This is the hallway outside my office at school. As you can see, the hallway is mostly open to the outdoors. Many schools in China are designed this way.
On a warm sunny day, this doesn’t really affect me, but on days like today, when it’s cold and rainy…. My office is also cold and rainy.
Kids come in and out all day and usually leave the door open. Even after we (the expat staff) installed an automatic door closer, several of the teachers have taken to propping the door open with a magnet to “let the fresh air in”. The results are discomfort, damp homework and grouchiness.
I don’t know why schools are designed this way. It’s often quite dangerous. The floors were wet with rainwater all day today and I nearly slipped twice. Students routinely go running down these halls and I’m constantly worried someone is going to get hurt.
This is my desk at work. I like to keep it organised because I hate forgetting to do things and I REALLY hate not being able to find things.
I also love being able to remind the kids how organized I am when they claim I’ve been lost their work. That’s fun.
At home, I’m nowhere near as neat. That probably has a lot to do with the amount of time I actually spend at my desk at home. Working in my home office is a bit painful because it’s really hard to grade when you have a black cat batting all your markers to the floor and a 3 legged cat trying to jump into your lap.
As a result, my desk at home acts as storage space more than it does a work space.
A few weeks ago, one of the home room teachers approached me with an idea to launch a writing mentor program for some of the IG1 students.
These grade 7 students come to me with strong oral English, but their writing skills haven’t really been developed. They’ve learned basic grammar, of course, but don’t have much practice using it in written form until they reach middle school. This means I have a year and a half to teach them how to pass a Cambridge exam.
What makes my department unique is that we have students in grade 8, writing an exam meant for grade 10 students. It’s a tall order for a bunch of 13 and 14 year olds, but we make it work. I am actually very proud to say that my grade 8 class last year actually beat the grade 10 students in another department who wrote the exact same exam.
So when Tracy asked me if I’d help set up a tutoring program and pair up her grade 7 students with my strongest grade 8&9 students… I jumped on the opportunity.
Today was our first class. I chose 7 students from IG1 who I knew needed some help, and paired them with some volunteers. The results were fantastic. They worked together for the entire 40 minute lunch period and several students made arrangements to meet again outside of the Writing Center because they had run out of time but wanted to finish helping their mentees.
I start my day at 7:30am, so I can be at work for around 9:30
From 9:30 – 12:00, I work on the IG English curriculum. This way, when I leave Suzhou, the work I’ve put into building the English program won’t go to waste.
Lunch is from 12:00 – 1:20. It’s a long lunch break and most of my Chinese peers spend the time napping or resting. I use the time to prep my afternoon classes.
1:20 – 4:35 is spent teaching. I don’t have any morning classes on Tuesday, which is really nice. It makes for a busy afternoon, but that’s when I’m at my best… So I’m glad my classes are scheduled for then.
From 4:35 – 7:00, I spend my time tidying up my desk, traveling back to SIP and eating dinner with Dave.
From 7:00 – 9:30, I try and catch up on grading. This week alone, I have roughly 100 summaries to check for grammar, spelling, vocabulary, content and format. Each summary takes between 4-8 minutes to grade.
9:30 -10:30 is excercise time. On weeks when I’m really busy I like to walk after I’m done grading. Sometimes I do yoga instead, or calisthenics if I happen to have energy left from the rest of the day.
10:30 – 11:30 is time to wind down. Lately I’ve been watching Criminal Minds and Scrubs. Been going old-school.
On the right, there is a student named Michael. He’s 15 years old and in my grade 9 class. He is inquisitive, hardworking and has a great attitude. I’ve been his teacher since 2015.
On the left is Tim. He’s new to IGCSE. He’s in grade 7, and his English skills are a fair bit lower than the rest of his class. Still, he has a positive attitude and a very encouraging home room teacher, so instead of giving up on his writing assignment, he asked for help.
These two students chose to spend their lunch hour today working together. I’d like to say it’s a happy coincidence, but so much has gone into this.
Encouragement from homeroom teachers and parents. Without their support, neither of these students would have been where they were today at lunch time.
A department that fosters a willingness to help. In IGCSE, students learn that helping others is both rewarding, and their responsibility.
An English teacher that believes that collaboration is the most effective way to learn language.
Being a teacher is about so much more than ‘reading, writing and arithmatic’. It’s my responsibility to teach these kids to be caring and compassionate people. It’s my job to teach them about responsibility and expectations. It’s my job to give them the confidence to reach out for help and to offer it to those in need.
This picture might not look like much, but today….I felt like a superstar.
It’s hard to believe that Dave and I have nearly been back in China for a month already! The past 3+ weeks have flown by possibly even faster than our time in Canada did! I sat down today with the intention of writing about Vancouver and realized that until I updated all the things that have been going on out here, I couldn’t focus on another topic. So here we go!!
I’ve Been Performing as a Lead Vocalist!
Until recently, I was working back up or in duets with The Chairmen. It’s been great fun playing with those guys, but when Kit (our fearless leader) approached me and asked if I’d do a duet show with our guitarist, Mark, I jumped on the opportunity. We’ve only done one show so far, but it was pretty cool singing all 3 sets by myself. Best of all, Mark is super flexible about what play, so I’ve been able to do a bunch of new stuff. It was a nice switch up after all the Adele and Stevie Nicks I’ve been doing since May!!
I’m Competing in the Suzhou Expat Talent Show!
This one came about in a bit of a crazy way…Back in July, one of the HR staff at my school contacted me about representing the school at some kind of school district party. I agreed because I knew I’d already be back in Suzhou by that point and all was good. They knew I cover Adele, so they recommended I do “Rolling in the Deep”. I was cool with it.
Fast forward to the day of the ‘government party’…it turns out that this was less of a school district party and more of a ‘government beer party’. There was a full band there waiting for me along with about 100 government officials and 200 teachers (etc) from schools in the area.
The real kicker was when HR Frank told me…about an hour before I went on…that if it went well, I would be representing Suzhou Foreign Language School in this year’s Expat Talent Show. Notice that he didn’t ask…
It went well. Fast forward to 4 DAYS LATER (!!!!) and it was talent show time! There was a mix up with the band (mainly, there wasn’t one) but I lucked out when I learned that The Chairmen (my band) were also going to be performing (the rest of them all work for the same school). They ended up backing me for my song too, and the performance went pretty well! Here, you can see it yourself!!!
To my credit, I don’t feel like I looked as unprepared as I felt! I was very relieved to have Kit and Mark there! I also had a student come to see me perform, which was pretty awesome. I have awesome students. Have I mentioned that?
I have no idea what the results were for this show. From what I understand, they are going to be watching video auditions for the next month, and choosing people to go onto the second round from there. I just hope I find out with more than 4 days to prepare this time!!!
I Am Writing for a News APP and a Newspaper!!
The night of the talent show, I received a text message from an editor at Nihao Suzhou, an APP designed to help foreigners in China (it’s actually a branch of Nihao China…every city has their own, I believe). They had been for writers earlier in the week, and I’d inquired along with a link to my blog. The editor liked my work and asked me to write an 800 word piece about anything I wanted. A week later, I was published!
The article was pretty successful and received over 2000 views in the first day. Carrie, my editor, told me to go ahead and write another article if I wanted, and I submitted that one today! Also, she was so happy with the article that she recommended it for publication in the Suzhou Daily Newspaper! So there’s that, too!
I Lost the Olympics
Dave and I decided that we wanted to be more social this year, so we’ve been busy trying ot get involved in the expat community. Dave’s joined a gaelic football team, I’ve been doing gigs (and everything else above)…and we subscribed to this really cool website called InterNations.
InterNations plans all sorts of events across the city. The one we attended last weekend was held at the Kempinski Hotel, where there is a Paulaner Brewery. We got to learn about the ancient German art of beer making and we spent the afternoon playing games with a few friends we’d dragged along, and a LOT of new friends that we met at the event.
The Ladies of our team
Lizz and I, designing our team flag
I did not win. Not by a long shot. But it WAS a blast! And I feel like we met some really cool people. It was definitely a good time and we’ll be attending another InterNations event next Friday.
Mia, killing it at Beer Pong (just kidding…our team only managed to get 1 in, the whole game!!!)
Our team mate, Miguel, playing the 1 game I sat out. I can sip beer…I am not a chugger. I cheered from the sidelines!!
September 1st was our first day of classes. I am transitioned into a full-time English teacher (no more cooking classes) and am getting to know my 2 new grade 7 classes! So far, my new coworkers are upbeat and awesome, and I’m having a great time!
One of my new Grade 7 writing classes
So that’s been our last 3 and a half weeks! Pretty wild! Now I need to catch up on some sleep…
Another day, another blog post! We decided to change things up and go to a Starbucks out in Suzhou New District (where SFLS is located) because I have a farewell IGCSE dinner to attend later tonight. It’s so crazy that another term is finished! Most of the department is returning next year, but we are losing a teacher or two that I wish we were keeping.
Personally, I’m happy to be staying in the department. I really like the administration in IGCSE and next year I’ll be taking over as the grade 7 and 8 English teacher. Right now I only teach 1 writing class but next year I’ll be teaching 3, plus 3 oral and listening classes. I think it’ll be better for me than teaching Food and Nutrition and I know I’m more qualified for my new role. Plus, I still get to keep 2 of my drama classes and I’ll be starting a new Publishing and Editing elective next year (my class will be in charge of the school yearbook, the school calendar and our departmental blog!). Exciting things are in store for me in September!
Although teaching Food and Nutrition wasn’t my cup of tea, the end of the year was a lot of fun!
Neat and Tidy!
The Grade 7 IGCSE boys
My grade 7 writing class is one of my favourites to teach, and I know I’m going to miss them over the summer. These kids are very bright for their age so I decided to teach them how to write simple thesis statements in an effort to better organize their writing. Michael is a student who tends to be a bit of a downer…always complaining about how tough life is. I taught him the word ‘optimistic’ earlier this year and he’s used it every chance he could. This was my favourite use of this word:
This year I see them twice a week, but next year I get them 6 times a week, so I’m pretty excited about that! These kids never stop making me laugh! They are truly a joy!!
Tom from IG1…he may not be the most studious student of the bunch, but he’s hilarious
The IG1 kids standing outside the teacher’s locked office while Nathan and I were practicing our song for the IG2 Charity Show
IGCSE is a really cool department to be part of. Although I mostly taught in the Elite Department this past year, I took part in several IGCSE projects and I ran the school yearbook as well. All of the staff try to provide a well rounded school life for the students and I try to help out whenever I can. But my favourite thing about IG is the way they help out with a migrant school in Suzhou.
Migrant schools are for children whose parents are from other provinces but who have come to Suzhou for work. They are highly underfunded and the students don’t as good of an education. Each class in our department gets a chance to visit a migrant school each team. This means that nearly every month, my department takes an afternoon to spend time teaching students English. It’s a learning experience for everyone involved because the migrant kids get some English lessons and the IG kids get to see how lucky they are to be going to a school with the resources that SFLS has. We have Nathan (my boss) to thank for this added activity for the students. He’s been working with the migrant school for years and has won awards for the help he’s given them.
Nathan and I performing at the Grade 8 Charity Fundraiser last week
So all these little projects have really filled up my year, but none of them took as much of my focus and hard work than the Drama Festival. It took months of work, hours of writing, days of rehearsal…but in the end, it was all so worth it!!!
Because of my background in writing, I decided early on that my focus was going to be on writing the plays and (of course) having them act them out with comprehend-able English. Nathan ran the Drama festival last year, and with his art background there was a lot more focus on sets and props, so it was kind of cool to mix it up this year. I’m especially proud of the way each of my classes came up with their plays:
Step 1: I began the term in February by teaching my students how to write a story. First, we focused on writing good characters and making sure that their characters had depth. Then, I taught them about plot and what a good plot line looks like.
Step 2: Each class was separated into 4 groups and I gave them 2 weeks to write the outline for a play. I gave them free reign on the topics and they came up with very different stories.
The winning Elite 2 Boys group. Vasyli was intense about their play right from the start!
Tracy and Victoria from Elite 1 Girls. This class had the most difficulty choosing their play. In the end, it came down to a few votes….but even the losing teams did a fabulous job presenting their ideas to the rest of the class
Step 3: Each group presented their outline to the class and then the class voted on which play they would do for the drama festival.
Step 4: I took the winning outline and turned it into a play. I met with the students and got a better idea of what they wanted to see in their play and discussed ways that we could add characters so everyone who wanted to act could. Then I wrote the dialogue and presented it to them. Other than a few small details, the students were thrilled to see their ideas come to life on page in proper English.
One of the small performances between plays. This is a grade 8 boy from the Elite Department. He plays the piano beautifully and entertained the crowd while I organized the next play to go up
The sound guys from Elite 1 Boys. This was these guys’ first Drama festival and they were a little less organized than I’d hoped. Samuel is the kid covering his face…He’s in Grade 8 and was losing his patience with the excited boys! lol
Because of the way we did this, there was HUGE buy in from the students at the Drama Festival. Each class was so proud of their play and they all worked very hard to impress all the other students. Here’s the breakdown of each play:
Elite 1 Girls Class (Grade 7)
Their play had all the usual school characters: A good teacher, a Bad teacher, rich students, poor students, hard working students, lazy students…
Julia played the teacher-villain of the play (back row on the left). She did SUCH a wonderful job. When she finished her first scene the whole audience went nuts. She memorized her lines within 2 weeks of receiving the script and she had more lines than anyone else in the play
These girls wanted to write a story with a moral, so that’s what we did. They worked the hardest out of any of my classes on their emphasis and pronunciation and the other students noticed. Although their play wasn’t as exciting as a lot of the other plays, they really shone because their speech was so clear. I am very proud of these ladies and I’m super bummed I won’t be teaching them again next year!
Elite 1 Boys Class (Grade 7)
Jagger…the evil robot
Adam, Poker and Jagger arguing
Adam and his assistant, Alfred, bringing to life the good robot, Potter
One of the fight scenes took place in a restaurant. It was probably my favourite scene in the play. It was VERY well done by the boys!
This was one of the funniest plays at the festival. Adam, the student wearing the big glasses, is a Drama King! He wrote the outline to a fabulous “Robots and Mad Scientist” type play that the class voted in. There were several fighting scenes (with correlating sound effects) that had the audience in stitches and everyone loved how the Narrator was killed by the villain in the end. I was worried about this play before the festival because it seemed like the students weren’t listening to anything I was saying during rehearsals, but someone was obviously paying attention (probably Adam lol!) and they pulled it together in the final hour! It was an AWESOME play and I’m very excited to be teaching them again next year!
Elite 2 Boys Class (Grade 8)
Peter (the boy with the mic) struggles with pronunciation and hates English class. Drama has given him a creative outlet where he’s learning English in a new way. He loves acting and has become quite good! Best of all…his English has improved a tonne!
Vasyli is my star. He was so dedicated to the play that he was spending all his free time practicing, to the point where he didn’t know know HIS lines…but everyone else’s too! One day we were waiting for the auditorium to be unlocked, and he spent the time entertaining the whole class by doing the entire first scene…he played all 4 characters and had us all laughing up a storm.
These were easily the most hardworking students at the Drama Festival. Not only did they participate more than any other class with the writing of the actual play, but they were practicing in their free time and they added so many things to the play that weren’t in the script. They OWNED this play and it was a huge success at the festival.
A brilliant calling card
These boys spent the entire scene like this. They did pretty well to not move, but when they inevitably did, it just added to the fun!
Detective Echo being interviewed by a reporter. William (on the left) is such a humble kid. When I asked him to play one of the leads he looked at me shocked….this kid is a brilliant actor! I don’t know how he didn’t think the class would want him in a lead!
Mike is another one of my favourites in this class (I laugh as I write this because they’re honestly all my favourites). He’s so careful about his pronunciation and vocabulary. He cares such a great deal about everything he does. Such a cool 14 year old.
The Drama Festival was SUCH a success!!!
The story line was very funny and although it wasn’t originally suppose to be a comedy, we were all glad it became one. It was a detective story about a murderer who’s calling card was to leave high-end underwear on his victim’s heads (the underwear wasn’t part of the original script but when I told them they needed to have something memorable in the play, that’s what they thought up….middle school boys are hilarious!!).
IGCSE (grades 7-9 co-ed classes)
The plays’ protagonists: Heisenburger and PJ. Tiffany played Heisenburger and did SUCH an incredible job with her lines!
Suzy as PJ…a student in love with socks
Discovering the perfect recipe for candy
The IGCSE play is the one I’m personally most proud of, because I wrote it all myself. The students were in the middle of their IGCSE exams during the festival so they didn’t have time to help as much as I would have liked. Still, they worked hard at remembering their lines and bringing their best actor-selves to the stage.
The end-of-play fight scene)
The heroes of the play: The janitor and Chef
The Blue Candy inspired by Breaking Bad (I used dyed coconut shavings!)
The play was called ‘Breaking Bad: Candy Crush Edition’ and it was based on the television show, only instead of crystal meth, the students were selling a special type of candy that was addictive and high in sugar content. Because the play was set in IGCSE, the kids LOVED the issues brought up (the candy starts as a distraction to break ‘the homework system’ that’s keeping them all prisoner). Best of all, 3 teachers (myself included) made guest appearances in the play. Isaac, the Economics teacher. does body building on the side, so he came out and raged at the students for misbehaving, even breaking a meter stick in the process. Adam’s socks were stolen for candy and I was found crying in a hallway because of all the ants that the candy had attracted into the Food and Nutrition kitchens. Students and teachers alike loved the play and I think it was the perfect way to end the festival. Even Mr. Rehan, who prides himself in being quite serious, sent me a message after the Drama Festival was over saying: “Thank you. In my 2 years at this school, this is the first time I found something so entertaining”. Win for Marie!!!!
So that’s been my spring term! Lots of projects and lots of hard work…but all worth it!
(I am truly looking forward to next year’s Drama Festival already!!)