November 2nd

Today’s photo may not look like much…

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.

Michael obliged.

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.

November 2b

 

 

Beginning our new life in Suzhou

Another Starbucks, another city.  We are spending the last day of our holiday in Beijing working, as is often the case with Dave and I.  It helps that we both love our jobs and don’t usually see these kinds of things as really being ‘work’.  Now that I’ve finished my Power Point presentation on writing summaries (riveting stuff…), I can spare some time to blog!

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This fine gentleman took a 3 hour nap (I kid you not!) while Dave and I worked today….yes…this is at Starbucks. And no, he did not order anything from Starbucks…

It’s now been 41 day since we left Canada and head back to Eastern home.  Suzhou has been welcoming and beautiful and there is so much to tell you all about this new city.  So, even though I am itching to write about our trip to the Great Wall, I want to finish writing our time adjusting to life in Suzhou first.  Plus, putting off writing about the Great Wall means I have awesome material to look forward to (and hopefully that will entice me to writing again soon!)

Spoiler Alert! The Great Wall is bloody incredible!!!!
Spoiler Alert! The Great Wall is bloody incredible!!!!

After moving into our apartment, the next step to getting settled into Suzhou was to start work.  For those of you who are new to my blog, or are foggy on the details, here’s a recap regarding the school….

I originally took the position expecting to teach Drama and English, but that quickly changed (things change a lot in China…you come to expect it).  The IGCSE program that is taught at Suzhou Foreign Language School is a pretty big deal.  It basically means that students who graduate from our school, graduate with a bilingual diploma, which is a huge help when it comes to applying to western Universities (IGCSE is an ESL program through Cambridge University).  So, because this program is so important to the school, they didn’t want a brand new teacher teaching too many of those courses.  Some people would have been hurt by the insinuation that they are not ‘good’ enough to teach English, but I saw it as a plus.  Any school that wants to put the RIGHT teachers in place for the important classes is alright with me!  It showed that they are concerned with the quality of education their students receive, and that is exactly the type of school I want to work for.

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My boss used the projector to paint a map on the staff room wall….with the flag of each country in that country’s space…he did all of this in a single afternoon….
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I work for a school where the teachers care so much about the way that our staff room is perceived, that they spend the day making something as awesome as this map. He’s still not quite done…because he’s like the busiest guy in the universe…but I’m still blown away by the effort he and the Chinese staff put into this project

I was able to keep my Drama classes, which I was very happy about, but my English classes were replaced with Food and Nutrition classes; basically I’m teaching Home Economics.  The beautiful thing about both these programs is that I can custom make all of my classes.  There is a basic syllabus that I need to follow, but really…at the end of the day…it’s up to me to decide what I teach and how I teach it.  Once more…some teachers may not be thrilled with this sort of set up, but for me…this is heaven!!

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Another fun fact about the school where I work….they teach several languages at the school, including French, German, Spanish, Arabic and Japanese. Their aim is to teach all of the languages of the UN.

My creative side kicked into full gear and I began brainstorming ideas for both my courses while I was still in Guiyang.  For Drama, we are starting with a play called “Meet the Ancient Greeks”.  It’s set on Mount Olympus and all the Greek gods are fighting over who was the worst of them.  While I teach the students about acting (something I’m actually pretty good at myself…who knew???), I also teach them about pronunciation, confidence, voice projection, body language and emphasis.  They learn a tonne and it doesn’t even feel like learning to them!  Plus, because of my background as an ESL teacher, I use the plays to teach the students lots of new words.  And because of my background in Classical history (my minor in University), I’m also teaching them about ancient Greek culture while I’m at it.

So.  Much.  Fun!!!

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My Elite Boys 1 class practicing the first bit of the play. These guys are AWESOME!!! They get SO into the roles!!! They have me in stitches every class!
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One of my students, Colt, wrote this on the Smart Board before I got to class. Needless to say, it made my day! (and yes…I have Smart Boards in my classrooms!!!)

I decided to take a fresh approach with the Food and Nutrition classes, and have turned it into a bit of a ‘culture course’.  I’ve been teaching the students about different countries and then I teach them how to make food from those countries.  So far we’ve only been to the kitchen once, but the students were all very pleased with their Mexican taco dip 🙂

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This is my middle school class. It’s a mix of boys and girls, which is nice, because most of the classes I teach are gender specific.
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These are my Grade 7 Elite Girls. The girl who is second from the left is named Hani….she is SUCH a character. I also teach her Drama and when I told her off last week for talking while I was trying to explain something, she went into a big soliloquy about how I am the most beautiful and kind of all the drama teachers in the land. Once more……So. Much. Fun!!!
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One of the groups’ dip when they were done. My budget didn’t allow for cheese or meat on all of them, so I had to pick and choose which students got what. Not bad for a first try!!!

The teachers and students are all fantastic at SFLS, and although I’ve had a few small issues with the payroll office (that were promptly sorted out), the administration has also been a dream.  Last year, I was walking on eggshells at about this time, scared to say anything to anyone for fear of being taken aside for a ‘talk’.  This year, I was greeted at the gate by the principal of the school on Teacher’s day, with a box of mango milk and a flower.  I also received a small crate of Chinese dates (which are delish!) and countless other flowers and chocolates from my students…who I’d only been teaching for 2 weeks at that point!!!

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I’d already received this and I took the picture at 8:30am…..by the end of the day, I had to leave some of it at the school because I just couldn’t bring it all home!!  ***Note that the flag in this picture is not on my desk.  It is on my neighbor’s.  I’ve already received some flack for not representing Canada in the office from some family members…but trust me….I represent in my own way!  I get razzed for every ‘eh’, ‘aboot’ and ‘toque’ that I say….

The school is not the only thing that has been great since we got here either!  Suzhou, as a whole, is a fantastic city!  Unlike Guiyang, where I really disliked the spitting, the littering and the smoking…Suzhou is spotless!  Very few people spit, smoking is prohibited in many public areas and people actually put their trash in the trash can!  Although the air is a little more polluted that Guiyang (because Suzhou is so close to Shanghai), it’s so much more comfortable of a place to be!

And the gardens!!!….

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This is just one of Suzhou’s many gardens. A friend of mine referred to Suzhou as ‘the secret garden’ when I showed her pictures of the city a few years ago (we had been interested in living here for a while). I think she gave it the perfect nickname.

Dave and I arrived back in China just in time for a holiday!  This year marked 70 years since the Chinese victory over Japan in the Second World War.  It was celebrated across the country and everyone was given a long weekend.  Dave and I spent those days familiarizing ourselves with Suzhou.  We visited one of the lesser known gardens here (one we’d happened to stumble upon when we were still staying in a hotel).

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The circular doorways add such a beautiful touch to the already beautiful greenery
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The pathways are bordered by benches, where you often see the elderly enjoying some time in the relaxing atmosphere
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I love how the doorways open up to whole new areas of the garden…
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The girl in the blue dress (on the right side of the picture) crossed over that stone bridge. I waited there for ages to get a picture but when she’d finally finished crossing, she just stood there for a while afterwards, looking at her phone…. So, here she is in my picture; a testament to my inability to wait.

The city outside of these gardens is also very nice.  We’ve spent countless hours walking around the different areas of the city, enjoying the scenery along the canals and trying new restaurants.  Times Square is one of my favorite places to take a stroll.  I love walking near water and there are a lot of really great restaurants in the area.

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I love this picture. We both look so happy 🙂
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There is a ceiling above the boardwalk at Times Square that lights up at night with a show. When we walked by a few weeks ago, it had aliens staring down at us!!
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Times Square also has a tonne of western brand stores. Papa John’s Pizza, Toys R Us and a Crocs store are just a few!

I think my favorite part of the city (so far) has been ShanTang street.  There are countless shops that sell all sorts of souvenirs and traditional Suzhou items.  It’s along the canal, and you can even take boat rides around to see the old architecture, which is especially beautiful at night.   We never had a chance to go the last time we were there, but this is where I’m planning on doing a lot of my Christmas shopping, so I know there will be other opportunities 🙂

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The crowds can be a little overwhelming, but this was nothing compared to the Shanghai metro experiences we had….but I’ll have more on that in future posts!
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I love, love, LOVE the canals in Suzhou!
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We bought this print on ShanTang street for only around $15 Canadian. I feel like it was worth more than that (just the frame would cost that much in Canada!). It was the first thing we really bought for the apartment (aside from toilet paper! haha!) and we hung it proudly on the wall by our water cooler as soon as we got home from our shopping adventure

I don’t consider myself a superstitious person and I believe that we are responsible for making our own fate, but still, I can’t help but feel like I’m exactly where I’m suppose to be right now.  Suzhou fits like a glove and it became home  to us more quickly than I really imagined possible.  Maybe I’m still a little shell shocked from everything I went through last year, but I am honestly still overjoyed at how smoothly everything has been going over the last 41 days.  Life…in short…is good.

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A Roots store in Times Square
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Cooking a spectacular dinner in our clean and usable kitchen…..what more could I possibly need?

An Update on Life in Guiyang

It’s beautiful and sunny  here in Guiyang, and it’s one of the hottest days we’ve had this year.  We chose to spend our day off scooting around the city and enjoying the beautiful scenery that Guiyang has to offer.  Guizhou’s rugged beauty is something that I know I’ll miss as we move on to the next phase of our travels.

Life here has definitely improved.  Part of that is because the worst of culture shock has passed…we’ve become accustomed to some of the things we find difficult in China (the last minuteness of everything…the terrible driving…the lack of customer service) and as a result we are both feeling a little more relaxed than we were back in October and November.

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See my post about culture shock here

So I suppose it’s true…time heals everything.  But I wouldn’t be giving myself due credit if I said that time alone helped my circumstances.  After all, with all the problems I was having at the beginning of my contract, there were several routes I could have taken.   The way I see it, I had 3 options at the time:

  1. I could have given up and quit/gone home.
  2. I could have given up trying…after all, I didn’t feel that my efforts were appreciated or noticed.
  3. I could power through and continue being the best I could be, in the hope that that would eventually be recognized.

Of course, given my tenacity, I chose the 3rd option.  Instead of sulking or giving up, I turned my focus to the classroom.    I transformed that bland room into an engaging environment where my students can learn.  I also started spending more time on my students themselves…creating customized worksheets to help the ones that were struggling with spelling…learning new songs for the students who love music…looking for new activities and games to ensure everyone is getting the most out of their classes.  And it paid off.  I’m now considered one of the top teachers at the school, and that means a great deal to me.

So I suppose I’ve been keeping busy.  I’ve spent hours on these displays and sometimes I don’t even bother going back to the staff room for breaks, I just tidy up the classroom and add posters to the walls.  And while I’ve been been so busy powering through the last six months, life outside the school continued…

We’ve celebrated milestones:

Undergone transformations:

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Anyone who thinks marriage is lame, by the way, is not married to the right person.

Received countless care packages from home, which always brighten our day (and restock our goodie bin!!

We’ve made friends…both of the human and furry variety:

And, of course, we have tried many new foods 🙂

One of our favorite new restaurants is in the Future Ark area of Guiyang.  Dave made a video to show you all what street food in Guiyang is like:

I have experienced so much in the last 6 months.  There have been highs and lows, but no matter what has happened, I’ve had a constant positive in my life:  my students.  They are really the best part of being here.  I know I should be exhausted every Sunday night, after back to back 10 hour days…but I always find myself energized at the end of it all.  I have no doubt that teaching is my true calling…I have never loved a job as much as I love this one.

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How could I ever complain when I’ve got kids as cute as Poppy, who brought me a rose on Saturday…just because 🙂

Sadly, it really hit me this week that I’m going to be leaving soon and that although I’m excited to move on, I don’t know how I’m going to say goodbye to some of these kids…

But I suppose, once more I need to remind myself not to complain.  I’d rather have met these kids and have to say goodbye, than have never met them at all.  They’ve all taught me so much.  Smile (a little boy in one of my kindergarten classes) has shown me how he can be brave, no matter how scary it was for him to be away from his parents when he first began coming to class.  Lee taught me that no matter how bratty a child may be, they can ALWAYS turn it around.  And Chuck…Chuck taught me that 6 year olds can get brain cancer, and that I should cherish every moment I have with all of my beautiful students.

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He was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer 3 months ago. His classmates still ask where he went. I have no idea how to answer…