Category Archives: Education

The End of the Current Era

Achievements 3 – Progress 0.

It’s over three and a half years since this year’s A2s started at school. Quite a lot has changed in that time – two permanent CPs, two temporary ones, further expansion of the centre, and an ever-shifting group of teachers. When I look back, it seems like a long time, and yet, paradoxically, the past two years seem to have flown by with proverbially indecent haste. May and exams have suddenly arrived before we’ve had a chance to blink.

This is the first occasion when I’ve mostly taught the same group of students for three years. In the past, I’ve normally declined to deal with the A2 classes.

[H]im on innan oferhygda dæl
weaxeð ond wridað

as the Beowulf poet wrote. But if this year’s classes have one distinction, it is that they were generally far less obnoxious than students in previous years, although A2(1&3) took it upon themselves to stop bothering with my class some time ago.

Normally by the time we get to the final assembly, I notice that my former students seem to look a little older and a little more mature. Not so this time, apart from one or two. What I started with in PAL or gained in AS still looked pretty much the same.

Certainly, I get little sense that my students matured as people. The immature boys were still behaving like infantile 12-year-olds even after three years; the cipher girls were still ciphers, living in terror that I was going to call on them to answer questions and be articulate. While their results were adequate, neither of my classes really seemed to have much spirit.

We had the final assembly for them yesterday, both A2 and IB2. It was the usual affair, which meant that 96% of the entire ceremony was in Chinese and our alleged role in their education was probably largely forgotten. The speeches lasted an hour, which were then followed by the customary audio-visual cacophony. The IB2s’ efforts were pretty decent, but the A2s’ video paled in comparison. I sat watching and every so often, I’d see the face of a student I’d taught for three years and wonder what their name was. The ciphers had already started vanishing from my memory.

I missed out on the handshaking because it got to a point where I needed to go to the loo, and by the time I got back, it was too late for me to worm my way on stage because the process had already started. I didn’t mind, and didn’t feel I’d missed out. As I also predicted, none of my former students sought me out for photos, or even came to say goodbye; but the year is fizzling out as it always does and I’ve been through so many generations of students over the past twelve years that any sense of nostalgia has long been dead and buried.

No, I’m looking ahead to the future, although quite what I’m going to get landed with I don’t know for certain. The original version of the timetable has been scrapped because of changes to the changes, but I may have fewer teaching hours next year. On the other hand, I’ve said I’d be EE co-ordinator, although I’m not sure how much extra work that entails. I suspect it’ll veer between some periods when there’s a lot to be done, and others when there’s only a little.

Now, where’s the end of the term, and can it arrive a little sooner?

Finally term ends

Three days late.

On Monday morning when I went to school, I found the back gate was locked. When I parked my bike, I found the gate at the top of the stairs was locked, and I noticed no obvious activity over at the main school, which made me suspicious.

I’m told that we were the only ones at school because the headmaster had had a tantrum. According to the contract, we are permitted one religious holiday off (which is ironic because I’m an atheist), but it seems the headmaster thought we should be punished for daring to have a significant holiday off. He was also in a frightful bate because the students who went to Yunnan with Habitat for Humanity in November had not sought his permission to go (which, quite probably, he would not have granted).

We know that the headmaster doesn’t like the presence of an international programme at school. I don’t know whether he’s a xenophobe, a nationalist, a racist, or quite what. Quite possibly all of the above.

Although classes have been a waste of time this week, we’ve still had quite a bit to do because the start of the second term is going to be insanely busy with the individual orals, the written assignment, and the IGCSE speaking. For the first four weeks, at least, I’ll see AS 1 now and then, and the A2 class, er, whenever. We have about a month (a week here and a couple of weeks there) to get through the rest of the IB English B course.

Like last year, this term vanished with indecent haste. Next term is likely to do much the same. The mock will be upon us before we know it, and the finals before we’ve even recovered from the mocks. Lots of dead time, including the final couple of weeks of June, which are always a complete waste of time.

The curtain twitches

“Five minutes, Mr Bamboo.”

We had the start-of-term conference last weekend; or perhaps because last year’s conference was so popular, we held it all over again. There were some minor dif­fer­ences. This year’s big ideas were to extend the philosophy of the IB programme into other programmes (a box which I started ticking last year), and homework.

I don’t think we’ve ever given homework obsessively. I know I don’t, and I don’t need to. Do I run out of class time? Occasionally. Am I going to have the time to deal with the homework which would be a consequence of such a situation? Almost certainly not. I have an idea how I’m going to satisfy this requirement without irking my little darlings or myself.

We’ve been back at school this week, but things are still settling – at least in English. My IB class is a mixture of students from Fred’s and Michelle’s classes, which has created a problem, viz. Fred’s students haven’t been through An Inspector Calls (which I’ve been reading over the past couple of days). We have a solution of a sort.

The AS classes are also a little in the air as I try to get the right students into the right class. At the moment we have two HL classes, which means that there’s quite a number of self-deluding students who should be doing SL. I’m hoping we’ll be able to shift them into the latter class where they belong and where they might do well enough not to embarrass themselves.

We also have no spare copies of To Kill a Mockingbird, which is unavailable on Kindle, and not something which I’m likely to find in my local Xinhua Bookshop. I’ve read a couple of guides about it, but I can’t exactly go into class and talk about them. Perhaps I could get students to spend the first few lit. classes drawing pictures of Scout, Jem, Atticus, Boo Radley, etc. Or I could ask them what they think happens in the book, which they probably won’t have read yet – just like me.

Open to negotiation

Easy? Moi?

As I was going into the Far Eastern at lunchtime, the woman was just leaving. The slogan on her T-shirt said, “I’m not easy, but we can discuss it.”


I’ve been editing some of the very early entries here, partly to fix the formatting, and partly to add tags, which Spaces did not have. I have been wondering about deleting some entries, which were ephemeral even when I wrote them.

I’m also wondering about adding a page with links to the most frequently visited entries, although I don’t know whether that will help or not.

I haven’t been editing everything, but have generally focused on the entries which seem to be worth the effort.

Bzzz… Bzzz… Kssshhh!

The term seems determined to fizzle out once again. Classes have been cancelled next Wednesday because of some sort of universities recruitment fair, although I don’t know what this has to do with us.

We’re having a final assembly on Tuesday, but the Friday assembly, which we heard about earlier today, turns out to be one of those student faerie stories.

We’re going to be having our staff dinner at Province on Monday.

Once again, the end of the term drags on long after its use-by date has passed.

Speaking of tall tales.

Somehow the little darlings have got hold of a copy of a draft of next year’s time­table which they think is the final timetable. How did they get this? I have a theory how they might’ve got it.

I’m hoping that I can avoid doubles split by lunch so that I’m not having to rush to get lunch, get back here, and have it before class.

As far as I’m aware, I’m not teaching PAL next year, but the details of what I’m actually teaching have yet to be revealed.

A2 – The Video

Why bother with highlights when you can have an epic.

The A2s had their passing-out ceremony on Friday. They call it “graduation”, but it’s nothing of the sort just as students move from one year to the next regardless of how appallingly badly they’ve done in their exams.

There were speeches, and there were tears. There was the headmaster, a gentleman whom we’d never seen before; and there was the video, the philosophy of which seemed to be that you can never quite have enough A2.

It was a good idea underlyingly, but if it had been a highlights reel, it might’ve worked well. I made a couple of appearances, including a picture which must’ve been taken two years ago. I also did a short video piece in the office the other day in which I used the word “nefarious” twice. In the bilingual subtitles it came out as “fairest”. And you lot think you’re geniuses at English.

I do like to see who’s got into what university, although there were no surprises as far as I could see. Quite a number are off to Rutgers; fewer, it seemed, to various Canadian universities; even fewer to the UK, which may be a consequence of changes to entry regulations. We’ve also got one into Oxford and one into Cambridge – subject to confirmation.

After the ceremony, we had to wait for the group photo to be taken at the gate. This year we had four A2 classes to squeeze into shot. Next year it’ll be three, and the year after that probably only two.

And with that, the year is almost over.

It’s Sunday… It’s Tuesday…

It’s Sunday and Tuesday.

Finally, this awful week (weeek?) is over. I supposed it could’ve been worse because today might have been Friday. Instead, it was Tuesday, which lasts till period 10 and ends with the pre-IB speaking classes, which have even less point to them than a sphere. (I suppose someone will probably tell me that a sphere has an infinite number of points; since it’s Tuesday or Sunday or something, don’t expect me to be coherent.)

This morning I felt jet-lagged. If I hadn’t made myself put my shoes on, I’d probably still be sitting here saying to myself that I should put my shoes on. (Although you won’t see it, I just repeated myself in that sentence without noticing until I re-read it, which just goes to show that Mr Bamboo’s brain is somewhere beyond out-to-lunch.) I did go so far as to insist on class since the exams are too close for them to be slacking off.

With that in mind, Daniel and I looked at what time we have left before the English exam. Even if there are no exams to interrupt our classes, the answer is “precious little”. Besides, it’s too late in the day for any further improvement. At best the little things such as topic sentences and paragraphing, or the final sentence in Ex. 3 might stick.

And so the week ends. I might have had hopes to do something productive during the May Day Bank Holiday, but I think I’ll probably end up wasting most of it.

Tomorrow is some other day

Normal happens in other countries, Part LXXVII.

In the normal world, tomorrow will be Saturday and the day after will be Sunday – in the normal world.

In 梦国, Monday and Tuesday will be arriving this weekend as the tyrants ruin another holiday weekend and steal time off us.

Because I needed to prepare something for class while I was dealing with speaking exams, last Sunday was a work-at-home day.

I’m seriously knackered (had snooze when I got home after school, and had to give myself a kick to stop doing that and deal with other things) and we still have another two days of fun and games. In addition, another week has passed and I haven’t been able to leave school early as I’d normally be permitted to do on Wednesdays.

“Work, work, not dare to shirk…” as the goblins sang in The Hobbit.

Break a leg

But not in a good way.

Late last night I saw a message from Dan, our new CP, informing us that Lisa had broken her fibula and tibia. I’m not aware of the full details, but it had something to do with a step to a balcony, and I guess that there was an awkward turn or some such which caused her to take a tumble. It’s one of those breaks which is going to involve surgery, metal plates, and screws.

But Lisa isn’t the only local news. At the meeting we had this afternoon, it was announced that Fred is off to become the CP at some IB school in Hangzhou (once it’s been accredited). It means we’ll be getting a new HOD, but since Fred’s been doing CP training, the powers must’ve been aware of this.

All the teachers come and go…

Divine smiles

The benevolent face of the gods of pedagogy.

It seems that the gods have smiled on us suffering mortals, whose term has dragged on beyond its tolerate-by date. We have Friday off. Why? Don’t know, but in one respect we’re lucky because we subsequently heard that the main school was going to be back on Sunday. It was noted that we, on the other hand, would be unavailable to hate the main school for stealing time from us again.

But the gods decided to gild the lily because next term doesn’t start till the 20th, which is now two days on from the original date.

This has been a tryingly long term overall, which was made worse by the eight-day week following New Year. Even two weekends later, I’m not sure we’ve recovered at all.

The term has also been trying because it seems to have been characterised by one thing giving way to another. Thus, for instance, it took me a month to mark some writing because every week there was something else which demanded my more immediate attention. I don’t seem to have done quite as much as I was hoping, but perhaps that’s an illusion. Possibly, I’ve done as much as ever, but I don’t feel I’ve  done a sufficient amount of it.

Perhaps part of that feeling stems from groping our way through the first term of actual IB teaching. Perhaps part stems from PAL 2, whose academic performance is a concern, which is not helped by changes to the exam which mean that students will probably have to do that little bit better to achieve the same sort of marks as previous years. (I don’t know how the grade thresholds will affect things.)

I also signed the new contract today. Quite a jump in my pay on this occasion, and there’s now a new package which includes the cost of two flights a year. None­the­less, the amount I’m being paid is going a mere step below the top of my scale while being somewhat south of the scale for teachers. While I’m not greedy, this continues to be an insult to how long I’ve been doing EFL teaching and the higher level of my academic qualifications.

After some improvement in recent days, the smog worsened. It started out clear, but the cloud came over, the smog built up, and the day turned chilly. I won’t be sorry to see the back of this dirty and disgusting place for a couple of weeks. Like many of the other reprehensible things about China, the government will make a lot of noise, but achieve nothing because there are too many indifferent, pyjama-wearing barbarians to contend with.

The Alexandrine Term

That like a wounded Snake, drags its slow length along.

I keep coming here with the vague intention of writing a post, keep looking at the admin page, and keep leaving. This has to have been the worst end-of-term ever because of the way in which various breaks and stolen weekends were intermixed, especially the eight-day week from which no one seems to have recovered. Instead of the term winding down, it seems to have been as relentless as ever.

(I’ve realised just now that I need to go back to school because I meant to bring home the remaining AS exams which I haven’t marked. Once again I’ve had neither the time nor the energy to deal with them this week. They’re not especially onerous, but they will take time.)

I keep having students come to me to write them references for summer programmes in the States. In fact, I’ve had a lot of these things this year and am now wishing that I’d been a deal more honest, viz. that almost none of the little darlings could be described as gifted. There was one exception. I could say nothing nice about one of this year’s special pupils (and I mean “special” in the wrongest sense of the word) who was deluded enough to think I might write something nice about him. I did start writing vacuous nonsense on some of the forms, which partly came from being so tired.

Ian did a runner. At first, as far as we were aware, he was seriously unwell again, but time passed and we then heard he’d gone. He sent a mail message to everyone yesterday with his reasons which, I’m fairly certain, are completely erroneous. (When Beverley resigned last year, there were no consequences.) It means that people are having to babysit the remains of the A2 classes, and I’ve acquired more students for my pre-IB oral class. Ian’s replacement is going to be Tom the Maths Teacher’s mum. I have sitcoms running around inside my head.

There are two other departures this term, one of which has implications, but that story has yet to resolve itself.

The smog here may not have been as horrendous as it was in Beijing, but it was possibly the worst I’ve ever seen it. I did have (do have?) a satellite image of a big brown cloud sitting over much of China from a couple of years back, but this time the smog seems to have been more widespread. It has had its effects. There’s been a burning sensation in my throat now and then, and Lisa the Librarian’s persistent cough has continued to persist.

But the school is trying to do its bit for the environment. About three weeks ago some holes were dug at various corners around our building. They sat for some time before they were filled in with concrete, and I guessed that we were getting new lights or signs. Earlier this week a truckload of lampposts and poles with loops was delivered, but apart from the basic function, there was no obvious rhyme or reason to the whole thing.

When the workers started assembling these things the other day, the whole became clear. These will be lights powered by the wind and the sun. On top of the poles are solar panels; in the loop there will be a wind turbine. Peter R says the latter will be silent, but I’m waiting for high-pitched screeching from them because they’ve been allowed to rust. Also, if we get another Haikui blasting us, I’m having visions of the turbines spinning off the posts and scything through our building.

The school agreed to the new package for teachers, which now includes airfares for flights out of 烟雾国 twice a year and a renewal bonus.

Term has another tedious week to run before it’s all over, which can’t be soon enough. Everyone is at the end of their tether, but we somehow have to keep the flag flying, even if now looks like a pair of matron’s tatty knickers sliding lazily down a drooping flagpole.