I have been in Shangrao for a week now. I wanted to give my first impressions. Of course it is not Ganyu. Nothing really reminds me of Ganyu here. And, as much as I miss my home there, I can see that Shangrao will be enjoyable too…eventually.
The classes are just too large. 70 kids stuffed into classrooms. If someone would invent bunk bed style desks, I am sure they would try using them. It is unrealistic that anyone thinks that this is a suitable learning experience for the kids. But, when you need to teach Conversational English, which requires a student to practice, practice, practice…it is an even more impossible task. So, my challenge in the classes is to try to figure a way to get around this. When I was in Ganyu, I had 50 kids. It too was near impossible. So, I had designed my own English program that seemed to be successful. I will try using the same program here. The kids are awesome. The majority are very welcoming and excited to have me in the class. They are full of energy and fun to teach. The teaching assistants are all new assistants. It will take time for them to get accustomed to my style of teaching. But, it will happen in time. At least their English is manageable.
My apartment is slowly becoming a home. It took about 5 days for my things to finally arrive at my apartment after I had arrived. Most of the things survived the trip. I have learned how to pack pretty well. But, the one item I was really wanting here and for it to come through the mail in one piece…didn’t. My Crock Pot was broken beyond repair. So, I guess I need to order a new one. It is only about $15.00 online, so it is not that great of loss. Everything else arrived ok. I am just waiting for my apartment to get painted so I can decorate the walls with all my memory items from this past year and half. It will be nice to get everything hung to remind me why it is so awesome to live here.
Saturday, we had a regional meeting in Nanchang. It is about a three hour car trip from here. We had our company boss and some other leaders there, school representatives, teaching assistants and the foreign teachers. I was asked to speak at the meeting. I decided to talk to each group about things that need to be addressed to make things better for everyone. To the boss and the company leaders, I expressed that in conversational English, I did not feel we needed to teach from a book. Oral English is conducted best through practice. And, I told them that trust in one of the human characteristics that westerns value most. So, stop lying to us about things. Keep us informed of events that might impact us. To the school reps, I emphasized that we need to find a way to reduce the class sizes. To the TAs, I expressed that the TA and the foreign teacher are partners in the classroom. Both need to find a bond as a married couple to be effective. And, to the other foreign teachers, I expressed that to be a great teacher, they need to find a love and passion for teaching like they have never known. They may be here on a “gap” year of their life or for some other reason. But, when they make teaching he number one priority in their life, then they will truly become great teachers.
After the meeting, many of the attendees came to me and told me that they liked what I had to say. It made me feel good. I was also issued a Letter of Appointment from my company. It made official the fact that I am the Lessons Consultant. My responsibilities have been expanded from just assisting foreign teachers to helping guide the company as a whole to find better teaching models and methods.
We have a new teacher in our company called Brian. He is here in Shangrao with me. We have spent the past couple of days together. We went for a walk the other night by the river. It is beautiful at night with the bridges lit up and the coolness in the heated air. The following day we decided to go for a walk again. We discovered that there is a National forest park within close distance to our home. The pictures in this blog and the video earlier are from that hike. It is beautiful. I look forward to exploring all of the trails in the future.
That is my first week in Shangrao. I have a new smartphone. My first. It is going to take time for me to get used to it. But, I will. I am beginning to learn the streets and shops near my home. Eventually, I hope it will become my “home”. Time will tell.
I will end with this fun little story. There is a taxi strike happening in Shangrao right now. There are still taxis available. But, they are limited. When the TAs and I had to get to the train station for the meeting, we discovered how few there really are in town. We could not find one. So, the solution was to hop on the back of some motorcycle txis and ride them to the train station. I have taken nearly every form of transport in China thus far, but this was new to me. And, it was actually fun. I would not want to do it all the time. But, it is an adventure.