Shen Da Fu Zhong, An Introduction
I beg J.D. Salinger’s pardon for the gross plagiarism of today’s title.
This is my school post. I’ve been here a few weeks, time enough to get to know my students and the faculty and enough to start to tell you about what life is like here at the Shenzhen University Attached Middle School.
Okay, first of all. Let me tell you about the name. I wish I could give you a website to explore, but we seem not to have one. Shen Da Fu Zhong is a “Middle School” (which means both Junior and Senior High) that is affiliated with Shenzhen University, specifically the Normal University– aka Teacher’s College. I believe this means that a lot of teachers come to us from Shen Da, not necessarily that lot of students continue on to Shen Da. In China, the stunning reality is that only 10% of students who finish high school make it into the highly competitive Chinese universities. That number is probably skewed somewhat higher here at my school, which is one of the best in the city. We also have a subset of students who are studying A-Level courses, for entrance to university in the United Kingdom.
My students, whom I have mentioned before, are Junior II and Senior II– which shakes out to 8th grade and 11th grade. I teach 4 sections of Juniors and 9 sections of seniors. Each grade has their particular quirks, as does each class. But let me tell you some things that are true for most Chinese students.
They study hard. And they study all the time. Many a night I’ve walked home from dinner at 7:00, 8:00 pm to find the lights still on in the classrooms and students still hard at work. (I was actually treated to a delightful concert the other night when I walked by the music building at 7:30 at night and there were students inside practicing a classical Chinese ensemble of some sort.) During the week they live on campus in dormitories, small rooms with 8 or 10 students in bunks. On the weekends, they all go home to their families. A welcome respite for students and for the residential faculty.
The other thing is, Chinese students are usually quite disciplined in their behaviour. They sit neatly at their desks, studiously do their work, and listen intently to the instructor who stands on the platform at the head of the classroom. However, caveat: all this breaks down somewhat when the Foreign Teacher walks into the classroom, because hey, we’re the wacky foreigners and we don’t give grades.
In my Seniors, this comes out as apathy. A lot of them try to get away with doing homework for other classes. Blatantly. They’re usually pretty good about putting it away when I walk around the class, as a small show of respect, but usually it comes right back out. I’ve started dealing with this by randomly calling on students to read what they’ve written or say out loud what they talked about during individual or pair work. The other way to deal with it is to keep them engaged, so teaching them about American music, for example, has done some good. Especially when loud and obnoxious punk rock comes blaring out of the speakers. Or when I beat box in front of the class. Yeah. That got their attention. But they tend to be very smart and capable, and there are a few that are absolutely delightful, wanting to chit chat after class or getting really into the class work, and a couple who regularly stop into my office and spend an hour sitting and talking with me.
My Juniors, on the other hand, are mainly just wild. They chatter all through class. Will. Not. Shut. Up. At least the older Juniors seem to have outgrown the tendency to break out in violence in the middle of class (oh, there are some excellent horror stories from other teachers) but it’s extremely difficult to get them to be quiet for more than a few minutes at a time. I’ve decided to take it and roll with it. They love games and are incredibly competitive, so if there’s a chance of winning points, they are far more likely to speak English and participate. The other thing I’ve learned with them is, even if they don’t show much respect they actually do really like us just because we’re foreign and therefore interesting, so showing a sort of theatrical approval or disapproval is actually a pretty powerful tool. Thank you, drama training. And they are quite charming, despite the behavioural stuff. The Juniors don’t come to my office, but they certainly want to chit chat after class, especially if I give in and talk to them about Justin Bieber (shudder) or Gossip Girl.
The faculty here at Shen Da Fu Zhong are quite wonderful. Because we teach all over the place, Stephanie (my co-CTLC-er) were sort of put randomly into one of the English offices which had room. So we find ourselves in the Senior I office with an assortment of Chinese English teachers, all of whom have been wonderful and welcoming, and one of whom, Anna, is the single best thing that has happened to us since we got here. Anna’s English is quite good, so she quickly took over the job of babysitting the Waijiao’s, and then I think realized that we’re actually pretty cool. So we eat lunch together often, and Anna has been comfortable enough to ask me questions about English grammar and vocabulary that she will be working on with her students. In return, she is an invaluable source of information about day-to-day needs (“Anna, how on earth do we get to the bank?”) and lots of fun to boot.
It’s a fairly large faculty, which we knew already, but the point came home when we all went out to Teacher’s Day celebrations. Teacher’s Day is this wonderful day dedicated to the appreciation of teachers, which many countries in the world observe. The People’s Republic of China celebrates their Teacher’s Day on September 10th, and it is a BIG DEAL. Students bring in all kinds of goodies for their teachers (I received a jade plant, which is now sitting in all its verdant loveliness on my desk; a mug which assures me that I am the best, always; and a handwritten card informing me that “Madam, I like your class and your teaching. Thanks for your great teach and please give us a lovely class. Ok?” Be still, my heart), while the school gives bonuses (woo!) and then throws us a banquet. Fancy banquet. Seventeen-course meal kind of fancy banquet. Our faculty is big enough that we had to rent out the entire hall of a restaurant down the street from the school. We sat around chatting for a couple of hours, munching on sunflower seeds and peanuts (well, not me on the peanuts) while the waiters flitted about filling wineglasses and preparing baijiu thimbles in expectation of the rampant drunkenness which was about to ensue. After speeches by the headmaster and assistant headmaster, the food began arriving and the toasting began. And never ended. We began dinner at around 8pm, finally leaving the restaurant after midnight, having spent the entire evening being goaded and egged on and “ganbei”ed by various teachers and administrators. Side note. “Ganbei” means “Dry Glass”– essentially, bottoms up. We had luckily been warned about this tradition by other teachers, and so managed to a) refill each others’ glasses b) only a little each time. Good move. We were not the sorriest heads the next morning by a long shot. By the time we left the restaurant, the staff had already taken down all our decorations, put out half of the lights, and set up for the next morning’s dim sum.
Oh right, and then the administrators kidnapped us to KTV. Which is better known as Karaoke. What a strange night.
Okay, I have students about to stop in to chat. Back later to fulfill all those story promises I have been making for ages and have not yet written about.
ETA: Tonight I met some of the music students, the Senior II’s who are focusing on music and so they don’t have my conversational English class. I met them when I poked my head into what looked like a fairly empty hall full of practice rooms, and started playing Debussy and looked up to find a half-dozen inquisitive faces lurking outside the glass door. So what did I do? Invited them in. Played for them. Listened to them play. Had what I would consider was generally one of the best, most enjoyable nights I have spent in this country. Thank you, SDFZ!