Red Hats and Tarnished Pennies

Well, another (long) day of teaching has gone by. My first class starts at 8:20 each morning–I teach a group of fourth graders. I have about 45 students in each of my first and second classes. Luckily, I have a TA, who translates the things the students don’t understand into Chinese for them and passes out papers for me, etc. It is nice to have someone helping like that, but I wish she would speak in Chinese a bit less so the students ears could get used to hearing English. They have, after all, been studying English for about 4 years, but I’m under the impression that the teaching technique here involves translating the English sentences and words in Chinese, which is highly ineffective. I was teaching my fourth graders about chronology with an activity where you had to fill in the blanks about a girls day: “She brushes her teeth before she eats breakfast.” Then, I asked the students to make a list on the blackboard of things they do before and after school. One student wrote, “I brushes her teeth,” so I tried to teach them the difference between “I brush” and “She brushes” and “my” and “her.” But since there is no real equivalent of “my” in Chinese, it was difficult for them to understand that you can’t say things like “I do I homework” without some coaxing. Still, the students are mostly very eager to learn. It is hard to handle such large classes, though.

In the meantime, as I mentioned in the last post, we’ve become celebrities! During all the breaks, Dawson and I are both bombarded by students asking (I’m not kidding) for our autographs! They want us to sign their books, little pieces of paper, and the red hats that are part of their uniforms. I refused to sign one boy’s arm.

We have a welcome reprieve from 11:30 to 2:50 for eating lunch and, if we are tired, napping. In the afternoon, I teach a class of only eleven first-graders. They are all adorable and all so enthusiastic! All the students stand up when they speak, but they are not too disciplined. I think that would be an improvement in American students. This afternoon, I gave each of my first graders a penny from my purse, and they were all thrilled. It’s funny to think that such a little thing can seem so important. One of them even knew who Lincoln was.

All of the children are so tiny! They are skinny to the point of looking malnourished, although we were told that many are children of government officials. I suppose most Chinese people are shorter than Americans, and their diets are different, but it still upsets me. Also, their teeth are in seriously bad shape. Most of them are still baby teeth, but I’ve seen dark spots on a lot of their teeth which are pretty visible. I’m not sure if there is anything I can do to help or if I even need to.

This evening, as we were getting ready to leave school, three police officers showed up. They were checking out our status in the country and had copies of our passports with which the school had provided them. One of the four of us, Douglas, had already left, but it turned out his passport had expired in 2002! I’m not sure how he pulled that one off. They must have overlooked it at the consulate where he got his visa. Anyway, I’m curious to see what happens to him and hope he’ll be able to get back into the states without being suspected of terrorism.

That’s all for now. I’m going to walk around Jiangshan a bit and try to buy some sneakers so I can go hiking in the mountains.


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