Moving on…

I found out last week that my contract will not be renewed here at school. It was a surprise, but not a shock. I’m old enough to know that even though someone says something about their intentions for the future, sometimes the future has plans of its own. The idea of remaining here until the end of time, while slightly attractive, was also mildly discouraging: was there nothing else for us to do except teach these kids in this school on this island? (Cue Peggy Lee: ) So when the headmaster’s assistant brought up the news as we were chatting in her office at the weekly one-on-one English conversation practice, it wasn’t like the sky fell. Opportunities abound. I think.
She mentioned this week at our little conversation session that my teaching schedule will be curtailed severely beginning Monday. To make a long story short ((Don’t tell it!!)) the time periods I had been using for Oral English were on the school’s master schedule as PE periods, but instead of exercising their bodies, we were training their minds for forty minutes. Except now we have a class of weaklings (I guess) according to her. Not too sure how much of this is truth and how much is convenience, but nevertheless, my classes have been essentially canceled for the rest of the term. That’s a little more than a month, so it’s not like there will be this massive backslide in oral abilities or anything, but still…when I was standing in the classroom, knowing that it was the last time I’d see these classes of 40 noisy 16-year-olds I was quite moved. The place has become comfortable, and the kids have almost become a family to us. It has been quite a ride, now brought into focus as the end comes into view.
The assistant headmaster has helped us a great deal by making this schedule change, and I suspect she knows it. We had been worry-planning about how we were going to continue in country–what to do next to keep body and soul together looms large on the horizon–and now we have been given more than a month to travel and secure employment or begin a new business venture before we are destitute unemployed. Sure enough, God never closes a door, but that He opens a window.
So we’re off to the Next Big Thing whatever it is. Goodbye Bu Zhen, it was nice to know ya’.


First day of class. Not bad, considering that the school had changed the buildings where the classes are held for my grade and didn’t see fit to inform me of the change. So we played musical chairs for a while and got started about ten minutes late. Had good response from the class so far. They’re ready and willing to speak English, although they don’t know how well they can do it. Yet. We’ll work on that part. That’s my job.
English corner went well. We had four or five from each of six classes…a big buncha kids. Had a good time talking about food names and what we had for lunch. Had to work on composing the sentences. The vocabulary is there, the grammar is there, but the experience of putting it all together is weak. That’s my job.
I like my job.

It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool…

Seems to be the guiding principle for my first year students in English class. I have found that the kids are quite willing to sit quietly and be entertained while I make an idiot of myself on the platform. Now, that’s not much of a stretch anyway but still, at least one of us in the classroom expects me to impart some knowledge. These days, it’s a challenge.

I don’t comprehend.

Comprehension. That’s what we were talking about at a teachers meeting this afternoon. The staff at the high school where I teach was discussing how we can improve the English comprehension of our students.

Somebody thought I had the answer. Of course, they were wrong.

But, being the resident native English speaker, I had some insight to share, and share I did. Having read a little about this subject recently, and having the Internet at my fingertips, I put together a small program for testing the students’ ability to absorb the concept, then reported my findings to this meeting. It was fun to do.

Turns out, the government (that would be the US Federal government) has studied this problem a great deal. See  for starters. That’s Doing What Works in Education. They suggest we should teach comprehension, not just test for it. How do ya’ do that? They say we should make the students aware of the tools they already use without thinking.

It works this way. Suppose you’re reading an article on a subject you really enjoy. Before you know it, your mind is engaging thoughts about how you could use the information you’re reading; or perhaps if it’s an article about a place, you’re already there in your mind. That’s a phenomenon called reader response in the field of literature appreciation. You’ve experienced it yourself — we all have — as you read a poem you see in your mind’s eye the setting of the poem and you feel the emotion of the character. All I have to do is to type Treasure Island and your brain is already on some sandy beach somewhere with a shovel and several pirates. The trick in increasing comprehension is to increase comprehension of boring subjects. We “get” the interesting stuff right away. The solution is simple: Use on purpose the same tools we already use automatically. Our job is to show the students what they’re doing (actually teach them what they’re already doing) so they can do these things with any material they read.

Reading further, I discovered that the method of teaching is almost exactly the same way I’ve been taught to teach English language skills. With that similarity at hand, I was able to discuss it easily with the other teachers. We’ll see if this process can be accomplished, and with what success.

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