Saturday, 19 December 2009

Report Cards

I teach English at the local Normal University. The students are very young, between five and nine years old, which is new for me. I have never taught anyone younger than around 14, and the average age of my students when I was in Manchester was probably around mid-forties.

I haven’t enjoyed teaching children as much as I had always thought. With age and language as a barrier, it become infinitely harder to form any kind of personal relationship with them, to care about their lives, their families etc, which was what I loved about this profession. They aren’t yet fuelled with the passionate hormones of adolescence or the weathered wisdom of old age. They’re like half baked people; they have their own personalities and quirks, which are lovely, but there is nothing past that first layer.

This may make me sound cold and heartless, “children bore me”, and I always thought I would be good with kids; but having to be up-beat all the time whilst somehow trying to explain the present continuous to a five-year-old can be immensely exhausting. I miss the banter and the teasing that can happen when teaching older kids or adults. I have a new-found respect for primary school teachers.

At the end of every lesson I have to write a short comment on the students’ performances. It’s not expected to be in too much depth, it usually reads something like;

“Emily continues to have one of the highest reading levels in the class but still needs to look over grammar regularly. Keep up the good work!” – Mr. John

By the way, the students and parents all refer to me as Mr. John. Jazza provokes pronunciation problems in a variety of languages, and insisting on being called Mr. McMillan-Clenaghan would just be cruel to anyone, let alone five-year-old Chinese children. So we settled with Mr. John.

The parents are expected to read this report and take on any advice that I give them. Few of the parents, however, speak very good English. I thus decided to have a little fun with these report cards – shrouding them in metaphor, idioms and various other poetic devices. Yes, yes, maybe this is the cold, heartless Jazza rearing his head again. But, you know what, bugger it and screw your judgement that I am feeling through the computer screen right now.

Here are some of the reports I have sent home:

“Ringo may have entered into the class late but he is already become a dark horse of the competition. If he bears his current course steadily and is able to soar over the various hurdles that the English language throws at him he will most definitely continue to float my boat and ace whatever test I desire to launch in his direction. Keep up the good work!”

“Anna is like a hawk stalking her prey when it comes to her grasp of the passive voice. She has not quite tasted the sweet flesh of this grammatical structure yet, but so long as she keeps her eyes on the goal, not wavering for a second (be sure to practice for at least an hour a day at home) in no time at all she will soar to great heights. She continues to be one of the best students in the class. Keep up the good work!”

“It is as if Emily has the many arms of an octopus when one considers her amazing ability throughout her language learning. Her grammar is flawless, her pronunciation faultless and she is quite simple lovely to boot. I am confident that the fate of Nemo, getting lost, will not befall her and that she will become queen of the great sea that is the English language. Keep up the good work!”

Reading some of these back, I even struggle to remember what the hell I was going on about.

I would like to stress that I only do these elaborate report cards every so often, generally when I have nothing constructive to say apart from, “Keep up the good work!” I am sure that, when I do write like this, I do it in my most illegible teachers’ scrawl.

I am in Nanjing for Christmas, which is going to be a strange but interesting affair. Maybe I will take some pictures. God knows this blog needs some pictures.

Monday, 14 December 2009

blown up in my birthday suit

My Sunday morning started rather peculiarly. I was half way through soaping up in the shower when what appeared to be an air-raid siren sounded, rather loudly, across the city. Needless to say I was a little bit taken aback by this phenomenon, never having been in an air-raid before or, in fact, any other kind of situation that has needed an alarm other than a fire drill. I scanned my brain for some useful information; had anyone at work or Uni told me that there would be a city-wide fire-alarm today? Did someone fail to inform me that Nanjing gets earthquakes? Had someone declared war? Had an atomic bomb dropped? Was I going to be blasted to oblivion in my birthday suite and covered in Head and Shoulders?

In the end none of these happened. In 1937 the Japanese invaded the then capital of the Chinese republic, Nanjing. In the following six weeks a slaughter ensued which some estimate left over 300, 000 people dead, tens of thousands of women raped and a city in ruin. This incident is one of the forgotten war crimes of World War II, in the vast majority of the west at least, and was named the Rape of Nanjing. Those sirens that I heard were the same sirens used to warn the citizens of Nanjing of the coming of Japanese bombers during the weeks and months before they finally entered the walls of the city. The event still has resonance in eastern Asia today, especially concerning relations between Japan, who still refuse to accept full responsibility for what happened, and the Chinese. Anyone who is even vaguely interested in this should read the Iris Chang book, The Rape of Nanking (Nanking being the then Romanised name of the city).

On an ever so slightly lighter note, I have exams this week, which is why this blog, as well as JiC and RWO, have been neglected in the past few weeks. My days have consisted of spending hours in what we call ‘the Korean room’ (due to the fact that Koreans are probably the most studious nationality on the face of the planet) and drinking copious amounts of coffee. I had my first one today; God only knows how it went, it was one of those exams where luck plays an important part. I am planning on pulling something close to an all-nighter tonight, or at least until the unholy hours of the morning. I have pretty much sorted out my grammar for reading tomorrow, but vocabulary seems to never find a cosy little corner of my brain in which to nestle, it keeps getting kicked out my random facts about the Pok√©mon: Johto television series. Damn my wasted youth!

Less has also been written in this blog because I have started a written diary as well, with pages and ink and stuff. It makes me feel really intellectual and has become a major way for me to vent and talk to myself… as if I needed yet another medium in which to indulge my emo tendencies.

I also failed to mention on anywhere other than Twitter that I went to Hong Kong last week with Johnny and Emma. You can read about bits of it here. I had a lovely time, the break that I needed from the squat toilets, constant spitting and lack of Christmas songs on the main-land. Emma also rarely gets up before midday, so I was able to get at least a bit of revision done for this week.

I will let you know how things go… maybe. I have many videos to shoot and edit when I finish if you care.

I am now off to watch some of the weekend’s X-Factor (Stacey should have won) and then start my revision binge. I bid ye good night.