Due to faster internet connections and relaxed c3ns0rsh1p in Kunming (Yunnan Province) I am able to make postings. My school in Anshun disconnected its network to save money over the summer, so I am unable to publish anything online. The internet cafe down the road uses a heavy blog filter, preventing me from accessing blogspot. It may seem that I am being lazy when it comes to my blog, but really I have been completely blocked.
The last two weeks have been the most wonderful and intense weeks I have experienced in China. Volunteers gathered in groups of 4 to teach at various rural sites throughout Guizhou. Bethany, Dave, Jessica and I gathered in Zhenning to participate in a training whose goal was to improve the English of rural elementary school teachers and give them ideas for teaching their students (i.e. western teaching methods). Due to the fact that the teachers do not know much about lesson planning, classroom management, fostering creativity, or speaking English, our job was anything but easy.
The first week of the training included two near-breakdowns in the hotel while planning for morning lessons and one broken bone while running after a woman wearing high heels. Late night planning was the norm, and typically we were up until midnight. Our days were rigidly structured, including a schedule with such translated titles as "Time for getting up (7:00)," "Supper (12:00-12:30)," "Time for taking nap (12:30-2:30) and "Time for free talking (7:45-8:30)." The teaching day was split into morning and afternoon lessons, both of which were 3 hours.
When we first arrived we thought it would be useful to review some of our original lessons plans from our colleges, adapting them to meet the needs of these teachers. During the initial assessment we quickly realized that it would be impossible. Half of the teachers were unable to respond to questions like, "What do you like to do in your free time," "How old are you," and "What's your name?" Eventually we decided to teach lessons from the elementary textbooks, giving the teachers different western models for teaching elementary students.
A little background is required here. Elementary teaching in China is unique in a couple of respects: Size and style. Classes are comprised of around 80 students crammed into a small room. Lessons are delivered in a stand-and-deliver format. Discipline follows deviation from the listen-repeat teaching style. In short, large class sizes have forced rural teachers to take refuge in behavioral education that does little to promote creativity, kinesthetic learning, or emotional attachment to new information.
During the mornings I taught teachers how to teach their students 'animals', 'ABCs', and 'review' using various methods. I ran across the classroom, acted out the sounds and behaviors of various animals, and acted exactly as an 8-year-old would if given control over the classroom (probably breaking a few cultural norms in the process). The teachers were very receptive of learning new methods and games, improving their own teaching through this training.
Our hosts were instructed to watch us and protect us. Each of us was assigned one person to monitor and learn from us. Each person had their own watcher. These were good people who did their best to help us in every way they could, but the lack of any independence became apparent when we weren't allowed to leave the hotel without surveillance. Despite repeated protests, we were almost completely restricted from independence (we were given time to plan). We requested to eat lunch on our own, but the reply was, "Maybe you will get sick if you eat outside the hotel." It took an entire week before we were given a day of freedom. Even this short time was interrupted by phone calls and constant worries about our safety and whereabouts. I have never felt so imprisoned.
We were given the pleasure of a weekend trip to some nearby caves: a trip in which we were herded through underground passages while we dreamed of home, independence, family and friends.
Despite several delays (our cultural skills provide some advantages) we were eventually forced to sing out-of-key Karaoke, an experience made difficult when you're reading the lyrics to "take me home country roads" through thick tears of fruitless longing for home and freedom.
But things went well too. The stress made life difficult, but we banded together. We ate chocolate and ice cream, listened to music, and made jokes throughout the evening as we laughed, cried and planned lessons collaboratively. I learned a lot about myself: my abilities and limitations. I learned how to ask for help and why to give it.
I'm coming home soon. It's only a of couple weeks away. See you soon.