Classroom Update!

Hello! Again, the internet has been a disaster.  There are entire days where I simply can’t get to my blog.  Other pages are loading, but anything associated with my blog I can’t get to.  I wonder if the Chinese government is watching me…

Anyway, this week has been super eventful in terms of my schedule at the school, and I’m getting busier by the day!  Good timing, eh? since I leave in a week… I guess I haven’t really talked to you guys about my experiences within the Beijing Royal School yet, and the short of it is: bad, then good, then bad, then good, then bad, and so on and so forth. This week, so far, has been great!

I learned earlier this week that the director of the musical, Fame, is hoping that some of the native English speakers that are here can help the students with their English pronunciations.  I have been observing the music classes, so I was asked if I had time in my closing time here to coach a few individuals and also attend some group sessions.  I gladly agreed, and showed up this morning to find the classroom where a group of the students were practicing.  I was escorted to a classroom of seniors with a teacher named Christina.  Her English was very good (most of the English spoken by the Chinese teachers here, even by the ones who claim to be ENGLISH teachers, is very broken and hard to understand at times), and I learned that she was actually born in Memphis.  This was one of the best classroom environments I have been a part of.  The students were working on their scripts, and Christina got them back on task whenever tangents happened.  I guess you wouldn’t understand how big of a deal that is because I have chosen to not write about the classroom management in the classes I’ve seen at this school… because basically, it’s nonexistent.  I’ve wanted to get an adequate feel for how things are run in this school as a whole before I published any drastic conclusions based on seeing just a few classes.  Unfortunately, disorder seems to be the standard, especially in music classes.  The first class I observed when I arrived was filled with yelling and screaming while the teacher stood at the front “teaching.”  There were students sliding in the aisles on their rolling suitcases, others slept, and most carried on conversations and completely ignored the teacher.  Now, it’s only fair to also tell you that a few of my colleagues here have had WONDERFUL experiences, and I’ve even observed some classes where students are VERY well-behaved.  I guess the most adequate way to put it is that the amount of difference in management from class to class is astonishing, and I can’t explain it.  Anyway…

The students asked about words such as “choreographer,” “adagio,” “sonata,” “ghetto,” with most of their pronunciations being very close and they were just looking for clarification.  Then, they decided to sing through one of the songs, and it was going decently well until it got to the Spanish verse.  Their eyes got wide and they started laughing and yelling at each other in Chinese.  (Another wonderful thing about Christina: she reminded them constantly to speak in English so that I could participate in the conversation. I’ve been here for almost 3 weeks and this is the first time this has happened to me in a classroom, and all of my classes have been in Chinese. I was SO grateful.)  I asked them if they’d ever studied Spanish, and told them that I spoke a little, and their eyes lit up as they pushed the book in my hands and asked what the words meant.  Luckily for me, it was pretty easy vocabulary, so I was able to translate it, and they became REALLY excited when I spoke it to them. I imagine the look on their faces was much like mine in my first week here whenever I was surrounded by Chinese.  They were outrageously thrilled with me, so we spent the rest of the class talking about Spanish pronunciations 🙂 it was wonderful.  This is also the class that I have seen frequently in my music rehearsals, where I spent all of my time sitting and observing, completely unacknowledged by anyone, so I feel like I got a decent bit of redemption today.  No, I’m not a useless American that only speaks English and doesn’t play piano or sing, I DO know another language! It’s just not Chinese.

Speaking of redemption, I got more of that in the afternoon class I went to.  I got my trumpet working again (barely) and took it to an 8th grade general music class (middle school music classes have different teachers) to do a trumpet demo.  When I originally arrived at BRS and told my hosts that I didn’t play piano, sing, OR play guitar, I got several looks that said, “what the hell do you do, then? I thought you were a musician?” Well, folks, today that question was answered.  Today, my crappy trumpet was greeted by shrill cries of excitement as I pulled it out of the case and put my degree to use.  I played a few traditional trumpet things, and some of the kids that speak better English made a few requests, such as Justin Bieber ‘Baby,’ Celine Dion ‘My Heart Will Go On,’ Star Wars, and a few other bits of things that I attempted to make up on the spot.  Then, one of the kids asked to try it out, and I wish SO MUCH that my camera had been within reach.  The first few kids grabbed the instrument like a dirty frog that they could potentially injure or get some exotic disease from.  After I convinced them you HAVE to put your mouth on it to make a sound they had a wonderful time.  Not sure how many germs were passed around the room since they all played on the same mouthpiece, but they weren’t concerned, and they probably breathe in worse germs from this dirty place on a daily basis anyway.  After class some of the students stayed for another go at the instrument, and I was delighted to stay and help.  Watching kids figure out how to play trumpet is always entertaining on my end, not only for the faces they make but also for the first-hand problem solving that you get to witness as a teacher.  You can see SO MANY gears turning in their head as they desperately try to figure out why there isn’t sound coming out, look to you for an example of what to do, and anxiously keep trying until finally SOME sort of sound comes out.  And, even when it’s bad, they’re so thrilled that they made a sound that they immediately put it back to their face to try again.  Whether in celebration of their success, or to simply feel that funny tickly feeling that happens when you buzz your lips into a mouthpiece for the first time, I just LOVE watching them put the instrument up to their mouths over and over again.  Teaching an instrument is so much fun.

Tomorrow I will be doing a trumpet demo for another class – I’m already considering ways to take pictures of the event.  Tonight we are going as a group to a Hot Pot restaurant for dinner.  It was one of the top three things we were advised to try before we came, and several of us haven’t had it.  I’m sure I’ll have pictures of the experience, and I hope I’ll have INTERNET to show them to you!

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