Eye exercises, Jazz music wakeup calls, and other school oddities from the Experimental School
02.10.2010 - 02.10.2010 30 °C
The side gate to the school, Guangdong Experimental Middle School
The lives of school children here in China are a world apart from the English and American counterparts. In my school days, I used to complain about the ‘long’ 7 hour days, and when I had more than an hour or so of homework a night. The kids at my school (who are from 12-15 years old) start at 7:40 am, and have classes through to 10:20 am when they have morning exercises. These exercises consist of every student in the school (over 2,000 children) standing in army formation on the track, and spilling over onto the surrounding pavements and basketball courts, with two leaders standing on a stage in the middle. The strange kind of aerobic exercise routine is the same every day (as far as I can tell) and is put to some really quirky, kind of circus music with a man’s voice over of ‘ee, are, sahn, shure.... ‘ (counting in Mandarin) gradually getting faster in pace and then slowing down as the exercise routine comes to an end. It’s a strange sight standing on the 6th floor looking down on rows and rows of children doing a routine in perfect unison. Can you ever imagine THAT happening anywhere else?
Following the completion of the routine, they go back to class until 11:20 when they have their eye exercises. The first day I witnessed this I had just finished my lesson and said goodbye to the students. In their classes, there is always a very formal ‘class begins’ and ‘class ends’ instruction given by the teacher, so when I looked up to see that none of them had moved I thought I hadn’t said the right words. So I waved goodbye again, and bent down to take my USB stick out of the computer. When I stood up again I had a class of 60 children all with their eyes closed and hands massaging the sides of their faces, following a woman’s voice and calming music coming from the speaker system. I was told that this is done to prevent short sightedness. I’m not convinced, but hey, who knows??
Class then continues until 12:15pm when they are released for a lunch and nap period until 2:25 pm. The canteen is a story to itself. Being vegetarian, there is literally nothing I can ever eat, except for the meifan (Mandarin for rice). I do go there on the occasion though to socialise with the other teachers, and because I was given a canteen card with lots of money on it so I basically eat for free. Even the vegetables are smothered in bits of meat that they seem to use for seasoning. Once I was surprised to see potatoes on the menu, which looked innocent enough until my chopsticks encountered something hard and I realised it was a foot of some kind, I guess a chicken. Not something a vegetarian ever wants to find!
After lunch, there is a mandatory naptime from 1 to 2. This includes everyone on campus, even the teachers. The lights turn off in the building, and everyone pulls out a pillow and falls asleep on their desks. Even the guards at the gates go to sleep! During this time, a couple students are on cleaning duty and I have kids sweeping around my feet in the staff room. Once, one of them was shocked to see me working at my desk during naptime instead of sleeping. I said that I’m not used to taking naps, and explained that in England we don’t do that at school. They student looked horrified! Maybe these countries with siestas really know what they’re talking about and England and America can take a page out of their book!
This is 'CL' (As I know him, which are his initials for his Chinese name, so when I ask people where CL is, they have no idea who I am talking about!) and on the right is Ben, my mentor... in our office
At 2 pm, the lights turn back on as everyone groggily awakes to the sounds of sweet jazz music playing gently over the loud speakers. We have a few minutes to sort ourselves out, and back to class it is. In the afternoon, there is another 10 minute eye exercise break, and then the chore classes finish at 4:15. Then from 4:15-5:15 there is an extra curricular activity where all the students either have homework time, where the students monitor themselves in the classroom so who knows what they actually get up to, or they have an additional graded class. This is when I have my advanced English class with the top 30 of my brightest students from all the classes. So the bells go at 5:15 and students meander round the classroom, sometimes until as late as 6 when everyone leaves the campus and it is shut for the night. And if you think that is a long day, check out Roger’s blog at http://rogergolding.travellerspoint.com for the high school time table. Because the high school is a campus and all the students live there, they are working from 7:30 am until 10pm, when jingle bells plays to signal end of the school day.
In England, this evening period would be put aside for relaxing, going out with friends, and generally just being a kid. In China, however, every minute of their day is filled with homework, piano lessons, extra English classes, tutoring in ever y subject, singing lessons, dance class, etc etc. When I ask my students what they did over the weekend or holidays, I only ever get ‘did my homework’ or ‘went to class’ in response. It’s quite sad but I think it comes hand in hand with the one child policy, as these children all have SO much pressure coming from all sides to do well in school. There is no social security system in China, so each child may eventually have 2 sets of parents (theirs and their future husband/wife’s) to support in old age... talk about pressure!
The other teachers do have it hard as well; they are required to be in school from 7:30am to 6:00 pm. Lucky for me, this does not apply to the two foreign teachers so I am off the hook, although I do live next door to the school so I still spend quite a lot of time showing my face in the office (and because my internet is down a lot so I go round to use the schools internet...)
One of my classes, many of them shied away from the photo and are hiding their faces under their desks!
In a typical classroom, there is about 55-60 students, in 8 rows of desks all lined up facing the front. Although the students stay in the same classroom all day every day, and the teachers move around the classroom, the walls are bare. A couple of ceiling fans just manage to keep the room liveable, although I do feel like I’m locked in an oven at times. All of my classrooms are on the 5th and 6th floors of the school; which is an excellent workout throughout the day! Especially as my flat is on the 4th floor so it seems that I am always walking up or down stairs.
Our school is a very nice school, often dubbed the ‘best in Guangdong Province’ (which is no small feat as there are 80 million people in Guangdong), so we are lucky enough to be equipped with a computer, a smart board (which I have no idea how to work or even if it works) a project and a little blackboard at the front of our room. Each room also has a raised section where the computer is for the teachers to stand on in class. My problem is I like to walk around the classroom and I often forget there is a step, much to my students amusement!
Each class has a ‘monitor’ who reports everything I do back to the head. The monitor is basically chosen by their father’s status in the Communist Party. Also each class will have many other leaders, such as the ‘head of language’, or the student in charge of the room keys, or in charge of the keys that lock the computer away. The entire school system is generally incredibly student run compared to the western school systems as I know it.
Students are great in my school. In my first few lessons I am applauded as I walk into the room. There is an absolute fascination with the ‘foreign teachers’. When I was at the high school campus, I was talking to a 16 year old girl when she told me that I am the second ‘westerner’ that she has ever spoken to; the other was an English man that taught her class for 3 days when she was a little girl. So the board is wiped clean for me, and the student in charge of the computer keys always comes up to help me plug in my USB stick and start up the computer.
That’s enough from this blog about school. I have a lot more quirky school things to write about in my next blog.