Contract Re-Negotation

It’s that time of the year again; for many of us educators, tutors, teachers and mentors; the end is nigh.

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The end that I’m talking about is the end of the Chinese school year, which like the American school year ends in June rather than November (Aussie Aussie Aussie)

So now that it’s April, some among us (including me) have begun casual conversations about contract re-negotiation that will happen around May/June.

 

Some of us have beautiful contracts that include weeks of no work through the summer (but still getting paid) beautiful high paychecks every month; sick pay, vacation pay, all the pay’s.

My pay isn’t like that, mine is a little on the cheaper side, includes no paid off-days in the year and no vacation time.

This is a bit of an unusual deal for foreign teachers these days, as English becomes more in demand, competition for good teachers increases, companies and individuals get richer so pay for teachers goes up. This describes the golden world of English teaching.

However I’m not here as an English teacher, I’m here teaching drama.

And drama isn’t nearly as golden and shiny in the view of many, and for good reason.

Last semester I taught weekend drama classes every week, my pay was fantastic and I had a ball doing it. Unfortunately (like I’ve mentioned in previous posts) students here study 7 days a week, and courses (such as English, Math, Science, Chinese) are all fighting for their attention.

On top of that, students are all fiercely competing for spots at good schools, the enormous child population outweighs the spots there are in reputable schools.

Someone currently in kindergarten moves to primary, someone else moves from primary to middle school etc, they must fight for a good school. Because of this, schools have exams that students must take in order to prove themselves for entry, the more prestigious the school, the more intense the exam.

My subject (yay drama!) Is not part of anyone’s exam, therefore my class took up 90 minutes each Sunday that could have been otherwise spent studying a subject that would have given the student an edge on these exams and pushed them ahead.

What I’m teaching is a little bit of a glamour subject, fashionable and trendy, but not necessary.

My big advantage over local drama teachers is that I speak English natively, so schools can at least justify my training to concerned parents that just allowing their students to speak with me will give them invaluable education, especially if their school offers only Chinese English teachers (there are many).

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So knowing all this I too am going into contract re-negotiation soon, but as my utility diminishes over time, I (like all of us) am going to ask for more.

I’m going to ask for more money and more benefits, and I’m absolutely losing sleep over it.

I know for a fact that the company is hoping I sign the same contract again, but after a meeting yesterday they now know I have no intention of doing that. The key will be lining up a good backup plan if all my hopes go down the swamp and I become unemployed.

I know this is a bit extreme for some people, and they would definitely advise my backing down if the company doesn’t accept my terms.

But I’ve never been very rational, and what I want is what I want. If I get what I want, I’ll spend all of next year far more positive. When bad things happen I’ll be thinking “Meh! Dollar dollar billzzzzzz” but if I don’t I’ll fall to pieces everytime things go wrong and I’ll shout “I don’t make enough to deal with this!”

So perhaps I’ll return to cruise ships? Or maybe street begging? At least I’m Australian and the streets back home are warm.

Exotic dancing? … perhaps?

Murder Game

Well it’s time for the Chinese New Year Semester break, which means all who work in China get time off to go home, see their families and take it easy.

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This week I finished off the last of my classes and for my oldest class we had our end of semester show on the second last day, rather than the last. This meant the final day would just be for games and revelry.
Games are never straight forward with these kids as they are hyper intelligent and bilingual kids who study 7 days a week.
There’s a lot going on in their minds and I was pretty curious where their minds would go in a popular murder drama game I like to play.

In this game the kids all sit in a large circle and a policeman is chosen. (No matter what gender the policeman is, the kids always say policeman when saying it in English).
Once a policeman is chosen he or she is sent outside and through questions and testing I choose a murderer. (Being the murderer is highly contested so I make them win the opportunity).
The policeman is then invited back into the room to stand in the center of the circle and try to guess the murderer.
The murderer will murder kids around the circle by winking at them. Once a kid is winked at they must die, using observation the policeman has three guesses to try to figure out who’s committing all the crimes.

Normally the game might go for 20 minutes at the most, however this week I didn’t cap the length and it went very extreme, very quickly.
I will tell the story in the present tense and allow you to see it unravel exactly as I witnessed it. We have 9 kids in play, Jan, Will, Henry, George, Jerry, Sarah, Alice, Mary and Lucy.

Round 1.

Optimism was high as the kids sit in the circle eagerly awaiting the policeman’s guesses.

The kids giggled nervously and occasionally shout fake outs like “kill me!” And “she’s the killer!”
Mary is an easily distracted policeman and finds herself regularly chatting with friends and missing murders as they happen.

Jan doesn’t participate in the Tom-foolery, she sits quietly so as to succeed with her kills and go unnoticed. Mary can’t see any connection between the murders and makes her guesses slowly and at random. Murders begin happening further and further apart making the round seem never ending. Eventually the third guess is made and Jan isn’t chosen. Jan wins.
Jan is now the policeman.

Round 2.

This round a time cap is introduced. The policeman has only 90 seconds to make her guesses or the killer will go free.

Jan is the policeman this time and is sent from the room so a killer can be chosen. Henry is chosen to be the killer and immediately after being chosen Will and George sit next to him and recruit him to join them in an alliance.

The rest of the class haven’t noticed what Will, Henry and George are doing and seem oblivious to the deceptive hints that they give to Jan to throw her off the trail.
Jan tries to make observations and catch murders as they develop, but Will, Henry and George are using false signals and lies to throw her off the trail. She muddles the signals and trusts the wrong information. 90 seconds begin to slowly run out and and Jan makes three incorrect guesses. Henry wins.
Henry becomes the policeman.

In the minute or so before the next round the kids begin to chat with each other, but this time the volume is noticeably different from the last time there was a gap between rounds. Instead of the blaring noise that’s usually piercing my ears as the kids joke and fight, its a calm and dark whispering.
Jan joins Will, Henry and George and the four of them recruit Lucy and increase their influence.
Through math, trivia and language questions George is chosen as the killer this round. Immediately the new found alliance begins plotting together, but unlike last time they aren’t subtle enough and Jerry, Sarah and Alice begin to notice.

Round 3

A new rule is introduced, if you are caught communicating with the policeman you die. If you’re the killer and you communicate with the policeman, you lose.

With the new limitations in place the influence of the alliance is limited until they can work out a new strategy.
When the policeman enters there is momentary silence as everyone begins to silently plot the game.
Henry is the policeman and he is looking for George, the killer. Lucy tries to tell Henry who the murderer is and communicate that the killer is part of the alliance, but she is unable to get the message across before I notice and kill her for breaking the rules.
The other members of the alliance react to Lucy’s outburst and chastise her, much to the suspicion of Jerry, Sarah and Alice.
Their suspicions are confirmed when members of the alliance begin slowly nodding or shaking their head whenever Henry is almost about to select a killer. Using slow nods and shakes they communicate the murderer and sacrifice George for Henry’s benefit. Henry guesses correctly with only one guess, Henry wins.
George becomes the disgruntled policeman.

This time the chatting gets explosive as Jerry, Sarah and Alice call out the alliance for what they see as cheating, the alliance deny’s all claims and once again through tricky questions a killer is chosen, this time it’s Jerry.

Round 4

Sarah and Alice realize immediately that the alliance will communicate with George that the killer is Jerry to keep the wins within the alliance, so they agree to work together.
The round begins and as predicted the alliance very slowly indicate to George with their eyes that the killer is on the side of the circle where Jerry is sitting.
Unknown to the alliance however is that Sarah and Alice have been watching how they communicate and began to emulate this communication method to George.
George is obviously very confused and feels like he possibly missed a recruitment drive while he was out of the room when a killer was being chosen. He turns around in panic and communicates a little conspicuously to Jan that he is feeling confused. Jan gestures back by shaking her head but this was too much communication, Jan is killed.
Plagued by indecision George guesses wrongly 3 times and is unsuccessful, Jerry wins.
Jerry becomes the policeman.

Jan is enraged with how the last round went and consults with the alliance. Jan instructs them to use a very subtle neck scratch in future to identify themselves as part of the alliance, and that if it is discovered she will instruct them further in what the signal will change to.
George is very feeling very disgruntled with the entire group, he remains silent through the deliberations.
When it comes time to challenge the kids with questions and find a killer, Jan is chosen.

Round 5

Jerry enters as the policeman and the round begins. Jan, Will, Henry and Alice remain completely still and exhibit perfect poker faces, only breaking occasionally to snicker and silently mock Jerry’s stern face as he scans the crowd looking for clues.
He looks around as kids begin dying and can’t find anything unusual to look out for, he is painfully aware that the clock is ticking down but can’t find a basis on which to make a guess.
He guesses once and is wrong, he makes another attempt and is wrong a second time.
He looks pleadingly at Sarah and Alice but they died early on and are lying on the ground with their eyes closed.
Suddenly George dies a little more dramatically then he had in previous rounds and attracts Jerry’s attention.
Jerry watches him dramatically gurgle and lay stretched out on the ground with his dance trained foot pointing out towards Jan.
Only one of his feet are pointed, and it’s direction is squarely and obviously at Jan.
Jan has noticed what he’s doing but is powerless to act, Jerry has also noticed and swiftly turns around and successfully guesses Jan as the murderer.

A dark look falls across Jan’s face. She knows what she’s got to do.

To be Continued…

A Day in the Tiny Life of a Chinese Child

Much to my initial dismay, during the last few months of my time here in China I’ve been assigned two public Kindergartens in the city to give drama and movement lessons to and let me tell you, they are nothing like our kindergartens in the West.

I couldn’t really say if they’re better or worse, but they’re very different.

Here’s an account of a day in the life of one of these kids.

Morning begins as the kids individually arrive to their classrooms and deposit their things into their locker. Each child is assigned a letter between A and Z that they keep throughout the year, it’s the child’s responsibility to remember their personal letter as it has a big effect on their day right from the beginning, it shows them which locker belongs to them.
Later on in the day when they transition outside or between rooms they’ll line up in alphabetical order also, so they’ll need to remember their letter and the letters that should be in front and behind them.

Once a child has arrived they are given a cup of tea and a biscuit, they then choose a table to eat it at. They must remember where they’ve chosen to eat because they must eat again at the same spot for lunch.

If it’s a Monday the Class heads into the courtyard.
The couple hundred roughly 5 year old kids stand in the central courtyard and sing the national anthem together as one preselected class raises China’s flag on the flagpole. It’s of course exactly what you’d expect from a school in China. Once that’s done the kids all go inside.

If it’s not a Monday the kids will still go outside, but to dance together to one of about five songs that they all know the choreography for. (The repetition has a memory boosting effect).

Once inside the kids drink tea or water again.
The kids drink either water, milk or tea at many predetermined times at various points every day.
They then choose an exercise to do, there are many toys and games that are designed to advance something in the mind be it math, science, fine motor skills or several other things, they do this for maybe an hour.

Following game time they have lessons.
Lessons cover topics like how to be a good person, treating others respectfully, obeying authority, listening, things like that.
They also have English and drama lessons (foreign teachers) and time to read and politely chat and play with their friends.
They eat in a formal setting where are they are to stay quiet and use utensils like chopsticks and spoons. They’re given vegetables, fruit, rice, soup and meat.

What almost made me pass out the first time I saw it was that they’re given whole grapes, whole shrimp and pork and fish without the bones removed. These kids are incredible at not choking to death.

In the afternoon they get outside game time and free reading time. They’ll also do another dance with other classes all together.

That generally sums up their day.

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I’m not saying the kids don’t misbehave, and some of them are total nightmares of course. But it’s a really structured day, and the kids know their schedule and what’s expected of them.
The feel of the kindergarten is just different, it feels very structured and orderly. Kids aren’t ever somewhere random, and there’s no improvisation to the play time or anything else. The structure is designed to boost the kids memory and feeling of responsibility and organisation skills very early in life. Ultimately they’re being prepared for primary school which is a very rigorous life of intense study and discipline.
I teach drama classes on Sunday afternoons and all the kids in my class take lessons 7 days a week. A lot of them come to my class from an English class, then leave my lesson to go to a math class.
Kids study very hard and have trouble answering questions that I ask kids back home, questions about movies, games or how they blew a Saturday.

The teachers that I ask about it are proud of the differences between Chinese schools and Western ones. They see no problem with it, in fact they’re proud. The ones I work with are sure that Chinese kids will grow up to lead China into being the world superpower.
The teachers do make one point that I share, there’s a lot of kids here in Shanghai. If the kindergarten let the kids be wild it would be anarchy with the amount that they have.

With this knowledge I let kids be a little more wild in my drama classes, sneak a little rebel into them. (Don’t tell China)

Why Does China Change our Nursery Rhymes?

During my days living in China I’m beginning to find that it’s the little irregularities that are sticking out at me the most.

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A good example is the song ABC.
Kids sing the song differently here and while the change isn’t huge and the song isn’t a big deal in itself, this little difference is one of the biggest things that makes me feel like I’m in a foreign country.
Ok so try to imagine the melody while reading it spelt out below, and try to sing it in your mind. First the version I’m use to –

a b c d e f geeeee
h i j k elemenopeeeee
q r esss
t u veeeee
w x y and zeeeee
now I know my a b ceeeee
next time won’t you sing with mee

Now this is the version I hear in China

a b c d e f geeeee
h i j k l m ennnnn
o p q
r s teeeee
u v w
x y zeeeeee
x y zeeeee
now you seeeee
I can sing my a b ceeeee

Are you thinking what I was thinking!? I just about passed out! You could have tripped over the chin that I had just thrown on the floor.
Whatever happened to integrity..

Anyway,

The last part has literally dozens of variations. I’ve heard,
“There you seeeeee abceeeeee I can sing my a b ceeee”
I’ve heard “Now you seeee, I can siiiing, next time you will sing with meeee”
And many other similar versions.

It wasn’t hard to work out the origins of this catastrophe, once again using my powers of deduction and nothing else actually factual.
I figure it’s because their Chinese teachers teach them lots of preschool English songs, especially ABC because they use our letters in their everyday life.
They even use our letters to text on their phones, people write out the Chinese words with English letters and the phone autocorrects it into Chinese characters.
This answered a massive puzzle for me as I use to wonder “how do they fit 6,000 Chinese characters on a keyboard??”

I haven’t discovered any other variations of classical English high class music yet, if you know of any  let me know!

They’re welcome to take a crack at ‘London Bridge’ or ‘ Ring a Rosie’, those songs could really use an update.

Don’t watch Dubbed Films

Last weekend a mate and I decided we’d go to the movies to see Disney Pixar’s ‘Coco’ which was running dangerously close to the end of its run time in cinemas, and boy did we learn a lesson.

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After having saved money on the ticket price by smugly booking the tickets on an entirely Chinese language app we were feeling pretty good about our survivability in China.

That smugness lasted until we picked up the physical tickets at the cinema and was asked by the ticketing concierge (translated by a nearby cinema patron) whether we had realised that we had booked the 5:15pm Chinese language version of the movie rather than the 9pm English language version..

Chinese version! … Dubbing is still a thing?!

(Asks the guy who still watches the 25 language version of ‘Let it Go’ on YouTube).

I was affronted with the realisation that the tickets we’d bought were for a dubbed version of the movie, something I naively hadn’t prepared for the possibility of ahead of time.

I guess I’m so use to seeing films targeted at adults where it’s much more likely the film will be in its original language, but with Chinese subtitles added.

Kids however are not expected to watch the film and keep up with rapidly changing lines of text underneath the action.

I however want to take this opportunity to play devils advocate here and protest dubbing, even for children.

I am the poorer friend of several people living in various cities around China charging squillions to teach China’s little ones to speak English as quickly and eloquently as possible so that it sounds as natural as possible by the time they’re powerful adults.

After spending all week giving your child daily one on one English lessons and paying a fortune for it, doesn’t it seem like a good idea to make them sit through a Disney movie on a Saturday evening in English? It can only boost their learning to hear it in a natural and Disneyfied setting for 2 hours.

Perhaps Coco is a bad example, what with all the Spanish and all… but I stand by the principle!

As a kid I sat through the Chinese language film ‘Hero’ in the cinema with only subtitles to help me.

Sure I missed lots of the dialogue, but I got the plot and had a blast watching all the fight scenes.

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To the parents of the world I, the single and childless airhead tell you the following..

Make your child watch movies in their original language, especially Disney movies.If they don’t understand anything then well, the movie sure is pretty.

If they do then great! It’ll bolster their English education and provide positive English language memories and experiences.
The more that kids are exposing themselves to organic English experiences the better their own speaking will become, especially because watching a Disney movie is a lot more fun than a traditional English lesson.

Now with this inspiration go sit through the original Japanese version of ‘The Ring’ and be prepared to hate me forever

How I Most Effectively Teach Foreign Language Kids

Today I decided that after a semester’s worth of drama and dance training it was time to introduce my littlest ones to the concept of singing.

The littlest kids I teach are 4 years old and they of course know what singing is, they do it in all of my classes and in everyday life I assume. I don’t really know how other foreign teachers teach anything without singing it. The kids have little interest in what I have to say, but they love to listen to anything I’m singing about.

Singing is how I get the kids to sit down, or really do anything that I want them to do. They don’t understand much English, and they certainly don’t understand “sit down.”So through the semester I’ve been singing “sit down” across three very distinct notes, the NBC chimes.
As I sung them I would always sit down and gesture the kids to do the same until they worked it out.
The more I did this the more they understoodd, at this point I can even just hum the tune and they’ll all just sit, but if I say “sit down” in my normal voice absolutely nothing will happen.

Anyway today I decided that it was time to introduce the concept of singing itself and give it a word that they could say, and understand properly in their minds that it is a describable action, not just the way teacher communicates.So I brought in the microphone that I podcast with and it’s stand. I also brought a toy.

I explained that it has always been the dream of my toy, Arthrisha, to be a famous singer. Of course they have no idea what I’m saying but when I set up the microphone and have Arthrisha stand in front of it, they are beginning to get the idea.

I tell them that I’m going to play the backing track to ‘ABC’ for Arthrisha to record her albums debut single.
I press play and within a few bars and much to my feigned frustration Arthrisha is completely paralysed by nerves and is unable to sing.
I encourage her and allow the kids to encourage her to sing and that we are supporting her.

She fails another couple of times and I’m seemingly at my wits end.

It’s at this point that I allow the kids a turn to come up to the microphone and record ABC. (Not really record, the mic isn’t plugged into anything).
I ask if anyone wants to try to sing, it’s at this point that they understand two things. They know what singing is, they know how to say it, and they know that they desperately want to do it.
Every hand shoots up but I don’t pick anyone until someone can articulate that they want to sing.
A little girl asks to sing and articulates it the best so she is chosen.
She gets up and comes to the microphone and clears her tiny 4 year old throat.

She grasps the microphone and allows the opening bars of ABC to play on the backing track.
Like a pro she taps her foot to the beat and opens her mouth to sing. As if in slow motion the moment finally arrives and she begins to sing for all the world to hear –

“LET IT GOOOO LET IT GOOOOO CAN’T HOLD IT BACK ANYMOOOOOORE”

China’s Wrap-up Music

My favorite quirk here in China is the song ‘Going Home’ by Kenny G.

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There is no way there’s anyone living in China who doesn’t know this song, but it’s also unlikely many of them know what the song’s called or who plays it.
The reason this song is so well known nation-wide is because it plays to signal the end of everything, when a mall is closing, when a train is coming in to its final stop, when school is letting out, anything. This song is played throughout the evening in so many places around the country that it’s almost like the end titles of a daily TV show of peoples lives.
I’ve actually had a problem at work recently that was solved by this song.
When I travel to a school to teach I always set up in a hall or studio, and the kids I’m going to teach drama or dance to are shuffled in by the teachers, then shuffled out again once I’m done.
The problem lately is that when I’m done I wave goodbye to the students, wish them well and hope they leave quickly only to see them just stand there unheeding my well-wishing. The teacher hasn’t realized the class is over because she was busy messaging or with another project on her phone.
Sometimes I come over and tell her quietly that it’s time to go but I feel awkward, and there’s a limit to the volume that you can scream “GOODBYYYYE” without looking like a jack-ass.
So I just started playing ‘Going Home’ by Kenny G at the end of my classes and I’m completely serious when I say some of the teachers look up straight away within the first few bars of the song, and even if they’re still zoned out or in another world in their mind they start shuffling the kids out of the room assuming it’s over. It’s like magic! Some of the teachers hear it and start laughing because they know exactly what I’m trying to do, and some just smile because it’s a great song.