Typhoon!… Or… not… (This post is mostly about teacher stuff. Fair warning.)

So this weekend we were supposed experience the wrath of Supertyphoon Megi! Instead, it was 80 degrees and sunny. If that’s what typhoons are like, bring ’em on.

But even though the weather was pretty mild and actually quite enjoyable on Friday evening, it seemed that the entire Chinese population of Shenzhen hunkered down and only the waiguos were out to play. This is, of course, a gross exaggeration; but really, I had a student cancel a tutoring appointment with me on Saturday because of the storm warning, even though it was a pretty beautiful sub-tropical day in Southern China. It’s kind of like wearing shorts in a snowstorm because the weatherman said it would be sunny out.

And it’s kind of typical that a Chinese person, upon hearing that there is a typhoon warning, would stay indoors despite what’s actually happening outside. This is actually segues for me nicely into a topic that one of my 11th-graders brought up in class (which, by the way, absolutely shocked me). I was doing a class on adverbs of frequency, and to get the students talking I asked them to use some of the words (always, sometimes, usually, never, rarely) to make sentences about what they think American students’ lives are like. Almost to a student, the answers ran along the lines of, “They always have free time.” “They never have to do homework.” “They usually play sports every day.”

Oh, bless their hearts.

One student, though, when asked to repeat what one of his classmate had said (this is one of my tricks to get them to listen; thank you, TEFL training), replied, “I don’t really care about what he said.”

“Oh,” said I. “Well, tell us one thing he said anyway, then you can share your thoughts.”

So he obligingly did, and then proceeded to absolutely go off for 3 or 4 minutes about how he talks to his friend who went to America, and how in his opinion (this is paraphrased) American students learn innovation and creativity in their schools, while Chinese students learn by rote memorization are basically computers. He essentially said that Chinese people don’t invent things, they only produce what Americans have already invented. And he absolutely blamed the school system for this problem.

Okay, and just let me say that this is a student for whose peers speaking English for 4 seconds is kind of a miracle, let alone for 4 minutes. I was astounded. Where did this kid come from?

He obviously felt very strongly about the topic, he was quite animated and clearly annoyed with what he sees as the Chinese inability to think outside the box. I sort of listened, stunned, for a few minutes, before realizing that half of the class had no idea what was even going on, so I spent a few minutes explaining, and then asked if anyone had a response to him. No one did, of course. Pity– could have been a great class discussion.

So now, more than ever, this is one of my goals with my students, especially my higher level students: to challenge them to think creatively. I’m starting to sort out the different ways in which they do learn, because despite being little automatons (apparently) I really have started to notice different students blossoming on different subjects. I did Emily Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for Death” as part of my Hallowe’en unit this week, and I had about 2 or 3 students from each of my 10 sections get really, really into it– students that I hadn’t necessarily seen take an interest in the class before, because it’s usually too easy for them. On the other hand, last week’s activity with the adverbs brought a bunch of shyer kids who seem to be really good at puzzles a little more out of their shells.  Hooray!

So the typhoon was a no go. Never fear, the season is just beginning. I’m sure I’ll have exciting weather to tell you all about some other time. Meanwhile, I still owe you a post on Hong Kong. So that’s coming up. See you soon.

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Posted on October 27, 2010, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. VERY interesting rant by your student. I wonder if there’s a way to encourage your other students to voice their thoughts? It’s a safe bet that he’s not a lone voice. I love reading about the different ways you’re pulling students out of their comfort zones and into new activities. Do you have Bananagrams or Scrabble?

    • The sad truth is, by this point my students (the 16/17-year-olds anyway) are pretty well-trained. I hate to use the word “indoctrinated,” but that’s what it feels like. A lot of them itch under the yoke of the school system, and they’re comfortable enough voicing their opinions to me as an outsider; but when they get to be adults, they will still probably not do anything about it. They’re intimidated both by the government and also by an incredibly long cultural tradition of “Community First” which somehow translates here to “Individuality Stamped Out.” As their teacher, it’s frustrating for me to see that despite their myriad talents and interests, they’re all going to take the same standardized test and they will all be rated in adult society according to the results of the that test. The name of the test has changed in the last 2000 years, but the institution really hasn’t.

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