Sorry for the lack of updates. I wish I could say that it was because nothing has been happening. Instead, the opposite is true. I have been a busy bee since the beginning of the school term.
First things first…some of my kids are in America beginning their Western education journey. I am having fun reading about their experiences and seeing their pictures. They all look like they are having a marvelous time and unique experiences.
One of the first reports I got from them was a picture of a Walmart basket full of groceries and the receipt for the purchase. They were shocked. Other great pictures have been them getting to see deer and turkey in their host’s yards, Their first experiences with Halloween, and their first Homecoming events and dance. They are making friends, experiencing an education that is alien to them, and taking in everything American. It is awesome to share it with them.
Back at school, I am having a great time too. My mother and father sent me a care package that included the game Risk. Trying to teach this game to a group of 25 kids, with a language barrier, was an adventure. Needless to say, it worked. They loved the game.
I have taken up two large projects that consume much of my free time. The first project is a Drama Club. From my experience last year with producing a theatrical reading of “A Christmas Carol”, I felt that drama and theater was a great way to enhance their English skills and their confidence. This year, the school game me permission to develop a drama club twice a week. In our first two weeks, I had them develop a shadow puppet show. They had to write the scripts, make the props, and conduct their presentations. I had them divided into five teams of five.
It was not a stellar performance, but for their first attempt at such work, it was a success. I think that I had rushed the project a bit too quickly. The concept of the clubs is that the kids have to do the majority of the work. I am there to oversee the process.
Our next project after the puppet show is to learn about improv. We began the process this week and the kids are having fun with it. I will spend about three to four weeks working with them on this concept. I have many shy kids in the group and I want to try to get them to find their way out of that shyness. It is also a great difficulty for some of the students because their English levels are so low. Improv is effective when the students can listen and understand what is happening in a rapid pace, while speaking in a clear and cohesive manner. Despite these challenges, I am hopeful that they find value from these experiences.
In addition to the Drama Club, I am beginning the process of auditioning students for a Christmas play. Last year, we did a theatrical reading. The acting was done from voice only. It was a huge success. This year, I have been given permission to use the campus large theater that seats 800 people. As such, I am getting kids to do an actual play…”A Christmas Carol”. Auditions begin next week. Practice begins the following week. And, stage scenery and development begins in about three weeks. Already I am surprised by the support from the kids. Out of 165 students, 40+ have signed up for auditions. Many of the kids who signed up are a surprise, considering their English performance in class has been less than average. On top of that, these kids came to me and asked if we were going to do another Christmas program like last year. They did not want to just do a reading, they wanted to do a full play.
I am going to pat myself on the back a bit here, which I seldom do. I assume that most teachers strive to make a difference. I know I do. When you have a few successes throughout the year, you feel validated as a teacher. In this situation, I have such a huge number of kids wanting to develop some special things through their Drama Club (which they have to pay extra for) and to develop a play. I am sitting here as one very proud teacher right now.
An added bonus came about last week as a result of the drama program. I had the school invite someone from the local theater to come to a meeting to discuss a future visit from them to discuss theater operations with my kids. Out of the meeting came some wonderful benefits. The drama club and the play participants are going to get to go to two theater presentations for free and the rest of the international department kids will get to go at a significant discount. And, my drama kids are going to go a third time to get a private tour of the theater and speak with the operators of the theater. As a result of this one meeting, we have now developed a relationship with the theater and hopefully we will have a long-term cooperation with them in the future.
All of this is occurring as I continue to teach my regular classes of reading and writing. My kids are struggling with concept of writing in English. More so this year than last year I think. The sophomores seem to be a little less developed in their English skills than the previous year’s kids. Their exam scores were not good overall. I am hopeful that their mid-term scores improve.
This brings me to an observation. In my five years in China, I have seen a steady change in the younger generation in how they act and develop. With the western influences they are exposed to, their behavior and mannerisms are changing more western. It is to be expected. They are very fashion focused, money driven, and becoming more individualized. They have a different vision of their futures that seem to go outside of the typical Chinese cultural expectations. The boys and girls are much more “sexualized” about relationships and dating than their previous generations. In the past, such things were highly frowned upon and even punished. Dating in high school, and even college, was never permitted. Homosexual and bisexual acceptance within the younger generation society is great to see, but I think it is quite concerning to the “old guard” generations. Keeping up with the Jones mentality is prevalent among this younger group, long forgetting that it was not too far in their past that people were dying of starvation and had very little belongings. Culture and traditions are being forgotten, replaced by anything that is self-gratifying and western “cool”. As an American, I am all for this. I am also worried for these young people and for their society. Not everything is good about western culture and values. It has brought many negative things to our country. And, I am not sure how the Communist party and its leaders will react if this younger generation gets out of control. Not to mention, there is a large economic issue that might confront China in the future. They have never experienced a recession or a depression in the current economic climate that they have developed. How will it be handled? Images of Tiananmen Square uprising and the Culture Revolution comes to mind in how the Chinese government has dealt with civil and social unrest in the past.
Despite my concerns and the advancement of China in the 21st century, it is still nice to see some of the older generation maintaining the old ways. There is a canal and a park next to the school. Every day, I see older people bringing laundry to the canal to do their wash. I have seen people washing their vegetables in streams and rivers. People going out fishing, playing Chess or cards with their friends on the streets, and doing the planting the old fashioned way with hoes and shovels…are all sights I regularly see. How much longer will these sights be had in China is anyone’s guess. Young people are leaving their villages for the big cities. The government is developing middle sized cities to spur economic growth, moving migrants and farmers into these communities. Small villages are being forgotten, along with all the traditions, cultures and memories with them.
China is a rapid changing place. It has been an exciting five years for me to witness this growth. I am filled with happiness and sadness. As an American, we are wired mentally to cherish the past and our history. Chinese are wired to focus on the here and now. While Americans hold onto precious family heirlooms and hand them down throughout the generations, Chinese do not. I am amazed at how many Chinese do not even know the names of their grandparents. So, as I am saddened by the losses I witness here, they do not have the same emotions. Fascinating, don’t you think?