As time goes by

As some people might say, 17 more “sleeps” until we leave for Toronto.  It seems like just last September that the school year began.  Oh wait, it did begin in September.  It’s ebbed, it’s flowed, it’s been fun, it’s been annoying, it’s been invigorating, it’s been tiring, and so on.

I’ve decided a school year should be 8 months long.  Ten months is too long.  I’m about out of ideas and energy after 8 months.  And if the students did any work, they’d be tired too.  But I ‘m sure many of them will graduate with honors in “playing computer games”.  Oh wait; there is no “playing computer games” degree.  What will these people do?  I don’t know and I don’t care.  I can’t lose sleep or waste energy on those who are too stupid to care.  I need to give my energy to those that have a shot at improving themselves.

This week is the last week for me of “classes”.  It’s my “exam” where I will ask the students what they deserve and why.  I’ve told them to not give me any B.S. marks.  Anyone from my elective at the MaoShan campus who said they deserved a 100 got a 60 (minimum to pass) or a 65 (if I was feeling kind).  Honesty counts.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  Technically I’m the “English Teacher”.  But I don’t see myself as that.  I’m here to show the softer side of life and teachers, and different alternatives to the way people think.  There are many good ways in China, but not everything.  Some things from the West are better, and some are worse.

I try and get them to think for themselves and to be creative.  English is just the tool I need to communicate.  I’m sure I’ve said this before but I believe in this.  Every student, good or bad, had the opportunity to speak without fear of someone telling him or her they’re stupid or wrong.  It was up to them to open their mouths on their own.  If they didn’t then there is nothing I can do.  I can’t force people to make an effort.  Some took advantage and some chose to stay stupid (the way I look at it).  They saw this as an “English class” but those who could see beneath the surface (and there were a few) knew I was trying to pass something else along.

I’m curious as to what they’ll say as to what they deserve.  I want to know what I did right, and what I did wrong.  I want to know what helped and what didn’t help.  And I want to know why those that didn’t give a damn or make an effort didn’t give a damn or make an effort.  Everyone passes although I don’t know if they realize this.

I did my Holocaust lesson this week.  Instead of one day I split it into 2 days.  90 minutes isn’t enough and 3 hours aren’t enough, but it’s a start.  Shujie sat in the class with me for fast translation of things and to give the students an opportunity to ask questions in Chinese if they couldn’t in English.

In one of the classes all stereotypes went out the door.  I would have thought this topic would interest the boys more.  In this class all the boys sat at the back and didn’t pay attention.  The girls (or most of them) listened.  I looked in their eyes and you can see who is paying attention and who isn’t.  I was quite pleased and I think they got something out of it.  Now they have a little more knowledge and the opportunity if they so choose to go and look for more.  I gave them 56 pages in Chinese on different things in the Holocaust so they can read if they want.

The boys in this class were a huge disappointment.

In my other class that only has 3 boys (because I got rid of 8 idiots by offering them a pass mark if I never had to look at them again), most of the students appeared to be interested.  There were a few students who paid no attention because choosing to stay stupid is always an option.  One boy slept.  He was one of my top students in the first semester but he just doesn’t care anymore.  He complained to me once about his class and I said he can talk in my class and it doesn’t matter if no one else does.  But he just chooses to do nothing and just sleep most of the time.  I heard from someone else in his class that he’s up all night playing with his PSP (Personal Play Station).  I guess they’re giving out diplomas in that.

They didn’t ask enough questions.  Why?  I don’t know.  They could talk in English or Chinese.  Are they just stupid and don’t give a damn about anything?  I don’t know.  Maybe they are just speechless at the horror of it all.  That’s a possibility.

On Tuesday night I showed Schindler’s List because that shows some of the horror quite graphically, and it also shows what one good person in capable of.  I haven’t seen the movie since it came out in the theater and it was fabulous.  I made the movie mandatory for the first time ever.  If you were late you would lose 10 marks from your final grade and if you didn’t show up you would lose 20 marks from your final grade.

One student turned up late (I knew he would since he’s always late and he just sleeps), and one student didn’t turn up.  That was Mr. PSP whose excuse I heard was that he doesn’t like movies.  I didn’t want any excuses but what kind of reason is “I don’t like movies” to not go to a mandatory class.  That’s like skipping an exam because you don’t like exams.  Insanity.

Even the “dummies” came (the 8 I chased out of class this semester).  I think the announcement they got was that “everyone” had to come.  I let them stay but I really wanted to say, “get out of here”.  They’re a perfect example of choosing to stay stupid.

I won’t fail anyone in English.  It’s not like they’re going to be doctors and they might hurt someone, it’s English and a failure to speak English doesn’t kill anyone.  So Mr. PSP can’t lose 20 since that would take him below 60 (minimum pass) but he’s guaranteed his 60.

I don’t think they sit there and decide, “will I be stupid or will I learn?”  But it’s the same thing.  So many shouldn’t be here but I can’t worry about them.  For those that try I wish them the best and hope they find their niche.  As for the dummies, it’s too bad and so sad, but it would be a waste of my energy to feel anything for them.  At the age of 20 you must make your own decisions.  I know the culture is different and I think it might have a tendency to screw kids up.  There’s a lot of pressure from home and you’re supposed to please you parents.  Pleasing your parents is nice, but you have to make yourself happy.  I think those who are just wasting their time should go and start sweeping streets now (if they can get that job).

I’m sorry more students didn’t take advantage to just come and talk with me.  Two students all year, that’s it.  Julie still comes once a week and Beata stopped when she left to work.  Her courses were finished but she was back this week and she came by to say goodbye.  I felt really good seeing her.  It was so funny, instead of looking like a 12 year old; she looked like a pretty young lady of about 20.  She just came up to me and gave me a hug goodbye, which made me feel good.

That’s two freaking students who made a decision to try and get better.  I won’t try to understand why so few.  I offered enough times and then just gave up offering.  It has been one of the big disappointments here.

I’m glad I came here.  I learned a lot.  I met a lot of young people I like.  I met Wang Jing who I “love”.  I met Eleanor (the other English teacher) who showed me how she “teaches” English (not like me).  It’s all good.

If you put the good on one side of the scale, and the bad on the other side, the good far outweighs the bad.  I don’t know how much I’ll miss this place.  A lot will depend on how next year goes.  I am hoping it’s better in terms of students.  I’m pretty sure these kids actually have to qualify to go to this school unlike this one.  I hope no one hassles me and just leaves me alone.  I’m trying to not get my hopes up too high but why shouldn’t it be great?  It’s a new part of the country with different people so that should be interesting.  It’s with kids who actually want to learn so that should be good.  But when all is said and done, the answer lies in the future.

I’m just so happy to say for the first time, I’m glad I did this and I think I did have a positive effect on a few students.  That’s a great feeling.

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