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Just like a bobble-head.

I have a question for you. It’s not one I ever asked myself, to be honest. It was asked of me by a former colleague of mine who asked it to every teacher he came across.

What is your goal, as a teacher?

Some teachers would automatically blurt out something noble, like helping the next generation, or helping their students’ blossom into a sane, functioning and contributing member of society. It was with great relish that my colleague – I’ll call him Seamus – cut the teacher off in their tracks and said with a great sense of finality, “No.”

For myself, I had assumed that my job was to teach them English. To my surprise, Seamus told me I was wrong as well. “Okay,” I said, still smarting a tad from being told with such conviction that I was wrong, dead wrong. “So what am I supposed to be doing?”

“You are supposed to give them the tools needed to use English,” came the calm reply.

I looked back at my colleague–slash–mentor and murmured in awe, “Oh.” Pause. “So what does that mean?” I was completely clueless.

In my last post I mentioned a Chinese English teacher insisting on short form answers and how it was wrong. Not really, actually – I didn’t make that entirely clear. It’s completely wrong for us to do. Watching them make what we perceive as a mistake just grates on us and we as native speakers then squirm in our chairs and think how we could do it better.

No, we can’t. And what the Chinese teacher is doing isn’t wrong, full-stop – it’s just different. And it’s something we can’t copy, because then we’d be neglecting our duty – which is to give them the tools they need to speak English.

What is the goal of the Chinese teacher? A Chinese English teacher will give out lists of vocabulary words, and insist that the students memorize page after page of sentence structures. She will ask them to recite from memory entire passages out of books, and drill them in repeating grammar exercises over and over again.

Foreign teachers will look at that and think, ‘wow, that lady is doing it wrong.’ Actually, no she’s not. She’s not teaching for ability, she’s teaching for knowledge. She’s prepping them to pass one of the many tests Chinese students must take and pass if they want to get ahead in life. Her class is about memorization because the tests are all written tests, and it’s all based on memory.

As a foreign English teacher, your goal should be to get them to use what they already know. Chinese students have an amazing vocabulary locked away in those brilliant heads of theirs – they just don’t always know how to use it. Same for reading – they can read passages, sound out words fairly easily and with the aid of their little dictionaries, they can get through unfamiliar passages with ease. But once you ask them to speak out loud using those words, now you get silence – and some teachers are quick to dub these students as being unwilling or unable to learn English.

What we should all be doing is teaching for ability – giving them what they need to respond in English. And we start by stopping the use of knowledge-based questions. For example, please answer the question below:

Is my sister’s middle name Taylor?

I know some of you are looking at that question and thinking, ‘what the heck? How should I know if her sister’s middle name is Taylor? I can’t answer that question! I have to guess!

Yup. But guess what? Non-English speakers – unless you get a batch of really animated and advanced kids – aren’t going to try and guess. Their first, last and only answer is going to be ‘I don’t know’, which doesn’t get them to practice anything. This is an example of a knowledge-based question. If you don’t have the knowledge, you can’t answer the question.

So the first thing we have to do is change that knowledge-based question into an ability-based question, and we do it in two steps.

1.       We turn it into a yes or no question:

–> Is my sister’s middle name Taylor?

2.       We either nod or shake our heads, depending on what the answer is.

Some things in life are universal. Nodding your head means ‘Yes’ or positive in North American. Shaking it from side to side means ‘No’ or negative. The same rules apply in China. So by asking a yes or no based question while nodding or shaking our heads – in this case, I’m shaking my head to indicate ‘no’ – we give the student the tools to answer the question.

Student: “No.”

Teacher: “No, what?”

Student: “No, you sister middle name not Taylor.

Teacher: *verbal correct* “No, your sister’s middle name isn’t Taylor.”

Student: “No, your sister’s middle name isn’t Taylor.”

Teacher: “Is my sister’s middle name Taylor?”

Class: “No, your sister’s middle name isn’t Taylor.”

Ah-hah – see what I did there? A verbal correct AND I got the whole class to take advantage of that great, full-sentence, 5-point answer.  A simple shake of the head – like Mojito, the bobble-headed dog from The Losers – and the student magically has the confidence to answer the question.

Give it a shot!

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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To choose or not to choose…

One thing about working in China – there certainly isn’t a shortage of opportunities! Going to google and typing in ‘jobs in China’ will bring up hundreds of ads, and even Daves Esl Cafe has it’s own China forum – it’s that huge!

But just as there are many opportunities, there are a couple of things you need to be wary of.  Here are just a few tidbits to keep in mind when you are contacting a potential employer:

  1. How does the base salary work? 11,000rmb might sound good to start (it’s on the higher end of the spectrum for new teachers with little to no experience) but how many periods a week are you teaching (26 max, usually, if the periods are 35 mins – less if more)? What constitutes a period – 35 minutes? An hour? How does the salary break down look – what gets deducted each month? What about taxes? If the company can’t answer some or all of these questions, consider looking somewhere else.
  2. Ask about the school – are you a third-party contracted teacher? Do you work directly for a school? Where is it? Will you live on campus? Are dorms provided? Or do you have to find your own accomadations? Is it one school or two? Sometimes schools have campuses miles apart – ask about locations if you may be going to more than one. Also, google an online map of the city you’re considering going to – some districts are far away from downtown yet are still classed as being in the downtown area. Look at the broader picture.
  3. Legalities – a reputable company will only hire you if they can provide you with a work visa (though you can come over on a tourist visa) and obtain a foreign experts certificate for you. The FEC basically states you’re legally entitiled to work there, and if you have to do any overseas banking, you’re gonna need it eventually. Some companies keep the FEC in their offices, making it available to teachers only when they need it. Usually it’s because they pay the fees to get it done and if you lose it, it has to be paid for again – after jumping through MILES of red tape to ensure it wasn’t ‘accidentally’ stolen.
  4. Media – what, exactly, is available to you in the school? I’ve taught in tin-can classrooms with only a chalkboard, and in fully equipped rooms with plasma screens, subwoofers and laser pointers. I know a teacher who even has lights attached to a disco ball for when she plays MP3’s! Know what you’re getting – or at the very least, plan for the chalkboard. Everything else is a bonus.
  5. Training – do you have any? Or will they do what I had my first year and dump you in a classroom with no prep, no books and tell you to ‘Go ahead, teach!’  Always come prepared for something – and that’s going to be the subject of my next post – getting through that first day/week, so check it out.

Obviously there’s so much more to think of and consider, but really, those are the first major concerns everyone who emails me has. ^^ But honestly? The most important thing to remember is that you are coming to China. It is beautiful, historic, entertaining and mind-blowing – but it is not your hometown.

Don’t come here expecting everything to be like it was back home. Shanghai may have bilingual signs everywhere and mandatory English study from grade 1 to university but that doesn’t mean everyone will speak it to YOU. Bring your phrasebook and your best ‘guest’ manners and try not to give other foreigners a bad rep with a bad attitude. Simply doing that much will endear you to the locals that much faster, and once you have their friendship, your life here will be amazing. 😀

Have some green tea, relax and unwind. The journey is just beginning!

Green tea

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2011 in china, list, shanghai, teaching

 

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Old Blogger, New Tricks

*looks around curiously* Wow. ^^  I feel a little like Alice in Wonderland, journeying to a brand new and strange place. I hope you’ll bear with me while I adjust!

I’m no stranger to blogging, actually. I’ve maintained a blog on livejournal for almost ten years now, detailing everything from life in China, to fandom participation, to my volunteer work, to sheer mindless ranting. I’ve resisted getting a wordpress account for a while now because I didn’t want to keep track of more than one online blog. However, I’ve changed my mind about that.

You see, most of my LJ is now blocked to everyone except myself. The reason for that is mainly because I didn’t adjust well to Shanghai life when I first arrived. I was naive, inexperienced in everything from teaching to living away from home, and I vented quite a bit in my journal. In hindsight, looking back on those earlier entries, I was actually quite narrow-minded, and yes, even racist in some of them, though I honestly didn’t see it until I’d grown up a fair bit.

I adore Shanghai. I have for a few years now. But my LJ will always be tainted by those first 3 to 4 years of running commentary, and I never feel comfortable pointing people to it because of my earlier idiocy. I’ve decided it’s time for a fresh start. While I will keep my old LJ for fandom purposes and fun, here is where I will post most of my ideas and advice for new teachers in China, in the hopes that it will prevent others from making the same mistakes and assumptions about this beautiful country and its welcoming people that I did.

So welcome to my new blog! I hope you take away some interesting facts and tidbits that will help you decide whether or not China is the right fit for you as an ESL/EFL teacher, and what to do in certain situations. I think that’s enough of an intro for now though – see you soon!

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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