Tag Archives: english

Education In China

 

It has been officially two months here in China, and I finally decided to write a blog post on education over here in China. Why? Well, first and foremost, I’m an educator and these kinds of things interest me quite a bit. Secondly, I haven’t written a blog post for a while, so I figure I should write one haha.

china_education_of_children

Okay, so let’s do it.

Shocked. I think that is the one word that accurately describes my feelings for the education here in China. Shocked. But, I cannot say if this is in a bad way or a good way, it’s just, shocked. In many ways, it’s astounding what these students can do here, but at the same time, it’s horrifying and horrible.

First, let’s set the context for my school and surrounding schools. I am working through a company that has an agreement with a school to come in and teach classes only in English for students who want to go to the United States. So, my school, significantly smaller than the Site School, has its own goals to try and achieve. In a relatively small town in China, Yixing,  a population  of one million, the whole school consists of 2,000 students. My program consists of about 50 of those students. Here is what a schedule looks like for one of my students, Monday – Saturday. Yes, Saturday (although Saturday is only a half day.)

6:45 am – 7:20 am: Morning Reading = students are given a passage of text to read and memorize during the thirty-five minutes. My job is during the last five to ten minutes to quiz them to make sure they have memorized the material.

7:30 am – 9:00 am: Periods 1 + 2 = Each class is 40 minutes long, making it very difficult to achieve things in the course of the class.

9:00 am – 9:30 am: Running Period = Students are taken to the school track and they run, military style, around the track for two to four laps.

9:30 am – 11:10 am = Periods 3 + 4

11:10 am – 11:50 am = Lunch time.

11:50 am – 1:05 pm: Rest period = This is different for my school. The students get to rest so many of them sleep at their desks for the hour. Students at the Site School, however, are assigned another period of class and aren’t allowed to sleep.

1:05 pm – 2:35 pm = Periods 5+6

2:35 pm – 3:00 pm: Running period. Again, students report to the school track and made to run two to four laps.

3:00 pm – 5:20 pm = Periods 7 + 8 +9

5:20 pm – 6:00 pm = Dinnertime

6:10 pm – 9:00 pm = Regulated study time. Students remain in their classroom for three hours under the supervision of teachers and work on homework.

Then, they get to go home. They repeat this Monday through Friday. So, these students have a 14 hour day at school which involves nine class periods, two running periods that total at least one mile, and only one hour for rest. Again, that is for my school, the Site School doesn’t get that rest period.

On Saturday they have a half day starting at 7 am and ending by 11 am. In that regards, the Site School is the same. However, unlike the Site School, our students do not need to come back after noon on Sunday for a half day of schooling there. Yes, that’s right, they only get half a day Saturday and half a day Sunday to rest. It’s awful to see and no longer makes me complain about anything I’ve had in the States.

Because they are so test oriented in China, everything they do is memorization. Yes, this may sound like a generalization, but it’s not. They literally try and memorize everything, from the passages during morning reading to the passages on international tests such as the TOEFL. They memorize the latter just in case they experience the same TOEFL prompt on their actual test. It’s such a flawed system, it’s ridiculous, and it leads to Chinese students not really being able to think creatively or have any of their own thoughts. For a lack of better words or stronger comparison, they are simply machines. Many of the parents of these machines want their students to continue studying even after they are finished with school so teachers get chastised if we give too few homework. All of these things together leads some of the children here having more gray hairs than my grandma.

Also, in terms of schooling, there is even more interesting matters in how teachers are looked upon. So, in Asian culture teachers are actually very valued members of society, they rank right up there as equals to the parents for their children. Knowing that is essential if you are to command a classroom of Chinese students. But, also, I find the society very superficial. What do I mean by this? Well, they like to judge things aesthetically, meaning, if you are handsome you can do no wrong in their eyes. This is actually one of the first things people say to me all the time, “You’re so handsome.” I went to a parent teacher conference with students of a more disruptive class, Senior II, here one of my first weeks in Yixing. I introduced myself, my plan for the students, and asked for questions from any of the parents. None of the parents had any. But, for the Chinese teachers, there was a plethora of questions. Interesting, right?

Finally, another point about schooling: many of the students are arrogant. Really arrogant. This is rather harsh, I know, but let me explain. Students in our program specifically come from wealthier families who can afford to put their students in English-immersion high schools. Next, until just recently (maybe one or two years ago), China had a strict one-child-only policy, so many of these students don’t have only siblings. This, combined with the fact that they come from more prominent families, means they are spoiled beyond belief. Harsh, but true. Because of this, I found it rather difficult to command their attention at times earlier in the year, but now I am getting the hang of it, although it can be a constant power struggle all the time. And, for an English teacher, our subject is viewed as non-important in the eyes of the typical Chinese who usually complete math and science first. This is ironic as they are going to an English-immersion school and all of the tests that they have are based around knowing English, but it is what it is.

This is lengthy, but everything here is what I have experienced personally. No, it may not be similar to other schools, but my guess is that it is. The competition in China is so high for a job that this is the reason that schools go so late and are 6 days a week. If they aren’t, the Chinese fear that their child will get left behind. This predicament, sadly, leaves many of these students with no place to vent their struggles. There are no extra-curricular activities to build comradery and team-building functions with classmates. There is no time for a social life even as 14 hours of their day are in school. There is only time for Sleep. Memorize. School. Study. Repeat.

Teachers at the Site School have it bad as well as they are required to come 6 days a week to teach the students. They are responsible for class sizes of 40 – 50 students (my class sizes are 16-18). Many of them are paid 5,000 – 7,000 yuan per month, this equates to 750 dollars – 1000 dollars every month for the teachers there. My salary is significantly higher as are the salaries of the Chinese teachers in my department.

As a former educator in the States, this is disheartening to see, but it’s definitely given me a new perspective on our education there. If you want to come to China, I suggest to do it. I even suggest teaching in China, the benefits are fantastic, but just be prepared for a culture shock when you get here. It is unlike you have ever seen.

Michael E. Thies

P.S. One quick thing I forgot to mention is that Chinese don’t really believe in holidays. What do I mean by this? Well, let’s say that a Holiday is scheduled for Thursday and Friday during a week. Well, they will schedule the holiday in question for Thursday and Friday and then make students come to school on Saturday and Sunday to make up the classes that they missed on Thursday and Friday. It’s rather annoying as that means sometimes I need to teach on Saturdays and Sundays. It is what it is, like I said before. Shocked. Shocked. That is what I am constantly in whenever I think about the education system here.

Keeping My Head Above Water

So, I am approximately three weeks into school and it is already taking a toll on me. I have to do so much reading constantly and there is so much analysis in that reading that I need to do. I am glad to say I am continuing to get good grades and am keeping my head above water, but it is hard and what sucks is that it never ends. I had plans of revising my story and getting it off to my Beta-Readers by the end of the month and that may be pushed back a little bit but I am definitely going to try and keep to the schedule since I know many people are anticipating the sequel to the story.

Here is my class schedule:

Special Education 205 = A have to read a chapter or two in the book every week. This one typically gets pushed to the back burner because the class is meant for Freshman and the teacher isn’t too hard so I’m not too worried about this course.

English 460 (Major Authors) = This is a course all about Herman Melville. Luckily there isn’t much to this class as far as homework goes and the dates the homework need to be done by. All of it (besides a research paper) need to be done by Spring Break though, so I have approximately a month and a half to finish the homework for that class. But, there is constant reading and discussing of the works of Herman Melville which isn’t the most exciting of authors.

English 369 (Multicultural Drama of the United States) = I have to read and analyze a new play every week in this class. On top of it every three weeks there is another analysis due that compares previous plays with a theory. Luckily my teacher likes me in this class.

English 405 (Shakespeare) = I have the same teacher for this class as I do above. But, just as in the other class I have a new Shakespeare play to read every week. Shakespeare is definitely not the easiest thing to read and when you have to understand and analyze it to, your head starts to throb. With these discussion courses, it is all about participation so I make sure that I come prepared with at least one idea per class.

Education as a Second Language 311 (Linguistics) = The professor here is teaching the class for the first time. This makes this class quite the joke and he makes things much more complicated than they need to be. Not only is it in the morning (so I find myself snoozing because linguistics isn’t the most exciting thing in the world), but the tasks he assigns are tedious. There is only one assignment per week and the chapters are small and easy to get through so I am thankful there.

English 310 (Young Adult Authors) = This is definitely one of the most interesting courses I will ever take. My teacher loves science-ficiton and fantasy and so she is always curious about how my book is doing (she happens to be my adviser and the head of the English Department). Score! However, there is one huge downfall in this class. I need to read a new book EVERY SINGLE WEEK. We will go through 10 throughout the course of the semester and these are full length novels. On top of all the reading I need to do, this is the biggest timesucker I have ever had. As far as homework goes, though, I have not received any besides to read the stories and come prepared to discuss and since it’s a discussion class a lot of my grade rests on participation.

So, there you all have it. My schedule and what I am going through with this 18 credit semester. Right now I am a week ahead of schedule and I am hoping to keep one week ahead of schedule but it will be no easy task. I have found that planning in my calendar for what I am to accomplish each night of the week has really started to help me manage it. For example, I have been consistently reading four to five chapters of Melville along with maybe 75 – 100 pages of my modern books per night in order to not have it all pile up over the weekends. Honestly, I am surprised I still get a workout in. But, alas, I cannot do as much writing or reading on social media as I want to. Hopefully I’ll get some time this weekend to do some writing and revisions in my story. I want the story to continue!

But, if you do not see me post as often as I want to, it’s because of my extensive reading. Actually, I guess because I read so much now, I can start writing reviews of these books for some of my posts. Perhaps I’ll do that! Until next time!!! Hopefully I won’t drown in the pages of text I need to read.

What can be Improved Upon in English College Courses (Part 2)

So, in the first part of this topic I discussed why teachers shouldn’t really be limiting the writing ability of creative writing students. Here is another topic that I feel needs to get addressed while we are critiquing the English college curriculum.

Alright, so it has been argued that many people go to college just to get the degree, but that it really doesn’t prepare you for the real world. I guess, in some ways that’s true, but I definitely think it gives you the opportunity to prepare for that real world through the offering of internships and through a good college curriculum. As far as us Creative Writers go, how does college prepare us? The question I always received when people knew I was a creative writing major is “What are you going to do with that?” And it’s true, what do many people do with a creative writing degree? Well, there is always publishing poetry, short stories, or maybe even that novel. However, therein lies the problem with the education, it revolves around publishing. I was very lucky in many regards that I started taking my writing seriously at a high school level. When people asked me the question above I would respond with, “Well, I’m going to get my novel published. I already have it written.” People were so impressed by that and many of my fraternity brothers said I was “10,000 steps ahead of other Creative Writing majors.” And, I probably was, but anyone can do that, they just need to put the time in to get that done. But, getting to my point, my experience in publishing has caused me to look upon the college curriculum with a new perspective.

I think that in the English Education system at the college level there should be an offered class that teaches the people in the major all the ins and outs publishing. There is so much to learn! I honestly did so much research in order to publish my book and I still feel like I’m running around with my head cut off. What this class would do is talk about every aspect of publishing: book specs, trim size, to-dos, Independent Book Publishing Association, Publisher’s Weekly. There is so much info that you could put into a class. In fact, you could probably have two classes, one a beginning class going through the basics of what all is publishing and your different types of publishing options: vanity presses, indie presses, POD, or traditional publishing. And then you could have another course, a more advanced one that has a project of actually getting a work published by the end of the class. You would utilize your previous course knowledge and then implement it with querying your stories out, building your press kits, etc. Or, you could have a “virtual” simulation or a project where you put together your business plan, a marketing plan, and a timeline of implementation just so that when you do decide to take that step and publish something later on in life you have a blue print, you have done it before, and you’ve been pretty much “taken by the hand” throughout the whole process.

With this kind of info at least at their fingertips I think it’d encourage many more students to really get out there and write! Writing isn’t about jamming out a novel in a day, it’s about persistence. It took 6 years for me to get my first novel to where I want it to be. Although these courses will not help the motivation factor, it will definitely help benefit them with just a deeper knowledge of the publishing industry. I feel as though this would benefit many many English students who don’t really know how to take that next step into utilizing that English major that they acquired. Or, even if they didn’t want to publish something, they can take this knowledge to try to get jobs at publishing companies and have a job that directly relates to their major (which is something hard to find for many students nowadays like I said before).

 

If any of you reading this are pursuing something in the English Major what do you think about including some elective publishing classes? What other ideas can you think of that would help other English majors feel more prepared after college? I’m interested in hearing your thoughts!

What can be Improved Upon in English College Courses (Part 1)

So, there are a few things that have been bugging me for a while now. This blog post actually gets a little long so I’m expanding it into multiple parts. Part one talks about writing courses in college, although all of this can probably be applied to high school writing courses as well.  Part 2 will focus on courses I think that should be added to the college curriculum. And, who knows, maybe I’ll expand this into a part 3, as well, topic yet to be determined.

Firstly, why is there such a tendency to curb the way we college students write? I understand that different people have different taste in genres, but I believe each genre should be an acceptable format to write in during a college writing course. We come there to enhance our skills after all, not to write something that has no interest to us. I’ll use my college experience as an example here (and I know many colleges are focused around the same way), in my junior level creative writing prose course we were meant to have a portfolio at the end of the semester with 3 short stories in it. I had an awesome teacher who allowed us to write whatever we wanted. . . Initially, anyways. I decided I’m going to kill two birds with one stone and I’ll write a short story that coincides with my larger piece that I’m working on, my novel. I loved it. I had an awesome time writing it and I feel as though much of the class enjoyed it (that last part could be due to the fact that I consider myself a decent writer). Anyways, 2/3 pieces I wrote for that portfolio turned out to be short stories that supplemented my novel, The Trials of the Core, which is a fantasy piece.

In my senior level creative writing prose course my teacher strictly forbade anyone from writing fantasy short stories and decided to stick with literary prose. Okay. I don’t mind literary prose, I can write about anything, that’s what practice will get you, but if I had a choice what would I choose? Probably my fantasy stories and again work on things that are going to compliment me later in life. Now, the problem here?

The problem is that my senior level creative writing teacher forbade us to write on anything other than her specific interest even when we had two pieces we needed to turn in at the end of the year. My junior-level teacher did not. To me a solution could be that, yes, you can write a story genre specific to your choice, but then you must also write another story that is not in your typical genre. This forces us as writers and readers to do a couple things: (1) As writers, we find our voice in different genres. We are exposed to a wider range of writing, and as such, become better versed in all aspects writing. (2) As readers, we learn to look at different types of literature and judge it in the genre that it’s in. We see the shortcomings of a specific genre, and the strengths of another. We learn to analyze differently and perhaps even take what’s specific in one genre and merge it with another (for example, merging an idea of fantasy into magical realism). (3) As teachers, you should be able to discern good writing from bad writing no matter the genre. Even if it’s something you don’t typically read, you know a good sentence when you see it—it is not as abstract as poetry is in my opinion.

I am pro-fantasy writer, a definite advocate, and so I hate it when teachers tell me I can’t write a specific way and there are typically a few reasons: (1) Fantasy is about world building and you don’t have enough time to properly world build in a short story, (2) You need to deal with magic and supernatural elements, that again, take a long time to explain and not suited for a short story, (3) there may be creatures in it that we cannot suspend our disbelief to.

Great…

Here are some reasons why we should be allowed to write fantasy (but you can apply these reasons to other genres as well): (1) The ability to create a delicate plot structure. Just think about it, imagine how much planning and timing it takes for fantasy authors to juggle multiple plot lines in a single story. J.K. Rowling had 7 books in her series, Harry Potter, and although I doubt she had all 7 outlined when she wrote her first book, she had a good idea of where she wanted the story to go. As fantasy writers we need to think about things that happen in the first book that will affect the second book, third book, and so on. That is hard! And a reason why if we can practice that in short story format, utilizing the setup-payoff technique, we are going to be well off when we actually start our career after college. (2) World building. I don’t think there is another genre (perhaps besides science-fiction) that worldbuilds like fantasy does. This is a trait that can carry over to ANY GENRE. We as writers are writers, first and foremost, but I’d scoff at anyone who says that as a writer they are not an observer—a people watcher, a world watcher. If you can dream up or think up these fantastic settings that are, for the most part, imaginary just think about how well you will be able to do describing something that takes place in Smoky Mountains, Tennessee. The language we use is the same, the reality is that in most other fiction, it literally is reality that is the difference. It’s there. Tangible. (3) To further recognize how to deal with not only cliché characters, but hackneyed scenarios. This is huge in genre fiction. In romance you have the love triangle and the most known one is the High School quarterback dating the head cheerleader and then this other undiscovered girl comes in and attracts the quarterback and they fall in love. For fantasy it’s the idea that an orphan will be the one to save everyone. And so on and so forth for the other genres. But, writing these short stories in these different types of genres allow us to practice creating different archetypes of characters, because we don’t want the predictable love triangle. By listening to others’ feedback who aren’t maybe versed in the genre as much as we are, we get an outsiders perspective which might just be the thing we are looking for when it comes to changing up our pacing, style, tone or perspective.

Well, that actually happened to be a lengthier blog post than I intended it to be, but it needed to be said nonetheless. So, there you have it teachers and professors, don’t limit your student’s creativity just because you don’t like a particular genre. Instead, embrace it. Allow them to write perhaps one of there 3 portfolio pieces in a genre of their choosing but then encourage them to go outside their norms and write in something else. This will only create better writers, better readers, and better analyzers. We as students are thirsty for variety, thirsty for knowledge, and that sort of thing is taken away when our writing habits are dictated. I think Plato says it best when he says, “I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.” Know one thing, you know nothing, know many things, and you are on the write path.