Monday, November 8, 2010

Teaching Kindergarten

"Blue seas where once was mulberry fields; time brings great changes"

(The children above live in our residential complex [photo taken with iPhone.] They were tolerant enough to let me take a picture of them while perched rather ideally on a ladder one day.)

I must admit - I was a little worried about my job this year. I was so in love with my job last year that I couldn't see how I could enjoy any other job as much. Not surprisingly, I was right. I don't love my job as much this year. However, this doesn't mean I don't enjoy my work. It's just enjoyment for different reasons.

This year I'm using a ton more Chinese on the job (with both Chinese coworkers and my kids sometimes,) and learning a lot about Chinese culture and child-rearing. It ranges from the bizarre to the funny to the enviable. (See corresponding stories below.)

For an example of the bizarre, I have to share a story that begins with a small misfortune. A few of my students fell ill with Hand, Foot and Mouth disease earlier this year, so that entire class was closed for about a week. Other children also fell ill with colds and random illnesses at around the same time, so even before the class was officially shut down, there were less than a third of the children showing up for class. How did my Chinese co-teachers decided to handle matters? Certainly there was lots of washing of hands and disinfecting of toys. But one day they took a large sheet and used it to cover up a big mirror in the classroom. When I asked why, they told me it might be causing the illnesses. There may come a day when I understand the Chinese language well, but I just don't think I'll ever understand traditional Chinese medicine.

When the weather turned cold here, I discovered a rather humorous part about taking care of Chinese children. They're dressed up in more layers than Ralphie's little brother in A Christmas Story. It's really ridiculous - a child might be wearing four or five shirts/sweater/sweatshirts, and three pairs of pants! This means the getting them ready to sleep after lunch is a bit of a chore. Layer upon layer of clothing must be unbuttoned and peeled off. I can't tell you how much I wish one particular boy's parents would give him regular diapers to wear instead of pull-ups! Nap time preparation has become exponentially easier now that the weather is warm again.

Of course, I think Chinese culture has some enviable aspects regarding children. Here, everyone dotes on children. Really. Children are beloved and watched out for by everyone. If a child gets onto a bus with their parent, passengers will immediately stand up so that the little one can sit down. Parents don't find it at all weird or annoying if strangers stop to exchange some smiles and baby talk with their child.

In terms of my job though, mostly I just have fun. My children are so great! I'm really lucky. My school is a Chinese IB kindergarten, so (as you might guess,) it's for the elite of the city. We have lots of resources and a great staff. Horror stories I hear about foreign teachers being stuck in front of 30 children with no shared language and no help from other teachers have not been part of my experience. Plus, these kids are being prepared to test into the best elementary schools in the city, so they are quickly molded into some very well-behaved youngsters.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Urban Life, Part 2

This post is dedicated to Katelynn. Yes Katelynn, I have a maid, and she's marvelous. This does not mean I condone being negligent in one's chores. Unless of course you're planning on living in China forever. ;)

I would like to make an announcement: I speak Chinese. Now, everyone knows I've been studying Chinese for years now, but when asked if I spoke Chinese, I would always waffle around: "Well, kind of. A little. The basics. I can get around." And so on. This past weekend though, I decided I will stop hesitating and just say yes. Yes, I speak Chinese. Not fluently, but good enough that I don't worry that someone will respond in Chinese, and I'll be unable to respond, thereby horribly embarrassing myself. I feel pretty confident that I can handle a wide variety of basic situations now.

I'm also becoming versed in the various methods of greeting from around the world. Although, I'm not sure well-versed is the right word. "Prepared" maybe. When you say hello to someone, it might involve a wave and a greeting (Chinese and a variety of other,) a kiss on two cheeks (French, and a variety of others,) a kiss on one cheek (haven't pinned this one down yet,) a hug (Americans you know,) and of course the handshake (Americans you don't yet know, and other people of the non-kissing habit.) Of course, given the international nature of most people's social networks, people have adopted/lost cultural habits, so you just have to be prepared for anything.

Elsewise, Shanghai is still treating me well. There was an outdoor jazz festival a few weekends ago, and it was lovely. The weather was perfect, the bands were fun, and there was plenty of room to spread out a sheet and sprawl on the grass. I've included some photos that I took with my phone while we were there.