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Caught In A Loop

, , , | Working | April 16, 2022

I speak English, but I currently live in a country where English isn’t the primary language. While I can speak and understand some of the local language, communicating in English is much easier, especially over the phone.

I rent a car during the summer for a road trip. Because of a [health crisis illness] flare-up in the city where I rented the car, I need to return it to a different location. Fortunately, the company I rented the car from has a phone number for English speakers. I call the number.

Agent: “Hello, how can I help you?”

Me: “I need to return my car to a different city.” *Gives identifying information*

Agent: “This is the hotel line, not the car rental line. I can help you translate to the car rental people because they don’t speak English. But, in the future, you can call [number I called] and it’ll take you directly to the car people and they will speak English.”

I write the number down, only realizing later that it is the number I called. I get the options for returning the car and say that I will call them back once I make a decision.

A day later, I’m ready to make the reservation to drop off the car (which is a thing with less busy rental companies here). I call the number the guy gave me, which is also the original number I called. The same guy answers.

Agent: “Hello, how can I help you?”

Me: “Hi, we spoke yesterday.” *Gives identifying information* “I’m ready to make the reservation to return the car.”

Agent: “I can translate for you because the people on the line don’t speak English. In the future, you can call [same number I already called] to speak with the car people. They have an English speaker who can translate.”

I did not bother to tell him that A, he had given me the same number I called, and B, he was likely the English speaker to whom he was referring. 

Fortunately, my language skills are okay enough and the process of returning a car is simple enough that I was able to conduct the return without any problems.

Have Some Class; Use A Shot Glass

, , , , , | Related | February 21, 2022

Brother: “Hey, have you ever had maple syrup straight from the bottle?”

Me: “No. Why?”

Brother: “It’s liquid heaven. I sneak a gulp from the fridge every single night.”

Me: “Does that mean we’ll all be eating your spit the next time we have maple syrup for breakfast?”

Brother: “Erm, no.”

Me: “How come?”

Brother: “You see, it’s a year past the expiry date. I’m seeing how long it takes Mom to remember it exists and chuck it out.”

You Can Lead A Student To Videos But You Can’t Make Them Watch

, , , , , | Learning | January 27, 2022

I am a subject-English teacher in China. Our program is designed to be college-prep for students who want to study abroad and is pretty advanced. However, as many as two-thirds of our students come because our program bypasses the Gaokao, a high-stakes nationwide test that pretty much determines your role in life — whether you will be a millionaire business tycoon — or a street sweeper, and they want to avoid getting a low score. Many such students also lack the English skills to do well in our program, but they come anyway. And because of the health crisis and increasing difficulty of international travel, our enrollment is way down, so the school administrators won’t turn them down.

As with much of the world, this year has been challenging! China has a new “zero-tolerance” policy that, if there is even one case of the [illness] in town, entertainment centers, government offices, and schools will be shut down. Because the restriction is so tight (and with good reason), we have spent more time locked down than in the school building.

This, naturally, is leading to online fatigue from the students, who are suffering from a lack of attention. When you combine this with the fact that Chinese classes are tracked, I am not teaching in their native language, and there’s a cultural stigma against asking the teacher a question until well after class is over, you can imagine that there are a lot of students, especially in the lower-ranked classes, who struggle to complete assignments.

However, I work hard to overcome this and have even worked out ways to demonstrate to the students how to do their work online, setting up elaborate systems to suspend my phone over the table while running the mobile app of our online class so that I can use both hands to show them exactly what to do for the assessment. And then, the next week, when we come back in person, the students say they have no memory of ever having worked on that assignment, mostly because they sign in, mute their computers, and then do whatever they want. I have caught them playing guitar, playing video games, teasing their cats, singing to music in their headphones, reading books, and sleeping when I put the app back on camera view.

It’s important to note that the subjects I teach for first-year students are Study Skills — basically, how to be an independent learner and how to pay better attention in class — and Computing I.

For the above-mentioned retaught Study Skills assignment, I was still getting way too many questions about things they insisted they understood when I taught them in class, so I took time to edit and make a video. During the video, I also told them they needed to stop playing around during online class and start paying attention. That is, they needed to show better study skills. I posted it in the class chat with more admonitions about paying attention in class and pinged their homeroom teacher.

And then, this conversation happened.

Student: “Teacher, I wonder when I should hand the [major assessment] homework to you?”

Me: “What did I say in the announcement to the class?”

Student: “Sorry, Teacher, I didn’t catch it. Is it next Tuesday?”

Me: “It’s at 2:10 in the fourth video clip — a video in which I repeated several times that you need to be paying better attention.”

And then, there was silence for about an hour. Then, he came back with this.

Student: “Teacher, I have another question. How did you do the chart you showed in the video?”

Me: “Which, the [assignment] charts? I have now taught that twice in class. Each time, it took the whole class period.”

There was no answer. I was pretty irritated, because I walked around and watched them fill in the charts and asked repeatedly if they understood, and they all said yes. And now he was asking me to reteach it again, over chat.

Me: “Did you find the answer to the first question?”

Student: “Yes.”

Me: “And what is the answer?”

Student: “June thirtieth.”

Me: “Wrong.”

He sent me a video from two months ago in computer class — yes, the entire file. Then, he sent me another whole video from three weeks ago in computer class.

I sent him a picture of the group chat where I posted the videos, with the correct video circled.

Me: “This video. The fourth video I sent today, in the class chat.”

He responded with another video.

Me: “I sent four videos and several announcements. Did you listen to any of them?”

He sent another Computing I video from two weeks ago.

Student: “Of course.”

Me: “Then why are you sending me these videos? They’re not even part of study skills. They are for computer class.”

Student: “Okay, I got it.”

Me: “When you find the correct due date, let me know.”

Student: “The next time I have class.”

Me: “Correct. Thank you.”

I am quite certain I will have to sit down with him and go over the Study Skills charts once we’re back in person in a couple of weeks.

“Oof” Isn’t A Strong Enough Word

, , , , , | Learning | March 18, 2021

I am an American teaching English in China and my current class is a small group of preteens. One of my students is an eleven-year-old boy who is legally blind. He sits at the front of the class, I reverse the colors of the digital whiteboard to white writing on a black background, and he can more or less make it out.

I’m playing a game where I quickly ask the class questions on something we just read and call on students to answer them. When they answer correctly, I toss them a piece of candy.

Me: “What was Moe’s secret ingredient? [Blind Student].”

Blind Student: “Salt!”

Me: “Very good!”

I toss him a wrapped candy and he makes no attempt to catch it. It bounces off his face and lands on the floor. He fumbles around for a few seconds until he finds it while I stand there frozen, contemplating what I have just done.

Me: “Perhaps I should not throw things at blind children.”

This Material’s Not Too Hard To Grasp

, , , | Learning | March 8, 2021

I am an American teaching English in China. During this hour, I am teaching a class of students in one of the upper levels for the seven- to ten-year-olds. At this level, they can have some intermediate-level conversations but nothing too in-depth. This unit, they are learning about different materials and describing them — i.e. “It’s made of metal,” and, “It isn’t sparkly enough.”

I’m going over the material vocabulary by showing them some items. I hold up one of my boots.

Me: “It’s made of leather.”

Class: “It’s made of leather.”

I hold up a coin.

Me: “It’s made of metal.”

Class: “It’s made of metal.”

Since they seem to have a good grasp of the grammar point and the assigned vocabulary, I decide to throw in an extra term for them.

I pick up one student’s backpack.

Me: “It’s made of nylon.”

Student: “What’s nylon?”

Unfortunately, a lot of students in China are afraid to express confusion and will often pretend they understand something when they don’t. I decide on a whim to test if that is happening here, so in my best EFL teacher voice, I say…

Me: “It’s a synthetic petroleum-based polymer.”

The student gives me a forced smile and nods.

Student: “Oh.”

I chuckle and take pity on her for that and I break my no-Chinese rule to tell her what nylon means.

Me: “Nílóng.”

The student’s eyes light up with understanding.

Student: “Oh, nílóng! Nylon!”