Campus Life, China, Communication, Educational System, Teaching, University Teaching

The Chinese Student: Behaviors 3, 4 and 5

In my last post, we discussed the Chinese student’s curious use of eyeglasses. This was within the context of being asked to answer a question. Upon reflection, I realized that I had passed over some behaviors that may be of interest to those not acquainted with the Chinese student.

It is worth noting that the teacher must call on an individual student in order to get an answer. If the teacher is foolish enough to ask a question to the class at large, he/she should not be surprised at the deafening silence which will be their only answer. Silence and 80 blank stares. Ease or difficulty of the question is not the relevant factor, as you might expect. Easy questions get as little response as difficult ones do. This is behavior #3. Never volunteer for anything.

If your class has a few motivated students, they might—very quietly, under their breath—answer the question, but you often won’t be able to understand what they said. It will be said too quietly in a noisy class or everyone answered at the same time, effectively cancelling each other out. The teacher will ask them to repeat their answer, but the same problems will often reoccur. It becomes like a bad call and response sequence: What’s the answer? xxxx. What? XXX. WHAT? x. It’s not nice repeating stuff. Students get irritated if they have to repeat too many times. Teachers also get irritated and either manages to read someone’s lips or gives up and calls on an individual student to answer.

This issue could be resolved through the simple classroom management tool of having students raise hands to answer questions. However, the concept of raising hands is completely foreign to most Chinese students and they will not take to it. No matter how hard you try to make them. This is behavior #4: Non-existence of hand-raising. I believe it to be closely linked to behavior #3. If you never volunteer an answer, it follows that there would be no need for a system to orderly hear the answers.

Calling on individual students to answer is then the accepted (and expected) way of running class. When you call on a student, there can be a delay as students process the name. Was that my name? Was that my friend’s name? Chinese students take good care of each other and will wake up their slumbering classmate if their name is being called.

In China, a student is expected to rise to answer a question (behavior #5). I find this a very time consuming behavior as it seems to require a lot of shifting of bags, books, and water bottles. Something inevitably falls and is picked up. When the student is finally on his/her feet, they’ve maybe forgotten what they are supposed to be saying, so the teacher will need to repeat the question. And if the student’s answer is just “Sorry, teacher” or “I don’t know” it just seems like a lot of wasted time and effort as they reverse the process to sit back down, metal water bottles clanging and pens pinging off the floor.

Campus Life, China, Cultural Differences, Educational System, Teaching, Uncategorized, University Teaching

The Chinese Student: Behavior #2

We return to the Chinese student in his/her natural environment. The student habitually chooses a seat as far away from the board as humanly possible. (Generally, there is an inverse relationship between row number and class mark.)

Mid-way through the lesson the teacher might get irritated at the student’s obvious lack of attention and call on them to answer a question. Invariably the student will have a quizzical who?-me? expression or might only respond to a kindly meant elbow from their classmate. The teacher will patiently repeat the question.

The student will squint at the board and then nonchalantly reach for their glasses. Teacher goggles and mind implodes with this revelation. Student has been sitting in class the entire time unable to see the board and not caring in the least. But the surprise isn’t over yet!

The student then holds up their glasses to their eyes, but DOES NOT UNFOLD THEM NOR PUT THEM ON. He/she holds them up like a magnifying glass or a monocle, despite the fact that the arms are obstructing their view. Do you understand what I’m describing? Does it not absolutely boggle your mind?

Consider the staggering implications: not only has the student not been able to see the board for the entire lesson, but he/she doesn’t have any intention of following the lesson past finishing this obligatory activity. So it would simply be wasted effort to actually put the glasses on. I mean, why would you want to see the board?

When the student finishes answering the question or giving a perfunctory “I don’t know,” the glasses are lowered and placed back on the desk. The student resumes state of suspended animation.

Campus Life, China, Cultural Differences, Teaching, University Teaching

The Chinese Student: Behavior #1

I’ve started a number of blog entries only to abandon them halfway through. I suspect the problem is length. I need to write shorter entries. So today I want to briefly tell you about a student behavior that drives me crazy.

In class, mid-lecture, I will hear from somewhere in the class a yawn the size of a cavern, a yawn that sounds like the corners of their mouth are going to split, a truly jaw-breaking yawn. It inevitably occurs when I am mid-sentence, “So, the word vacancy is a noun and the adjective form is—“YAAAAAAAWWWWNNNNN” “Okay, in the middle of paragraph four the author–” “YAAAAAAAWWWN” “..and who can tell me the answer to–” “YAAAAAAAAAWNNN”

I always pause after this occurs, because a mini-wave of rage has rolled over me and I need a minute. And just like an anime movie, it feels like the vein in my forehead starts to throb, and pulse. I would like to turn with eyes of fire and call out the offending student. He/she will humbly rise and apologize to the class for their appalling bad manners. Teacher crosses arms and nods head in satisfaction. Lesson continues minus any more disturbingly loud yawns. Student, abashed, works quietly with head down. If you’ve watched any anime, you’ll be able to imagine the scene just as I do.

However, that’s only an imaginary recasting of this kind of incident. In reality, I pause, chalk in hand, for a moment, collect myself and resume the lesson.

I think any Westerner would agree that it’s not the noise that is so offensive, but what such a yawn represents. Boredom. Disinterest. And no qualms about expressing that to the teacher via a nice loud jaw-splitting yawn. I mean, really, it’s terribly—YAAAAAAAWWWWNNN.

Welcome to China.

Campus Life, China, Weather

(Another) Weather Lament

Zhuhai is making me British. British in the sense that I talk about the weather constantly. And just like the Brits, I have just cause because the weather is positively neurotic here. The signals are all switched. What I expect and what I get rarely correspond. Overcast does not mean cool. Rain does not break the humidity. Big winds do not herald storms. Just because it was cool yesterday does not mean it will be cool today. I suppose the California climate spoiled me.

This week took the cake. It started out positively halcyon—beautiful fall weather. I wore cardigans and slacks and was perfectly comfortably. Mid-week—BAM! Humidity leaps back to astronomical heights. Everything in my closet feels damp. No matter what I wear I am a soggy mess in 10 seconds flat.

Friday morning I was so irritated at my students sitting in class with long-sleeve pseudo-leather jackets and skin-tight skins when I’m suffering in a knee-length skirt and the coolest top-shrug combo I could find in my closet. It’s like 8:30 in the morning, yes? I’m dripping. DRIPPING, people. Wipe face. Fan face. Wipe face. Fan face. “Okay, is it just me or does anyone else want to throw themselves in the swimming pool right now?” It took a bit of explanation—that type of question is more than some students can handle—but eventually the class cried “YES!” (Yes, but then why on earth are you wearing what you’re wearing right now?!?!) Nice to know it’s not just me.

Sometimes I really do think it’s just me. The humidity is hard for me; it’s my least favorite thing about living here. Yet many people seem perfectly comfortable, so I know not every ear is sympathetic to my weather laments. But when I reach the level of discomfort I felt Thursday and Friday, I need to reassure myself that I’m not crazy by asking other people if they’re also feeling it.

Saturday was more of the same. I was dressing to go to an outdoor BBQ and no matter what I tried on I felt terrible. Too tight. Too long. Too thick. Realizing it was hopeless because we were going to be outside anyways, I settled on something very unfashionable but loose and breathable. And I still felt disgusting–on several levels–all day. I came home, showered, and parked in front of the air conditioning for the rest of the night.

And today? After three days of miserable humidity and high temperatures? It’s cool. Almost cold. Overnight it becomes fall weather again. I might actually need to get up and close the sliding door because it’s getting a little chilly in here. My legs have goosebumps.

See what I mean?

China, Cultural Differences, University Teaching

Very Mature

In response to an article about the possibly ill-gotten gains of the Chinese Prime Minister’s family, The New York Times is now a blocked website throughout China. This is quite sad as NYT has been my homepage since freshman year at university.

The list of blocked sites seems to grow and grow. I tried to explain why this bothered me so much to some Chinese colleagues, but–can I say–that they just didn’t get it. I tried to reason with them. No media outlet worth a dime is going to publish a story like that if they don’t have solid support for. Helloooo? Libel laws?

Most Chinese acknowledge that corruption is rampant in China and it usually doesn’t surprise them in the least to learn of it. Just don’t write it down anywhere people might read it. Got it, New York Times?

And my students today were telling me about how Chinese are very tolerant. I snorted rather indelicately.

Full article here: China Blocks and Criticizes Investigation into Premier

China, Travel, Weather

My Sole Complaint

This week has been a hard one, specifically for my feet. At the moment I have band aids on the back of both ankles, around several toes and scabs across the top of my foot. I have struggled to find anything reasonably professional that does not rub any of my injured areas to wear to class. So I’ve mostly been wearing flip-flops.

I was very careful choosing footwear to bring back to China this time. I understood that I needed extremely comfortable, breathable, yet sturdy and supportive shoes. I needed shoes for teaching. I needed shoes for traveling. I needed shoes for typhoon season. I thought that I brought appropriate footwear for all these specific needs. And yet, one after another, my “perfect” shoes are failing me miserably.

Though I’d made sure to get shoes with plenty of extra room for when the humidity makes my feet swell, apparently it still wasn’t enough. A quick trip out in one particular pair left me with blisters on both ankles. Something about the design of my walking sandals always results in my heel being half-on, half-off the sole. My Crocs that I bought for when it rains are rubbing my toes, leaving me in agony as I mince the whole way from my teaching building to my apartment.

The only reliable footwear I have is my flip-flops. Which everyone says is the worst kind of footwear. What on earth is wrong with my feet? Is it my feet? Or is China trying to tell me something?

Humidity! It’ll be the death of me! Can I get a witness? Anyone? Please?