Adventures Abroad: Devil’s Choir

Adventures Abroad: Devil’s Choir

transformers_g1_prowl_by_tsaisin

You’ve been running for so long still breathing

Hoping soon to find a song worth singing

Every chapter of this note they’re reading

But you’re slowly losing hope on bleeding

I’ll carry you

My darkest desire

When life sings to you through devil’s choirs

Fear won’t steal what burns in you

I’ll carry you a

Away from the fire

My desire, devil’s choirs

My desire, devil’s choirs

Raise another broken glass to failure

A simple promise of a crimson savior

Take a look into the life you’re leaving

I promise you this isn’t pain you’re feeling

I’ll carry you

My darkest desire

When life sings to you through devil’s choirs

Fear won’t steal what burns in you

I’ll carry you

Away from the fire

My desire, devil’s choirs

My desire, devil’s choirs

My desire, devil’s choirs

Black Veil Brides, Devil’s Choir

Well holy hells boys and girls. Today is my last day in Yan’An. Tomorrow I’m setting off for Xi’an to get a quick look at the Terracotta Warrior Army and then I’m heading back to Japan for about a month.

It’s snowing right now, actually, it’s been snowing since early this morning. I spent the morning packing my big bag, cursing myself for bringing dress clothes. Seriously, I wore them in Cambodia and I wore them a few times last semester but the school was fine with jeans and their t-shirt. If I wasn’t looking to start a job in the States that requires some formality in the clothes there’s a very good chance some of those things would’ve been ‘donated’ to the next teacher.

China wasn’t what I thought it would be, which is neither good nor bad, it’s just different. I’ve visited a few neat local places like Ho Kau Pu Bu, the waterfall, and WanHua the peony mountain. I’ve had a ton of fun trying different foods I’d never have considered in the States; chicken feet, stinky tofu, mystery meat on a stick. I’ve picked up some Chinese, though my listening comprehension is much higher than my speaking, I want to keep up with it. I’ve always wanted to be a polyglot and I’ve got the basics of Chinese already. So I’ll either find a class or pick up a Rosetta Stone program when I get back to the States.

But I got everything crammed in my bag and my backpack is filled to bursting with souvenirs for family and friends. It’s so strange to think tomorrow is the last time I’ll be on a train leaving Yan’An. This year has gone by so fast. There were a few days there in July where I thought this year would never end, but here we are.

This time last year I had just arrived in Xi’an. I was nervous about teaching, a little overwhelmed with culture shock, jetlagged, and missing my friends from Cambodia. Now? The sun is starting to peek out and I think I’m going to go down to one of my favorite street vendors and pick up some noodles one last time. I’m excited to see the Warriors and get a better look at the Big Goose Pagoda and I can hardly wait to get back to Japan.

I didn’t really know what to expect from this year, which is a scary/exhilarating feeling when you’re jumping straight into a new place and new job. But that’s life. And teaching here has given me the experience and credentials to keep teaching—preferably older teens and adults—all around the world. I still want to teach for a year or two in Japan. I know that whenever I get back to the States I have plans to start teaching Microsoft programs and who knows, maybe I’ll find a company that will happily send me thither and yon for a week or two at a time.

I was listening to music while I tetrised my clothes into my big bag and a song, Devil’s Choir, by Black Veil Brides popped up. I could remember so many days listening to that song at full volume driving to my fast food and restaurant jobs and hating everything about my life. I had a POS car that was turning into a money pit, I wasn’t making enough money to get a place of my own, I had—still have—student loans due for a degree that was turning out to be more useless than the paper it’s printed on. My depression manifested as insomnia, wild mood swings, and periods of rage so intense I have gaps in my memory. I hated everything.

I started looking at jobs out of state, I started looking at jobs in state parks, government jobs. Anything my ridiculously narrow skill set and degree could get me. And then I had that conversation at the pumpkin patch that kick started the search for TEFL certifications. I found the one thing my degree in creative writing might actually be good for. It took about two years, but a year ago today I was boarding a plane to come to China after spending an incredible month in Cambodia.

It wasn’t easy to get to that point, and it hasn’t been easy being here pretty much on my own with a language barrier the size of the Great Wall. But I made it to that plane a year ago and I made it here for a year and even managed to make a few friends along the way. In two days I’ll be on another plane to Japan, a country I never thought I’d see in person and I’m going to be there a month.

So if you’re stuck and you’re angry, I understand. I won’t say it gets better because it doesn’t. You have to make it better. You have to be brave enough to get yourself unstuck. That’s the hardest part, being brave. Sometimes you have to be willing to jump into the fog even if you can’t see where you’re landing.

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Adventures Abroad: Thanksgiving

Adventures Abroad: Thanksgiving

It is officially post-NaNoWriMo for me. Although if you’re still writing, Keep Going! You’ve got five or six days left, depending on where you are in the world.

Today is also Thanksgiving for me, which kind of snuck up on me since it’s a purely US holiday and no one here knows what it is. Currently, I’m no more home wistful than I was a week ago, which will probably change tomorrow when I see everyone posting about their meals—I really like my mom’s mac n’ cheese recipe—and the parade and football. But since I’m not inundated with delicious pictures of food and snarky parade comments I’m feeling pretty good. My mind keeps flashing back to a Black Veil Brides interview where the band is asked if they miss their families while touring during the holidays. Ashley Purdy kind of shrugs and says they miss them a little, but they’d all grown up doing holidays with families and while they might miss home sometimes, what they were doing was fresh, new, and exciting.

And I can’t agree more. No matter how much this school irritates me with their total lack of organization and qualified managing personnel, this is still an adventure! I was reminded of that last night when I went to the big supermarket before—the Gods’ cursed—English Corner. I am making a new dish to celebrate Thanksgiving and needed to find some ingredients not at the small market down the street.

Turns out, in the three or four weeks since I’d last been to the supermarket they have done a massive remodel. The top floor is now nothing but winter clothes with the walls stacked with heavy jackets and giant bins of leggings and slippers and I don’t even know what else in the middle of the floor. All the household supplies that were upstairs are now downstairs and the downstairs has been radically reorganized. It took me ten minutes to find the milk and since I was on a time crunch I went over to the produce section and picked up what I needed there and abandoned the rest of my list. But now it’s like the first week I was here. I have no idea where anything is and they’ve both reduced the number of available goods and added new things I hadn’t seen before.

According to one of the Chinese teachers, Xi’an got their first snow yesterday and it was a pretty good dusting. At some point this mountain city is also going to get snow and I can decide if I want to tackle Satan’s Stairmaster and climb Feng Huang Shan to get some pretty panoramic pictures.

Even now, ten months into this contract, I still catch myself walking down the street and thinking Holy Shit, I’m in China. Again, the sheer inefficiency of this school makes me want to punch things, but I’m still in freaking China surrounded by mountains.

And last month I was invited to a wedding. That was a lot of fun. Everyone wanted a compare/contrast with US weddings, but the last one I went to was my dad’s rather non-traditional marriage. But I could still pick out the things we have in common such as bringing gifts of money and the reception. That’s probably a once in a lifetime opportunity right there. But it was a lot of fun and I got to try even more traditional Chinese food.

The food is still an adventure. I could 100% do a Travel Channel show where I visit different countries and scope out the best hostels and cheap street food. I love street food, even if it occasionally tries to kill me. Restaurants just can’t compare. I’ve been informed that now that it’s cold, sheep’s feet is available and so I have to try that. Thus far I’ve had chicken feet, pig feet, and donkey. I’ve also had roasted chestnuts for the first time in my life. Holy hells you guys. These things are delicious. That 10 RMB bag has become a weekly expense. I’m like a squirrel here cracking those things open and watching the Daily Show. I hope it’s a winter thing because I might just weep if they disappear before Christmas. I haven’t yet mustered the courage for stinky tofu, but I told the Chinese teachers I had to try it before I left or I couldn’t count this as a true China experience.

So the adventure in China continues and I am thankful today for the many small things that got me to this point. From the speaker in my Anthro 101 course to the chance conversation at the pumpkin patch all the way to stumbling into Language Corps. The road to get here wasn’t easy and sometimes the adventure itself is a trial, but it’s still an awesome experience and next year at the family gatherings I’ll finally have something to talk about.

vaderthanks

Teaching Games!

Teaching Games!

Ah, sweet, sweet summer break.

Holy hells, I am exhausted, but my brain refuses to sleep, so I figured I’d check in with all you fine people.

Anyway, I said way back at the beginning of the semester that I’d make a list of the games I used in class to help out any other new teachers in over their heads.

*Waves to new teachers*

Warmers—Games used at the beginning of class to wake the kids up

  1. Blindfold: Super simple. Have one child come up and blindfold them. Then choose another student to come up and say “Hello, who am I?” They have three guesses and then you reveal.
  2. Dancing: You don’t even have to make up a dance. I taught my kids the Time Warp from Rocky Horror Picture Show and they thought it was stupid/hilarious. I also taught them the Soulja Boy Dance and that took two classes. *Dancing also makes a great low key disciplinary measure. For my older kids, I gave them each three warning for speaking Chinese, after that, they had to stand up and do one of the dances.
  3. Poker Face: Pull a chair up to the front of the room and have one student sit. Their goal is to not laugh for one minute. Meanwhile, the other kids can make faces, sounds, tell jokes (in English) or whatever else. I didn’t let my kids touch the person sitting, but that’s totally up to you.
  4. Hot Seat: Again, bring a chair up to the front. This time make certain the student sitting can’t see the board. Then you write a word on the board like ‘Lion’ and the rest of the class must describe the word without saying it. The student has three guesses and then it’s someone else’s turn.
  5. Number/Shape Clusters: Any class you’ve done numbers in you can do this game. Have all the students stand up and then you call out a number between 1-10 (let’s say 3). The first students to make a group of three gets a point. If you’ve done shapes (circle, square, triangle) it’s a great review for that too.
  6. Alphabet Bodies: This can be done with partners or as individuals. Have the students stand up and then either call out a letter or write it on the board. The first person/pair to make the letter with their body(s) wins.
  7. Telephone/Whispers: This is an old standby, but the little kids love it, especially if you race girls vs. boys. If you don’t know, have the students make two lines. Bring the first person up and whisper a word to them and then they run back and whisper the word to the next person. The word travels down the line to the end and then the end person runs up to you and tells you the word. If it’s right, they get a point, if not, they have to redo it.
  8. Clap/Elimination: Really simple, X=Clap. Have the students count one at a time 1, 2, 3, X, 2, 3, X, X, 3, X, X, X. It’s like the B-I-N-G-O song. If the person messes up have them stand up and do a dance or another funny penalty and play again.

Vocabulary/Sentence Games—Games you can use in class for basic vocabulary identification or having students do controlled practice with new sentence structures. *All of these games are played with teams, I used two teams, but if you have big classes, they all work with multiple teams.

  1. Basketball/P.I.G.: Basketball is pretty straightforward. Have a ball and either a hoop or a small bucket for them to shoot into. I made three lines they could shoot from and based on the line they chose that was the difficulty level of the question. So a three point question I would ask them to make a sentence, a one point question they would have to identify a vocabulary card.
    1. P.I.G: This is a really popular game, sometimes called H.O.R.S.E. Split class into two teams and you can use the same line system as above, but this time if the student misses the shot, their team gets a letter. For the older kids I equivocated the number of letters with the line they shot from—three points=three letters. I also used vocabulary words instead of Pig or Horse.
  2. Ball Hop: This is by far the most versatile game I used. Get two balls and draw a line at the back of the classroom. The students hold the balls between their knees and then hop to you. First student to give you a high five wins, the second student must identify a vocabulary card.
    1. Variation: Same game as above, but they hop directly to the vocabulary card you or a student calls out. First one to tag it wins, the other must identify another word and becomes the next student to call out a word.
    2. Cowboy: Draw a line closer to the front of the room. Place flashcards at the back of the room. Students face the front and when you call out a word must race forward and touch the board/wall with their ball and then run to the back of the class and tag the proper vocabulary word.
    3. Hot Potato: No running in this one, but have the students make a circle. Place the flashcards in the center and introduce one or two balls. Have the students start passing the balls clockwise while you countdown from 10, 5, or 3, whatever you want. When you get to zero, say a vocabulary word and the two students with the balls have to jump forward and tag the proper card.
    4. Vertical: Instead of placing the flashcards horizontally in the back of the room, place them vertically and assign them point value—10, 20, 30, 40, 50—and bring up only one student at a time. Like ‘Cowboy’, draw a line close to the front of the room. As soon as you say go, begin counting down from five. The student has to run forward and touch the board before running back and tagging as many cards as they can while saying the words. Person with the most points at the end wins.
    5. Blocks: No ball in this one, but small foam blocks. Have students either balance the blocks on their heads or hands and either high five or tag the vocabulary card directly.
  3. Chopsticks: *If you’re not in a country with chopsticks, I don’t think this will be an effective game, but you might be able to use spoons.* Get two sets of chopsticks and a couple foam blocks. Set the chopsticks on top of the blocks and draw little circles around them so students put them back in the same place. This game is awesome for practicing prepositions—on, in, under, between, in front of, next to—but if you just want them to find the correct word it’s great for that two. So you give them a word and they run up and touch the card with their block while repeating the word and then they have to run back and reset their block and chopsticks. First one to reset wins.
  4. Castles: Get some building blocks and give each team a place at the front of the room to build their castle. I tell my students the castles must be at least three stories, otherwise they’ll try to cheat and make them one level. Once castles are done, have students either sit or line up at the back of the room depending on class size, and ask them questions. If they answer correctly, they get a ball and try to knock over the other team’s castle. You get the best castles and reactions if you don’t tell them at first you’ll be knocking them over.
  5. Musical Chairs: There is actually no music involved here, but I couldn’t think of a better name. Have students make a big circle with their chairs and put one in the middle. The rest of the class asks them a question and the middle student answers. Once they give a preset answer (i.e. “I’m wearing a red hat.) All the students have to get up and change chairs. Whoever doesn’t get a seat is new student in the middle.
  6. Connect 4/Tic Tac Toe: These games are excellent fillers. Connect 4 is just like Tic Tac Toe/Knots and Crosses but they have to match four instead of three. On the board draw sixteen squares and write in their vocabulary along with four or five penalties—again, my favorite one is dancing because the mortification never ends—and have them make sentences with whichever word they want.
  7. Ostrich: Draw a big circle on the floor and select two student. Each one holds a flashcard behind their back. Their goal is to see and say the other person’s card without being seen themselves. Make sure students understand before the game starts that telling their teammate the other person’s card gets them a point penalty. That includes saying it in their native language as well.
  8. Red Light/Green Light: Have one student stand up at the front of the class with two flashcards. One means Go, the other means Stop. Have the other students line up at the back of the class and either walk, hop, or dance when they are allowed to Go. When the card changes to Stop, they have to freeze and say the word. The first person to reach the cardholder becomes the new cardholder.
  9. Maze: This game is for older kids who are working with directional words. On the board draw a small maze with four or five vocabulary words scattered about. Blindfold one student and give them a pen to draw with. The rest of the team must give them directions to the specified vocabulary word.
  10. Pictionary: Another great game for “What is it?” or “What does s/he/it look like?” Have the students come up and draw animals or people on the board. The rest of the class asks them questions about it and the artist answers.
  11. Board Games: Ahhh, these are amazing. This is a catchall for any game you can draw on the floor or on the board. Get a dice and some little blocks as markers for the teams and let the kids play. They have to answer a question before they roll but they really enjoy these. I had one game I called Mountain Climb where I drew a rough mountain on the floor and made several penalties like Rock Fall, Lose Turn or detours that sent them back to start or bonus trails that got them extra points. I did a shipwreck one where they started on a boat and had to swim to shore. If they landed on a shark they lost a life. Then they had the option of being saved by a mermaid and gaining extra points or getting sucked up in a typhoon land losing their points based on what they rolled. On land they could be eaten by cannibals and lose their points and another life or they could climb a mountain and have an eagle steal their points or get lost in the jungle and lose life and points to tigers and monkeys.
  12. Bag Toss/Cornhole: Get a small bean bag and draw a line at the front of the room. Place the flashcards in a large triangle formation with the closest ones being the lowest points and the farthest one the highest. Students have to identify the flashcard before tossing or make a sentence with their intended word.
  13. King and Queen: Get about a dozen previous flashcards to add to their current lesson’s cards. This game only works with two team, any more than that and it will be a mess. Choose one person from each team and have them secretly choose one flashcard at random. These are your Kings/Queens and they sit on their ‘Thrones’ at the front of the room. They’re not allowed to show or tell anyone what card they choose. Once they put the card back shuffle them and spread them out in the back of the room. Choose another person from each team to be the card selector. Their job is to just pick up cards. Once they do, they need to ask the target question: “Is it his_____?” and then the game proceeds like Whispers with each person on the team asking someone the question until you get to the monarch at the front. They say Yes or No. If Yes, that team wins. If No, the card runner selects a new card and the game begins again. Again, make certain you tell them not to cheat in their native language before the game starts and they know everyone has to ask and answer the question. They can’t just say “Lamp” and pass the card down, they have to talk.

 

Phonics Games—Phonics is fucking boring for everyone. But, the kids remember more if you make a game out of it.

  1. Stomp/Clap: Let’s say our two sounds are /b/ and /d/. /b/=Stomp, /d/=Clap. Write a rhythm on the board like B B D B D B B. Have the students practice a couple times and then call on individuals to show off. Don’t forget to have them make the sounds.
  2. Kung Fu: All right, if you have a rowdy class, skip this one. Make it very clear from the beginning if they intentionally hit anyone they don’t get to play. Have them line up facing each other. Let’s keep up with our /b/ and /d/ example: /b/=Right high punch, /d/=Left high punch. Again, make up a quick little pattern: B D B D B D B B and have them say the sounds.
  3. Tongue Twister: My kids loved tongue twisters. “Betty Botter bought a bit of butter” was their favorite. They liked to race each other and race me. If you do this, remember, words aren’t really important, make sure they’re making the right sound. Ones my kids had problems with were /s/ and /sh/ and /r/ and differentiating the vowels.
  4. Chair Race: Place two chairs at the front of the room and mark one /b/ and one /d/. Have two students at the back of the room and then call out a word. Instead of running, have them skip or hop because they will not hesitate to tackle each other to get to the write chair.
    1. Ball Drop: At the front of the room write /b/ and /d/ in separate circles. Just like the vocabulary Ball Hop, have students but a ball between their knees. When you call out a word they have to hop to the right circle and drop the ball.
  5. Which Wall: Assign one side of the room /b/ and the other /d/. Have students stand in a line in the center and when you say a word, they hop to the appropriate side of the room.
  6. Basketball: Have two hoops or baskets, one /d/ and one /b/, choose two students to come up to the free throw line. You say a word and they choose the basket. This game is by far the most popular because you can up the difficulty level by having several point lines or by having them say a word before they shoot.

 

Those are the greatest hits from this semester. After next semester I’ll add whatever else I come up with. Hope this helps, happy teaching!

Adventures Abroad: Cambodia, Teaching Practice

Adventures Abroad: Cambodia, Teaching Practice

Monday morning.

So Friday, we were told that those of us teaching at the school True Vision would have our room assignment by the end of the day. I was okay with that. That meant we’d have the weekend to brainstorm ideas for our very first class.

Friday night still no room assignment.

Saturday night, no room assignment.

Sunday one of my classmates sent an email asking if our room assignment had come in.

No.

snape

Monday morning, seven of us loaded up two Tuk Tuks and started the trek to True Vision without any idea of what age group we were teaching. True Vision has students that range from preschool to sixth grade.

We get to the office and we all started to relax a little. The kids playing in the courtyard are older, about seven and eight, and that was what we had planned for. Excellent.

Then the True Vision staff split us up.

On the other side of the office is another campus and that’s where myself and two others were led.

There in the courtyard, small children. Tiny children. Children significantly younger than the seven and eight year olds we had just left.

I have a class of four year olds. Preschool.

Tiny, tiny children.

snape1

Nothing, absolutely nothing, I had on my lesson plan and none of the stuff we had discussed in our teaching course was meant for children this young. I asked them to write their names on a sheet of paper and draw a picture from their favorite story. The TA had to help three of the six spell their names. I had thought it wouldn’t be that bad, six students, I can wing this. I’ll think of something.

8:20, eight more students come through the door. I have fourteen four year olds and nothing on my lesson plan will work.

I tried to modify one of the games I had. “Jungle Survival” What items do you take into the jungle? It didn’t work. Okay. What animals live in the jungle? Elephants, fish, dogs, and cats. Okay, maybe not.

They demanded we sing a song. I don’t know any. I don’t like to sing and I sure as fuck can’t make up some bullshit diddly at the drop of a hat. So I asked them what songs they knew while staring at the clock waiting for it to hit 8:50 when I could release them to the courtyard.

So Monday was a clusterfuck of a different color. The only saving grace being that I was not observed and critiqued when everything fell apart and anarchy ruled no one but the TA had to see it.

oOo

Sickness has taken hold of my classmates. Two of them were too sick to teach, three of them probably should have stayed at the hotel, and four more were also green around the gills. I’m still feeling fine. And this time I have a goddamn plan.

snape2

This time we’re going to have rules and the students will tell me their names when they walk in.

This time we’re going to write the alphabet on the board in a board race.

This time we’re going to learn new words like “Elbow,” “Ankle,” “Wrist,” “Thigh,” and “Neck.”

This time we’re going to play a game at the end with our new vocabulary.

This time, four students came in at 8am when class starts and when I asked them to write their names on the board they couldn’t make the letters or spell them.

This time, the alphabet board race fell apart before it began. The concept of “teams” and “racing” still too complex in a non-native language so they just wrote letters on the board.

This time, we learned the word “Elbow”. Sort of.

This time, there was an observer watching me watch the clock waiting for it to hit 8:50.

But it wasn’t all bad. The observer said I need to be louder and use the students’ names. She said I need more examples of the words I’m using and I need to do more repetition. I need to put the words in a sentence, something they can use context clues to really figure out the word.

oOo

This time I am ready to rock and fucking roll. I have nametags, I have stickers, I have a goddamn plan.

This time I track down an attendance sheet and ask the kids to spell and point to their names while I write down their nametags.

This time we’re reviewing “Elbow” and learning “Ankle”, with pictures. I have examples and I have questions to drill them on understanding.

This time I have a game where they have to point to their elbows and ankles to get the point.

This time they’re going to spell the words.

This time my observer told me I did an excellent job on drilling and class flow and class management. This time the plan fucking worked.

snape3