needs a positive feel and respect, whether through reward or simple acknowledgment. All classes need classmates to be balanced in their manners and respectful. Don’t accept everything as it is. Look for ways to enhance and improve the working practices, without wasting time and passions. Encouragement is a valuable tool for students and teachers alike. Teachers such as Miss Huang (Minna), and Miss Cheng (Paris), amongst many can take their energy and give it to those they teach and work with. Over the years I have been lucky enough to meet many great people.

Life doesn’t get better by chance. It gets better by change. We adapt and we are flexible. Proper planning prevents poor performances, but that doesn’t always mean circumstances can be suited each time. Planning just makes us better prepared. Free time to do the things we love helps us come into school refreshed and ready to be effective. Holidays give us time to see family and planning such trips can be irritating and difficult. Uncertainty and discomfort can be avoided. That should be what a good teacher should always do. Avoid overworking and stay fresh for school. After all, that is something which we encourage our students.

Now, nobody’s saying the international class at St. Lorraine is the Garden of Eden, but it’s been a good home to us, to me, John Acton – and my students, who I’m proud of! Because every single one of them reminds me a little of… me. They can all think for themselves! Which they’ve their parents to thank for. Allen, who’s a bit loud! Aaron who is a lot like his sister, which is handy because she’s quiet and polite. Alice who bounces around like a ballet dancer. Our Billy, the little bucket of questions. Angela and her big smile. Candy, a model student until you take her pen away. Evan! The biggest trip hazard for a hundred kilogram plus-size teacher. Jimmy, a face of innocence with a head full of wit and humour. Kim and Marcus, fantastic neighbours for other students – until they open their mouths… and never close them! Kristy, who seems hellbent on making me bench press her bodyweight with, “Pick me up!” every other day. Marline, she’s gonna be a star, when she focuses. Natalie, skipping and hopping around with a big smile day after day. Roselle, she’s the student every teacher wants but only ever gets one of them. Sabrina, so curious and such a total angle. You’ve to check your desk but she’ll go miles out of her way to do you a favour. Tony and Tyler, full of energy, smiles and oddity. All of them, to a man, know first and foremost the most vital necessity in the classroom, is they know how to be part of a team. Let’s party! SCATTER!

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Turn off the subtitles, finetune your hearing and pick up those English newspapers, magazines and books. It’s always time to challenge yourself and push on for the next day of hard work. We can, little by little, make improvements. That’s why I’m saying thank you. You’ve improved me. Don’t stop learning. Don’t stop teaching. Look for those brighter and better days. The world’s future is calling you – and you must be ready for it. Anything is possible. A simple thank you is not enough. From the bottom of my heart to each and every one of you.

So, what now?

Yours in teaching; yours is passion for learning; yours truly and faithfully,

Mr John

The Mancunian Way, Dongguan

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

“I feel so extraordinary; Something’s got a hold on me; I get this feeling I’m in motion; A sudden sense of liberty.” – New Order’s song True Faith.

I’m patriotic towards the U.K. in a way. I sing praise and fly the flag for great people, wonderful history and fantastic places. I know that the story of the U.K.’s history has often been brutal, cruel and deserves little love. Even within the 21st century the U.K., as it moves away from a colonial and European past, and becomes less connected, yet more dependent on overseas trading and manufacture is and always will be a wonderful country. It’s my home. I was born in Manchester, England. I don’t call myself English. I’m British, when I choose to be. I’m Mancunian always. I have Celtic blood in me from my Irish and Welsh great grandparents. My roots are clear and free. But this tree doesn’t cling to the past and history. This tree wants to expand and be watered by different skies. For me tradition and culture are important but understanding and freedom to choose your own pathway are far more intrinsic to living. This tree is currently sat on its arse in Changping, Dongguan. Today’s and yesterday’s rugby and football have been washed out by Dragon Boat rains. I have some free time.


Today, I want to show a gallery and write a little about the culture of Dongguan and China. I’ve been here for the vast majority of the 2308 days now (11th February 2014). I believe many great days have passed and many more will follow. That’s why I am right here, right now. I arrived and didn’t feel too much way of culture shock. Around me a reasonably established cultured expat community threaded amongst the fabric of the local workforces and people of Guangdong.

“Because we need each other; We believe in one another; And I know we’re going to uncover; What’s sleepin’ in our soul” – Acquiesce by Oasis.

Since, I arrived I have seen Dongguan grow and grow. It is now classed as a Megacity. It seemingly will never stop growing. There are skyscrapers and apartment blocks skimming the sky in every single district of Dongguan. Whereas in 2014, I’d notice dozens of these mammoth constructions and many more sprouting buildings, now I am seeing hundreds and hundreds of established communities and hubs here, there and everywhere. I used to consider Nancheng and Dongcheng as the central axis of Dongguan. Now the townships of Chang’an (home of Oppo), Changping and the ever-growing former fields of Songshan Lake (home of Huawei), and the sprawls of Liaobu town could easily be seen as central areas. The arrival of the Huizhou to now West Dongguan Railway Station (soon to be Guangzhou East) or 莞惠城际轨道交通  /莞惠线 Guanhui intercity railway has added to rapid growth. As it joins the short-named Pearl River Delta Metropolitan Region Intercity Railway System (珠江三角洲地区城际轨道交通). That’s more than 65 railway stations in close proximity to Dongguan. Like all of the Pearl River Delta, this city is growing fast – and going places.

 

When not hopping on 200 km/h (124 mph) railway systems, I have ample opportunity to meet great people. Dongguan‘s community is largely migrant with people coming from all over China and the world beyond. International jet-setters with lives here, include Serbians, Kiwis, and even Scousers. They can be found in some of the office places, factories, bars and restaurants throughout the city. Playing football with Brazilians or Russians, or cycling with Dongbei people is possible or a spot of chess at Murray’s Irish Pub with Ukranian opposition. Anything goes here. Drinking homebrew at Liberty Brewing Company (曼哈顿餐吧) in Dongcheng after playing tag rugby with Tongans, South Africans, Germans and Malaysians makes me realise how lucky I am. This is a city that is tidying up and beautifying itself at an alarming rate.

Throughout the 6.5 years of life in and around Dongguan, I’ve slipped up and down ginnels, seeking out the new and old. There have been trips to pizza joints in obscure areas, Dragon Boat races watched, Cosplay events attended and English competitions observed. Dongguan, like Manchester, has a heartbeat that shows anything is possible and if it isn’t here, you make it. You can make something new, or your bring something to the party. You can sit and complain about people taking your photo or saying, “wàiguórén” (foreigner/外国人) or you can show the people around you, your worth.

This week I was asked by the Dongguan Foreign Bureau to teach them. Sadly, I cannot fit their demands into my day. I’ve bene lucky to narrate advertisements, wear watches for model shoots, test-drive new bicycles and play with new robotics before they reached their target audience or global factory floors. Daily life has been far from mundane here with oddities and pleasures as varied as can be. What’s around the next corner? Well, visas are quicker and easier to get, despite more rules and demands. It seems far quicker than when I first arrived. Sometimes, I doubt that I have done everything right, yet it seems clear and simple. Just a checklist. This week I received my medical report back. Now, I need just a few other items for the 2020/21 visa… That’s progress.

Bridges have been made and links that could prove lifelong. The west and east have collided in bizarre ways often forming a touch of the unique. There has been colour, rainbows and diversity amongst the traditional and the common. There have been flashes of light and inspiration. There have been days when solitude has been sought and there will be more, no doubt, but one thing I find, and have found throughout my time here, people are just that. Just simple down to earth, regular people going about their days, looking for peace and good opportunities to survive or better themselves. There are more cars and less bicycles, which shows that some people’s bank accounts and credit-ratings have improved. Quality of life needs balance, and with that the subway/underground system of Dongguan is projected to change from one line to seven lines.

Words can say how thankful I am for my time here. I am enjoying life in different ways to others, and being who I want to be, when I want to be. I’m selfish or I’m sharing. I’m open or I am closed. I read or I watch. I write or I dictate. There are times to slip unseen, and times to lead an audience. It is good for the mind to be bored or alone. I truly believe that’s where creativity lies. It sits there waiting to be tapped and delivered to paper, computers or other outputs. I can wander from craft beer breweries to model car clubs to fusion and western food restaurants with ease and all of the time remain connected to modern and old China.

There is plenty of ugly in Dongguan, just like the rest of the world. To quote the 18th century French phrase, “ne saurait faire d’omelette sans casser des œufs“:  You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. Humans must learn from the stains and damage we have caused to our planet globally, whether disease or pollution. We can’t give in. Our cultures, our pride and our people need to fight on and find solutions. Just as #BlackLivesMatter, all lives matter – whether human or worm or bug or panda. Life must find a way. Dongguan is radically changing its energy consumptions, factory practices and the way its environment is being respected. This is good for all. Maybe, I should really put my words into action and finish studying towards the HSK (汉语水平考试 Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì) course for the Chinese Proficiency Test.

 

Dongguan has gone from a place with a handful of limited cinemas, to those with the IMAX, vibrating seats, private screens and many of the latest releases from the west. KTV bars make way for baseball batting cages, ten-pin bowling, archery cafes and all the latest crazes. The great thing is that with Wechat (born 2011), Alipay etc, you can leave your wallet behind and pay swiftly with ease using these simple electronic methods. Gone are the days of using equations and haggling to get a taxi a short distance. Piles of services are available via your phone, including electrical bills, water bills and Didi (driver and carshare service) is one such saving grace.

During these COVID-19 pandemic times, your phone provides your health code, advice in travel, guidance on health services and help. Dongguan’s local services for healthcare, private insurance and banking are on your fingertips, rather than a a few hours out of work. Life can be as fast or as slow as you wish. In 2010, Dongguan was named a National Model City for Environmental Protection and greenways, green belts and other greenery followed. There are hundreds of parks now, over 1200… it is easier than ever to stay healthy.

There is culture around us, old temples, modern pagodas, relics of time and shells of history. Dongguan’s landmarks are a tad tough to visit now. The Cwa humid subtropical climate here is far above the reported average annual temperature of 22.7 °C (72.9 °F). The rainfall is typical of the land below the Tropic of Cancer now. It is raining cats, dogs and occasionally elephants. Wellingtons and umbrellas are common sights these days, rather than the Dongguan Yulan Theatre, GuanYinShan (Budda mountain), Hǎizhàn bówùguǎn (海战博物馆 Opium War Museum) or Jin’aozhou Pagoda. Even a trip to my local coffee shop, Her Coffee, is like a swim in a river. It is blooming wet lately. As a Mancunian, I feel at home.

I’m here for education – to both teach and to learn. This city has hundreds of educational institutions, even Cumbria’s St. Bees are opening a school here. I’ve heard there are around 550 primary schools, 480 kindergartens and several universities now. To bump into a teacher amongst the 21,000 plus teachers is not unusual. Although it seems every second teacher works for one of the many Eaton House schools here. I’ve heard Tungwah Wenzel International School (TWIS) in Songshan Lake is one school to really watch. Like its neighbouring Huawei school, it is massive with around 1,000,000 square metres of surface area. I’ve seen the modern sports gyms, performance space and technology labs. It uses the latest gadgets and networking. It really is 21st century over there at Songshan Lake. Although Huawei have a German-style train-tram zipping around, piping back to older days. Dongguan University of Technology(DGUT; 东莞理工学院) is one of universities in the area meaning that you can educate beyond your teenage years here. It really is a place to learn. Watch out Oxford and Cambridge! Maybe that’s why Trump is always bad-mouthing China’s growth?

From eating chicken anus, to two weeks of quarantine in XiHu Hotel, Dongguan has given me more time to turn the contents of my head to words. Now that I am ready to publish a novel, I need a publisher, but how to do this during a pandemic? I haven’t a clue, but I know one thing, the challenge will be tough and worth it. Nobody ever climbed a mountain to sit at the top and look down without seeing another mountain, right? At the end of the day, the sun sets only to rise again. Dongguan faced lockdown impeccably and other challenges, just as the world did and does. Chin up, keep going and let’s crack on.

Last night, I ate Korean barbecue with great people to celebrate a treble-birthday, followed by proof that I am terrible at ten-pin bowling and awoke today feeling optimistic. The world is often reported to be going through a pandemic-sized recession. As the world sailed a wave in 2008 and Dongguan grew from that recession, I will everyone to go on. Manufacture a bucket of optimism. Just like the strings of New Dawn Fades by Joy Division, there is darkness but remember these famous lines: It was me, waiting for me; Hoping for something more; Me, seeing me this time; Hoping for something else. In 2008, low-tech industry switched to the high-tech. Boomtime arrived. Chances are that one in five phones around the globe were made in Dongguan. Is your phone Vivo, Oppo, Honor or Huawei? It was probably made down the road from me. So, Dongguan is closer than you think.


Manchester isn’t any place I will visiting in person for some time, so it has to come to me via playbacks of Oasis gigs at Maine Road and the written word. Over the next few months, I plan to read the following Mancunian-connected books:

Hell is a City – Maurice Proctor; The Manchester ManIsabella Varley Banks; Passing Time – Michel Butor; Magnolia Street – Louis Golding; Fame is the Spur – Howard Spring; Lord Horror – David Britton; The Emigrants – WG Sebald; Cold Water – Gwendolyne Riley; The Mighty Walzer Howard Jacobson; Manchester Slingback – Nicolas Blincoe; Vurt – Jeff Noon; A Man’s Game: The Origins of Manchester City Football ClubAndrew Keenan; Mary Barton – Elizabeth Gaskell; Cranford – Elizabeth Gaskell; North and South – Elizabeth Gaskell.

“I was thinking about what you said; I was thinking about shame; The funny thing how you said; Cause it’s better not to stay” – The Last Broadcast – Doves

Teaching with Chopsticks CONTINUED

RECOVERED FROM THE DEMISE OF HUBHAO.COM

Some things are essential to leaving the classroom, feeling not only like you did a good job but that you made a difference is key for me.  You have to be a realist and know that best laid plans will come unstuck every now and then.  To be prepared is to be ready, and ready for action you must be.

In full focus.  Some days are hot, some days are stickier than a bun factory’s spillage of extra-gummy jam, some days it don’t come easy… some days it doesn’t come at all.  Meat Loaf lyrics aside, you need focus.  Buckets of concentration melted together with motivation to perform.  You cannot walk into any class half-heartedly.  Finding the on switch is relatively easy.  A smile, a blast of some good music, a stroll around the school grounds, anything to clear you mind and feel fresh.  In the domain of teaching, insufficient time is afforded to that best buddy of the educator:  relaxation.  Daydreaming and doodling have been linked with high intelligence levels and creativity.  I like to think all my best ideas have stemmed from drawing fictitious maps and brainstorms resembling that of a biro-inscribed cyclone.  Move around the classroom, get many eyes following you!

Made from concentrate.  I hate being ignored.  I detest it when I lose one or two students to boredom, tiredness or the pressures of stacked homework lay before them.  I despise concentration being sapped by distractions.  That said, I can understand.  Empathy and sympathy are your allies.  Your movements and actions will deliver your crowd.  Think slapstick or stand-up comedy over standing up straight.

Realistic goals.  This goes for both students and teachers, because ultimately why aim to high and totally miss your targets?  The level of English in various schools or even within one grade can differ drastically.  You can’t leave behind any stragglers and similarly you cannot abandon the child geniuses.  The fine balance between testing and arduous should sit just above competence and challenging.  With experience you can find that titrated line.  If 80% of the class is at a level higher than the balance, you can over one semester encourage the inexperienced students onwards with more one-on-one assistance and praise.  Their confidence might just need your backing and reassurance.

Lesson planning.  I love to do something.  I hate to plan.  That said, a great plan gives fantastic guidance and helps you avoid stumbling into a ravine without a paddle for the creek below.  Finding a lesson plan is easy.  Then it must be tailored.  The end product needs to suit you, and you alone.  For my lesson plans I slice them into ten key components.  (1)  Do you have a clear and outlined method?  (2)  The lesson should be segmented into presentation, practice and production areas.  (3)  How big will activities be?  Teamwork versus pair work or smaller groups of four?  (4) Push for student talking time, over teacher talking time – where oral English is key.  (5)  Plainly outline the target phraseology and vocabulary.  Avoid clutter.  (6)  Handouts, activities and supporting materials need to be noted clearly.  (7)  Is an example of board work necessary?  (8)  Minimise non-essential skills such as reading or writing when pushing for oral English practice.  (9)  Ensure the students practice what you have taught them and define how you can check this.  (10)  Ensure the task pours, surges and flows as required by bringing the matter to life with a great review…

Reviews.  Perhaps, the only way you’ll ever develop as a teacher is by assessing the level of response from students in a review.  If the games or activities are dull, a poker-face laden class will stare emptily until the class bell.  If the final undertaking is too difficult, confusion and ignorance will call by for a bite to eat:  you’re on the menu!  Engaging review games can catch attention.  They will reveal how much has been learnt or bolstered.  Using characters from popular culture like those of Super Mario Brothers, the latest boybands, or famous sport stars will engage your crowd.  If it is obscure, you’ll lose the crowd.  That said, a personal touch reflecting you and your life can fascinate the gazing eyes.  Add life, add personality and add some spirit.  I have a class that have nicknamed me Tofu.  Since then an entire Powerpoint presentation was based around a dialogue revolving around the food, a fictional superhero called Fantastic Tofu and the new game Super Tofu Brothers.  If a particular class embraces something, you can play off it – it may be tedious to you, but dive in with full passion and join me in a method I like to call Teaching with Tofu!

And with those words of wisdom, I end on a quote by The Hold Steady, “We gotta stay positive”.

For further reading:

Lesson plan maker – Retrieved 2015/04/19.

Lesson plan guidance – Retrieved 2015/04/19.


RECOVERED FROM THE DEMISE OF HUBHAO.COM

Introductions are meant to be swift and to the point.  That’s my introduction over with.

Try to know your students and their knowledge.  In a more technical way I could call this heading, “Acquire relevant knowledge about students”.  Students will have their own cultural and generational backgrounds.  They will have been influenced by their parenting; their friendships; mass media and so on and so on… If you mention Japan in many classes, some closed responses shall follow, but increasingly you may find good arguments or great positivity to Japanese culture.  The beauty of using a controversial or current affairs topic is that it can help develop descriptive terminology.  Similarly, a student with a history of poor discipline can be enticed by different approaches.  What they have learned, whether correct or totally erroneous can shape how they learn new topics.  There isn’t a simple way to note how much every student or a group of students know, but having an idea is a fine way to start your preparations!  Your course design for pacing, examples and format – even the objective depends entirely on knowing your students and their ability.  With this you can flush away misconceptions and draw up clear guidance routes.

 

Teamwork.  Let’s be fair, teamwork is something we all love when it goes well.  When it doesn’t it is hard, but then you find how to develop the strengths within the ranks of a team.  Weaknesses become stronger through assistance and collaboration.  All major road cycling races have a winner, but the team that gets the winner there, does most of the work.  Be they mechanics, support staff or the cycling squad.  In a team, all are accountable.  Responsibility and pride force the hand of those trying to shirk away.  The teamwork is far more social and can heighten understanding.  Essentially students have a jigsaw and through their own methods, they can assist each other.  I’m a massive believer in questions and answers.  For every question a student asks you, try to reply clearly – before launching your own questions.  The beauty of the modern world is you’re never more than one metre from a gameshow.  Turn “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” into a classroom activity.

 

Varied learning techniques.  Variety is the spice of life.  Fact.  Monotony creates boredom.  Monotony creates boredom.  If students are forced to sit and listen, expect a disaster of biblical proportions.  What I mean is Old Testament, real wrath of God type stuff.  Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling!  Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!  The students must talk.  Through talking they can connect.  They can apply the words by relating it to their experience.  Their learning will become their life and through each oral English lesson they will gain further invaluable experience.  I often devise undertakings to promote the key language skills in naturalised forms, e.g. if we’re discussing transport, why not perform a role-play based on travelling to the Sudirman Cup final (or something topical).

 

Timekeeping skills.  Class begins at 11am.  You have 40 minutes.  Remember to segment the class structure.  Tailor all to the students’ needs.  From experience energy will be highest early on.  Throw in a warm up activity then go straight into an introduction.  Now stop and review.  Slide in some more content, stop, practice and deliver.   Time for a final review?  Class is over.  Be realistic with timeframes.  Nothing great comes from too much review time, and likewise, nothing fantastic can emerge from too much introductory timing.  Only yawns.  Use timers on Powerpoint presentations, stopwatches, clocks and set clear limits for tasks.

 

Excellent!  Well done!  I recommend that you do your homework before the students even receive any homework from you.  Grab yourself a thesaurus.  Try to introduce new vocabulary, be it single words like fantastic or tremendous – or simple sentences of praise and encouragement.  “Try harder next time” can flip to “An admirable effort, but I know you can do better.”  Whether the work or task was first-rate, outstanding, exceptional, superb or poor, words are powerful tools to motivate and provide curiosity.  The students mind may ignore the praise, they may investigate it further, or they may learn an expression and fire it off at peers in the future.  That seed can fast become a network of positivity branching out in the tree of life.  Feedback should be seen as a chance to reflect on what you have asked – and not a motivator for incorrect learning.  Wisely must the force you use be.  Liam, a teacher, I know uses fist bumps, high fives and many other praising moves learnt from the ghettos of Weymouth (U.K.).  Try to vary your praising methods.  Introduce more internationally noted cultural nods of approval.


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Teachers are hugely important in a community.  Education and development of youth pushes the next generation onwards.  During these impressionable years children will be imparted with facts, figures and fart jokes.  These will stay with them forever.  With their new knowledge the student can go on and be responsible, productive and a valuable member of society.  And they’ll probably still tell fart jokes.

 

Diversify.  Theory and practice are two different things.  Flitting between each method is a good way to engage all.  In the novel Jurassic Park, penned by Michael Crichton, a character Dr. Grant talks about two kinds of people, “There are those that want to be astronomers, and those that want to be astronauts.”  The former studies from a point of absolute safety, the other is more like the explorer.  To make a class as hands-on as possible, sometimes lessons need to be outside the box.  For beyond the territories of old-fashioned teaching gives students ways to learn and develop their talents in ways more fitting to showing it off.  Varying assignments, exercises and even the location of teaching can certainly arouse the senses.

 

Build rapport.  So many times I have seen new teachers come and expect instant enthusiasm.  It is insulting to think you’ll be respected and learnt from within the first few classes.  There will always be curiosity but once that wanes, what remains?  Beyond the classroom, keep your office door open; tell students they are welcome to talk more outside of classes; join in with activities beyond your paid time; help the quieter students feel included; take on the tough kids and distractors, find out more about them; and always be approachable.  Wear a smile.  Be professional.  If it is for a moment raining in your heart, bring sunshine to those indoors.  Students will embrace you not just as a teacher, but someone to look up to and learn from as a community member.  Teaching isn’t about being a friend or popular, it is about commanding a respect to encourage your students to learn.

 

Aim higher than the stars.  Previously I penned the importance of realistic goals.  That’s for the students.  For you, as a teacher, should be looking at something far greater: the unreachable wall of perfection.  Don’t just copy and paste last year’s work.  Think how it can be improved.  Is there a different method of review you can use?  Could I modernise or make the images more relevant to the student audience?  How can I encourage more oral English opportunities?  Your expectations can always be heightened.  To quote Nelson Mandela, “after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”  Do this, and you’ll feel more satisfied.  Depend on older material and you’ll soon become fatigued.

 

There is no Plan B?  Of course there is a plan B.  I personally opt for plans C, D, E and F.  We’re in a subtropical region, with high humidity and build ups of saline detritus on projectors or even power-cuts may ruin a well-prepared powerpoint.  What’s more is that the humidity has rendered a box of chalk into a useless pulp of mush.  The dry wipe white board is not to be used as a previous teacher used a permanent marker and the word comparative has remained on that board for two years.  Unlike the other classrooms the board isn’t magnetised and sticky backed plastic can’t be utilised due to an invasive mouse population in your stationery draw.  Your computer has gave up the ghost too.  Prepare for the worst, hope for the best.  Games and flashcards sat in folders, pre-printed materials, pairwork activities, turning the classroom into an arena… every possibility; nothing’s left to chance.  Think on your toes.

 

Clear boundaries.  If there are two pathways, one is shorter than the other and involves little effort.  You’ll feel happy but relaxed afterwards.  The other pathway is steep, challenging and you will learn as much about yourself as the matter.  You will feel like you have worked hard on this latter path.  Which pathway do you take?  You must articulate to your students, what is acceptable in the learning process.  Recently in Wuhan, drones were used to curb cheating for the National College Entrance Exam.  Of course you want collaboration in teamwork, but in testing an individual, you need their purest response.  You don’t want answers from Professor Google and Dr. Baidu.  I’ve seen hand-written answers copied from Wikipedia complete with coloured hyperlinks and lines beneath them.  Even the red spellchecker error lines appeared.  I tend to highlight my rules early on, and address any breaches as and when with a three strikes and you’re out warning.  Plagiarism and replication of other student’s complete work can turn into a detective job at times.

 

 

 

For further reading:

“Implementing the Seven Principles: Technology as Lever” by Chickering and Ehrmann – Retrieved 2015/06/15.

Clear Learning Objectives” – Retrieved 2015/06/15.


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Making money.  I dislike money, I never seem to have enough or more appropriately, I’m totally irresponsible with my hard-earned dosh.  I earn my bread and then redistribute it on a combination of soft drink addictions and the need to add bits to my bicycle having shredded one part or the other.  I’m told you can save money easier by taking on extra jobs.  “Where can I find more work?”  I’m glad you have asked.  There’s the internet with forums like Dave’s ESL Café (www.eslcafe.com), there’s more regional classified adverts (like on Hubhao), social media like QQ, Facebook and WeChat groups.  Placing an advert in a bar or public place generally gets you spotted quickly.  Beyond the school gates in amongst the masses of parents is a good place to hand out your number and simple advertisement [Disclaimer:  check with your school first, and your teaching contract if this is okay].  Asking senior teachers if they know of anybody looking for private tuition will find you work.  In sunny Houjie, I have had a dozen requests each month and I usually delegate them to my immediate colleagues or friends.  Some of us like free time too much!

 

Forward thinking.  Ever had an idea during a class?  A bright spark followed by that lightbulb moment?  Yes, we all do.  Note it down for later.  During my summer vacation I plan to tailor images, bring props, bring some real things from home, kidnap my parents and force them to move to China… and so on.  There are gaps that can be brought to life in every topic.  I just need to get a life size replica of the Eiffel Tower into China… oh, wait, that’s already been done!!!  I plan this summer to collect magnetic board games including a giant Jenga; some English story books; more things to do with Manchester and the U.K. in general; prizes for games and competitions; seashells from the U.K. and many, many new holiday photos with friends and family.  I am a guest in China, and I want my students to be guests in my life and happenings.

 

Notes.  Notes, not of the musical variety, although that does help occasionally…  “Old MacDonald had a farm… A-E-I-O-U.”  I mean notes, as in minutes, records, transcripts or observations are important.  I average an A4 sized notepad every quarter of a year for a reason.  I rarely write anything beyond words, short sentences and abbreviated squiggles.  This is my idea factory.  Some ideas never bear fruit or even blossom.  Others get filling, direction and fill Powerpoints, games, review tasks, ideas to brighten the school walls up, become performances, songs, poems etc.  Notes, to me, are the foundation blocks of teaching.  Plus, every now and then, I look back at my notes from years gone by and find a piece of gold dust that gives rise to something big and wonderful (like posters about European nations and their culture etc).  Creativity can be born from one note.  La, la, la, laaaaaa.

 

Instructions and examples.  Before travelling somewhere unfamiliar for an interview or appointment, I look at the mode of transport, costs, timings, practicalities, possible weather and climate, etc.  The same applies to teaching instructions.  My sets of instructions have to be clear, broken down into steps, with the relevant introduction and content.  Without this, I am asking for anarchy and pandemonium to visit our classroom.  Alongside the clear instructions, support must be provided and clear examples given.  From knowing my classes I select the best students (and not always the same ones each time, to keep it fair overall) to assist me with demonstrating what we must do.  On the projection wall will sit a further example too.  I will enter the arena and probe around the classroom looking to see demonstrations being practiced before calling forward students to review their collective effort.

 

Don’t jump to conclusions.  Guess what?  As a teacher, you’re not a student.  You’re a teaching expert.  Reading between the lines, filling in gaps, and applying our own comprehension is instinctive.  Sometimes we must switch from autopilot mode into something more appropriate.  We can’t cycle from Chengdu to Paris, without the adequate preparation.  Students need to avoid confusion.  We must prevent them connecting two dots to form a line that is so wonky, one dot may fall off and land in a pile of previously failed dots.  Breaking up duties ensures that each instruction is followed step-by-step along the floor, then up some stairs and high above into the mountains before flight is encouraged.  Take nothing for granted, share how you think as an expert.  The parrot copies human voices for a reason and then applies the skill with precise action.  Your students can do anything with clear, concise instructions.

 


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Don’t flood the market.  Rome wasn’t built in a day.  Nor was a complete understanding of the English language or uses of said philological skills.  There are professors and scholars always trying to further this language of ours.  Don’t worry about everything.  Narrow it down to just a little by little approach.  If you blanket a subject, you’ll swamp it into a boggy, murky, twisted mess and scare the students away!  Don’t do too much in a short space of time.  We must know what to include and what to eject.  Your favourite subjects of contents, e.g. football and cycling may not be apt for the syllabus.  The semester or year needs clear division into units.  Each unit must have a focus and target language.  The students’ experiences, background and class numbers need to be accounted into the material.  I have often split a* unit* into multiple classes to get a sounder understanding of more difficult subjects.  Simply prioritising and setting purposes helps.

 

Questions and answers.  I find that just a simple question with a simple answer isn’t enough to keep a conversation flowing.  Closed questions, the kind where, yes, no and maybe arise can kill a conversation.  More open questions can lead a conversation to more questions and details.  I try to encourage my students to work in pairs and have one student as the question master and the other as questioned.  This is a great technique for reviewing a subject and also makes the students think harder about the level of detail in their answer.  If the task is limited to one minute then the student can respond strongly to prevent further questions.  If the questioned student is too simplistic with their answers the question master can launch many questions.  This makes for a good spectator competition, but use it sparingly – as too many rounds will make you question using this challenge again.

 

Are you the challenger?  Don’t agree with everything.  You can be much more than someone who nods their head and says, “Yes” or “Okay.”  We can be a commentator like of Match of the Day; we can be a challenger like in a public debate; we can be more moderate like a news presenter; or we orchestrate an argument to develop deeper conversation.  Through these characters we can guide students, change behaviours, and promote thinking critically.  It goes without saying about avoiding religious and political debate but subjects such as wildlife conservation and attitudes to animal care make for interesting discussion.  Perhaps give students roles, like a hunter, a conservation worker, a wildlife guard, the family of the hunter, the medicine maker, the police and anyone else connected directly to illegal rhino horn poaching.  You’ll maybe see and hear defences, objectiveness and bias.  Flip the roles between students and see if they can understand one another’s arguments.  Challenge each student with simple questions.  Who?  When?  What?  Why?  How?  Which?  Where?

 

Handouts.  “Save the world”, “save trees”, “recycle”, are a few cried heard all over the world.  If you pass the photocopying room at my school, close to exam time, you’ll hear a different kind of whimper.  As the photocopiers go all lifeless and silent or they spew out worthless misprints the copy staff go postal.  Handouts in classes are essential for homework.  For a class task, it is worth asking two to six students to share one sheet of A4 or A3 paper.  A shared task and prompt sheet is more likely to drive the behaviours needed for good team etiquette.  And you’ve just saved the Amazon rainforest!

 

Evaluate and evolve.  Teachers have basic principles but over the years our methods have become more and more chameleonic.  The successful teacher adapts to new technologies and new methods.  They seek new ideas and embrace them.  They also refine the tried and tested methods to a finite degree of near perfection.  There’s no resting on their laurels (or Sweet Bay leaves).  If something that did work, no longer works, changes must be made.  A variety of incidents may change your teaching methods.  A class size change from 16 to 60 certainly will make you uneasy.  The old rules may be redundant.  There may be a drive for more advanced media orientated or business connected vocabularies.  You must know what to do, usually by understanding your previous workings, exams, evaluations and student knowledge.  You may need to prepare extra base work or go off subject to bring about further knowledge teaching.  You may need a library, online resource, ask somebody for help or forum to seek new ideas or guidance.  From here we can construct content with objectives, structure, adjust and format a new range of materials.  Not everything comes from experience.  Keeping it as simple as possible will make it much more management.

 

For further reading:

*Is it an unit or a unit?  See this debate.