It’s now three months since I arrived in China – to  new life, a new career and a whole new perspective on things.  Following my last blog two weeks ago regarding the problems of teaching and the isolation up here I received so many wonderful emails of support, encouragement and advice and I’ve spent a lot of time over the last two weeks reading and researching about teaching, but also going out (thanks to Matt and Max, the two English teachers from the other high school).  Last weekend we went out for dinner and then on the Sunday a wander around Jingbian including some market where I think we terrified the locals – three westerners together caused huge scenes of photography, staring and general amazement.  The boys don’t get this attention when they go out on their own so they’re always really surprised at how many people stare and point at me.

Teaching – I’m not a teacher, a degree in history and a TEFL course does not make one qualified to stand up and teach English in a foreign country no matter what anyone or any company says.  I had the idea that I could stand up and the students would hold onto my every breath and love my lessons.  In reality, my lessons are an excuse for them to sleep, catch up on homework or chat to their friends.  So I was given some fantastic advice by teachers with regards to changing both my methods and my outlook on life here.  Never in anyone’s blog have I read about the difficulties faced with teaching in China – I mean the reality of standing up and students ignoring you, and I’ve read many blogs, perhaps not the right ones.  I have to stop caring what they think – I’m not here to make friends with my students, I’m here because the Chinese government decrees that each school should have an native English speaker, unfortunately the Chinese government haven’t told my students how important this job is to me!

Last week was Tony’s girlfriend’s birthday and she invited me for dinner – together with two Chinese English speaking students who work at her private school.  One of them said that she had had an native English speaker at her school and that she had enjoyed the classes but that most of her fellow students had just used the opportunity to do other things (mainly talk it seemed!)  – as in the case of my students.  It was actually really refreshing to hear this from a Chinese person.  There are some things it’s just not possible to teach my students specifically due to the location of JIngbian.  In English Corner last week Tony and I tried to find out from the students what they knew about western culture – the answer was nothing, out of 25 students only 4 had PCs of their own, although they do receive computer classes as school, so whereas in larger cities students may see foreigners, read English in newspapers or see it on tv, up here they really can’t even use google to find out information about anything other than China.  So that was an eyeopener for me, as I had assumed that they could research perhaps something I told them.

The students learn English because it’s forced on them – written and reading of English.  When it comes to oral most of them can barely speak it, and whilst it’s my job  to help them speak it I can’t force them to do it.  All I can do is encourage them and help those that want to learn.  So there is no point in teaching them grammar, as they know it but 90% of them will never ever speak English so have no need for my lessons – hence their lack of interest in me.

So this week I’m taking a different approach – I think I scared my one class today!  I also suspect my FAO has instructed the class heads to speak to their students about behaving and being quiet – in one class last week the students literally seemed terrified to speak.  This week, because it’s my difficult teaching week, I’m not going to stand up and teach anything….today I told my class that they could do their (English) homework and I would come round and speak to them.  I’ve not seen this class for 5 weeks because of holidays and I’d actually forgotten that their command of English wasn’t too bad.  It worked 🙂  Some students did their homework and asked for help, those students who were doing other homework I got to explain to me – in English – what they were doing, a group of about four girls were doing some sort of crafting/paperfolding thing so I asked them to explain – again in English – what they were doing.

Some students were reading comic/teenage magazine sort of books – so I took them off the student, held them up to the class and got them to tell me what the magazine was and what sort of stories it had.  Again that worked 🙂  I can’t do this for every lesson, next week’s good speaking English classes I’ve prepared lessons for already, but the fact that not having to speak in front of their classmates seems to encourage the students to speak to me – even a couple of very very quiet girls spoke to me.  So I’m going to continue doing this this week – it gives me a break, stops me getting upset and frustrated and shows the students that I’m not some evil person forcing them to speak English.

Wednesday is another public speaking gig – at an English speaking competition at NO 2 school.  Goodness knows how many people I’ll be speaking in front of this time, but I’ve prepared a speech as I’ve had advance notice this time!  Because I’m the only female westerner I’m conscious that wherever I go people are going to see me, I might not see them but they’re not going to forget me so I’ve done a nice speech thanking the school for making me feel welcome, etc.

Talking of public speaking, I’m now teaching in a private school on a Saturday morning…..courtesy of Max one of the other English teachers.  It’s good experience – if a little out of my comfort zone as I’m teaching 35 under 10s……!!!  Last weekend I had to go on the Sunday morning (9am!) to their prizegiving sort of ceremony, meeting all the parents, generally sitting smiling and I had to give another speech (and decline their invitation to sing in front of everyone – all about 80 of them!).  But it gets me out, it pays, and it’s certainly a challenge teaching kindergarten children, singing “I can sing a rainbow” at 9am last Saturday morning was painful as I’m as good at singing as I am at drawing and trying to stop small children from rifling through your handbag or drawing all over your/their own hands whilst encouraging them to introduce themselves (I have visions of these kids going up to strangers and saying “My name is Jenni” as they can’t get the concept of saying their own name) is good fun – I laugh a lot more at these classes than I do at my own school.

Yesterday was a very special day for me.  I’d totally forgotten about this, but the boys had said they’d arrange a driver for us to go to Tongwancheng – it’s an old 2000 year old ruined city and I’d wanted to go there since I found out it was only an hour away but of course the logistics of trying to arrange a driver are a nightmare.  But thanks to the boys their FAO together with another teacher called Jason drove us up there – through the most amazing scenery, animals working in the fields, pigs and goats been moved along the road.  Tongwancheng was absolutely amazing, it’s known as the White City because of the stone used to build up and the ruins were awesome, literally they take your breath away and we were the only people there (until the very end where a fleet of very expensive black cars and 4 wheel drives together with a bus of schoolchildren and a camera crew appeared…..goodness knows what was going on!).

It’s also totally unspoiled – apart from a fence and a few portacabins, there was no sign of commercialism – the area only started to be investigated by archaeologists about 15 years ago.  You could wander and even climb (as the boys did) on the ruins, and you could see for miles – nothing for miles and miles and miles, as we were in the Gobi desert wastelands so it was sandy but an amazingly sunny and warm day.  We were able to walk right around the ruined city on the walls, investigate old caves and just to imagine the mongols and invaders seeing this white city as they tried to invade northern China really did make me quite emotional.  It’s a million times better than the Terracotta Warriors, I read last night that the government are trying to make the site a UNESCO World Heritage Site and we were lucky enough to come across a bit where people had started to escavate but then stopped and we could pick up old bones and splints of (I hope) animals.  To be able to walk around something that hadn’t been ruined or spoilt, that was in a totally natural state from its original form was just breathtaking and it’s reasons like that that remind me why I’m here in China, able to see parts of the world that 99% of people won’t ever have the chance to see, like my weird Mao caves a couple of months ago.

So hopefully a quiet week – I’ve caught up on all emails and all the such helpful advice and links that I was sent for advice on teaching and they’ve been really helpful with regards to me changing my mindset with regards to teaching.  I’ve no curriculum that I work from, it’s totally up to me and that’s perhaps more difficult than teaching from a book as teachers do in the UK – I’ve somehow to engage students who don’t want to engage and at the same time improve their spoken English.

As I’ve said before, if I can make a difference in SOME students’ lives then I’ll feel as if my reason for coming out here was worth it.  In the meantime the heating is on in the apartment block for a bit longer each evening, in fact when I got home last night about 8.30 the apartment was roasting hot despite it being about minus 6.  I’m going to try and investigate a bit more of JIngbian as well – on the way to Tongwancheng we stopped at the most amazing and total random block of temples, they were absolutely beautiful and apparently there are two different temples around here somewhere, together with the massive church in the centre of the city.

Another find last night was another sort of western restaurant that the boys hadn’t even been to before…..same idea as the one we’ve been to before (albeit this one is decorated like a brothel, lots of red walls and lace curtains!) but with pizza/curries and sandwiches.  At this rate I’m going to find somewhere that does decent coffee and then my life will be complete 🙂