Wednesday July 7, 2010

Thought for the day:
Today’s mighty oak is just yesterday’s nut that held its ground. – Anon

We climb the stairs to the building where we teach, bound for our classrooms. I know that I’ve reached the fourth landing when I see the portrait of old Zhang Heng. I proceed along the balcony, past portraits of heroes of modern China. Revered today, were they considered, in their time, to be nuts? When did they receive recognition as visionary leaders, or scholars or poets of China?
I turn a few corners, pass the portrait of Bei Duo Ven (ah, so! a German composer familiar to all Westerners) and know that I have reached my classroom and the eager Chinese from Pu’er, of these three weeks.

How minor seem my puny efforts to guide these teachers of English, these young acorns struggling in the dark of the Forest, in bettering their spoken English! Yet, with enthusiasm and persistence they try to follow and engage in a discussion of the lectures they’ve heard in the afternoon sessions, such as the one last Friday, on Teaching Methods. They try an activity in which they break into small groups, look at flash cards with words of all kinds, and construct stories, using all of the words on the cards dealt them. Please, my little saplings, reach out and offer your ideas in English! At the conclusion of the project, the Scribe for each group reads a story that is imaginative and amusing.
We all laugh together.

One of the suggestions to the teachers from Lecturer Zi Gusheng was to ask their students to name, in English, every item in the classroom. I discover that these teachers do not know the English words for blackboard, chalk, eraser, ceiling, loudspeaker, flagpole and uniforms.

Later in the morning, they shriek with delight, playing “The Flyswatter Game,” competing to be the first to swat the correct word written on the blackboard, running forward at full speed in their high heels. The plural of “man” is…? The plural of “foot” is …? Will the person wielding the blue, or the green flyswatter win a point for her team today?

This morning is the last chance for the four Speakers representing our class to practice in front of us. In the afternoon comes the Speech Festival, programmed with twenty Speakers. Will my four improve their English pronunciation miraculously by this afternoon?

Afternoon comes. Topics range from “My Teaching Experience in my Village,” to “Maintain a Sense of Balance,” to “What I am Getting from this Training Program.” Lines from other Speech topics that stay with me include: “Love is just a thread in the Quilt of Life” and “Money can buy you a clock, but not Time, and “Money can buy you Medicine, but not Health.” Every Speaker has prepared well, with thoughts clearly expressed and pronunciation better than I had expected. The Hostess, with considerable nimbleness and skill, introduces each Speaker and then briefly comments on what we have heard, after each Speech. There is even an attractive graphic projected on the screen upstage, with each Speaker’s name in English and Chinese and his/her Topic.

And very shortly, it is back to distant Pu’er for these teachers of English. We wish them all the best in continuing to grow, despite the dry or thin soil in the remote villages and towns in which they find themselves rooted. They will be the mighty oaks that nurture their young charges and model oral as well as good written English.

– Dixie

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