Keeping Busy

I have developed such a fear of writing something disorganized and inarticulate that every time I sit down to write out a blog post, I find myself faltering and becoming quite unable to put any thoughts down at all. Most frustrating.

We are closing in on Spring here although thankfully the weather remains as chilly and wet as ever. While it has warmed a bit and I no longer need to wear eleven layers inside the house, I am keenly aware that one day I will wake up and BAM- HEAT. I do not look forward to this day. If you know anything about me, you will probably know that among all four seasons, I like Summer the least. I’ll get into this in another post in which I discuss the future and how I only have four months left! But for now I’m still sitting in bed wearing my jacket, as I would be if I were in the States, as I hear you all are being dumped upon with yet more ice and snow. Would you groan if I told you I were jealous?

The best thing about this spring semester is that I’m much more busy. Here’s what I’ve currently got going on:

1. Weekly English on Tuesdays-this continues from last semester. Basically I present three English sentences at the Tuesday assembly

2. English Club- I finally was asked by my school to do a friday afternoon English club. I had asked a few times to do something of the sort, but was always told there was no time. This is even better, because it’s paid because it’s outside of work hours. Next post will be on the first session, which was last week!

3. English Easy Go Preparations- EEG (not to be confused with the Brain one) I am coaching the Song aspect (that has a dance to go with it) and the Reader’s Theatre, the script for which I adapted from Jan Brett’s ‘The Mitten’ story, a family favorite. The song/dance bit is to ‘The Lazy Song’ and ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ which are both, I kid you not, my least favorite songs. Go figure, right? For RT, the kids do not seem to give a flying fish about cracking down to business, which worries me, because KX (our school) has apparently done quite well in past years.

4. Contest Judging- I judged two speech/recitation contests in December, and since then have been judging anything English related at my school. While I have fun doing this, it’s mostly to see the kids take something in earnest. I throughly dislike ranking students and find this immensely difficult.

5. Yilan Project- Well you know what? I would explain this to you all if I had any idea what we were exactly doing. None of us ETAs really do. We are supposed to create something which is (from what I can gather) basically a tourist thing promoting Yilan in the form of connecting it to the US. Not blatantly touristy, but basically I think you could sort of say that, as we are covering food, family, environment, etc. We are responsible for the content, and Fulbright will hire professional people to put together pamphlets and exhibition books. Should be interesting.

6. Tutoring- I tutor one of my 6th grade students for an hour every week. His Mom said that towards finals she’d want to make it every day if he could deal with it. I balked a little. Not sure what to make of this.

7. Reach the World-First semester I was blogging for Reach the World, an organization that connects world travelers with inner city classrooms, particularly in NYC. I wrote all my posts in the fall only to be informed in December that the entire semester they had been unable to match me with a school.  This semester I have supposedly been matched and they are using my content from last semester which is great because I’m a bit busy and haven’t been doing anything THAT exciting and new.

8. Weekly Reports- We have biweekly reports due to Fulbright in which we talk about classroom life and cultural exploration. These typically don’t take extraordinary amounts of time, but they merit mention.

9. Storytelling at the Library- This began with my volunteering to take over for a fellow ETA and morphed into my being asked to do it again. I just went for the second time yesterday, reading, ‘Mama, Do You Love Me?’ do a bunch of bouncy Taiwanese children. I taught them a modified version of Mother May I? and drew some feelings on the board. Then we drew pictures. I had a blast.

So that’s my life right now.

Guess what?

96 days left!

Love, Hannah

What Makes Me Smile

I have been sitting here for the past five minutes, staring at the empty text box, unable to think of anything to write. Or rather, the fact that there is just too much to say, when you consider how everything has a story.

You know, that’s my problem when it comes to writing. I get overwhelmed and bogged down in everything that there is to say that I can’t just pick one thing. My mind goes everywhere at once, like a magnet; each story drawing my thoughts towards it with forces stronger than the previous.

And so it is that I will today focus on something very specific: A student. All of my students make me smile, but there is one student in particular warms the cockles of my heart every day. This student, whose name I actually don’t know (as is the case with many of my non-English speaking students, sadly), recently transferred to our school from a school at the centre of town. Returning from my travels and getting on the bus, I noticed a little boy get on. Not abnormal, many students ride my bus to various schools around the city, however this certain boy was smiling at me and greeted me with, ‘Laoshi Zao! 老師早!‘ (good morning, teacher!). Before this made me smile though, it made me feel awful. I had no idea who he was. Here was this student, grinning and calling me teacher, and I didn’t know his face. Feeling slightly sheepish, I smiled back, told him good morning, and returned to my book (I have just finished Annie Dillard’s ‘An American Childhood,’ by the way, which was superbly proseful).

I knew the ultimate test would come when he did or did not get off at my stop. You see, the bus route begins at the school across from my apartment, and the route ends at the school where I work, so it’s really the perfect bus ride. If I’m tired, it involves little thought. I’m sure they’d notice if I didn’t press the button at the end of our hour together. It turns out that he really likes to press it.

I’ve become very protective of this student, and fond of him, despite our language differences. For a fifth grader, he speaks practically no English, but I use my Chinese to say things to him first in Chinese, and then translating to English so he can practice.

This morning, he asked me why I hadn’t been on the bus the previous afternoon. I explained to him that sometimes I take the other bus to go to meetings. His face peered up at me as I formed the Chinese sentences with grammar I was learning. What an interesting dynamic, being spoken to in your native language by a teacher who teaches you a foreign language and is just studying yours.

When we get off the bus together in the morning, I help him cross the street, and then we walk into the school together. He next to me, turns, and says, ‘bye-bye’ and walks off to his classroom. I am left with a smile without fail.

Love, Hannah

More London

I’m sorry, I’m really just out of creative titles. Everything less plain seems too contrived and hokey. Apologies.

I walked to the Tate Britain next, the Tate Modern’s throughly historic sister on the opposite bank way up. It’s the most out of the way, I’d say, but houses some art that I really quite like.

Parliament is still a very impressive structure.

Sepia looks nice in the sun. 

Later that week, I went to South Kensington to the Victoria & Albert, then the Science Museum. I was going to do the Natural History Museum as well, but honestly I was too tired and too done with crowds.

If you’ve been to the V&A and all but ignored the 5th floor, you don’t know what you’re missing. Arguably my favorite bit in the entire museum- lots of old things and pottery and ceramics which are beautiful from all over the world. I kind of skipped over the asian pottery- you understand- I’ve seen quite a lot of that- and focused on the european and middle eastern artifacts. Actually, it was interesting how much of an overlap there was sometimes, especially between middle eastern and asian. I suppose they are really quite close to each other indeed. 

wickedly sprightly

little cabbage!

My maternal grandmother collects little snuff bottles so I always search them out. The National Palace Museum here has a great collection too!

Delft tiles for Mom!

beautiful

Imagine eating your meal to reveal one of these fantastic scenes? Someday maybe they’ll invent a plate that has a changing scene every time you use it!

Guess who?

true beauty has always been appreciated in true art.

Bookcases I’d like to have.

Then, of course, I commenced to take lots of mirror selfies. I mean, what does one do when one is museuming alone?

Clearly I’m nuts.

his beard is his stand! I love this every time I see it.

Then I took some pictures I’ve taken before, just because they continue to make me laugh.

WHAT HAHAHAHA

Giant beds I’d like to have.

So obviously amused.

An origami dress I took a picture of for my sister- she loves Origami!

The science museum was a bit crowded and loud for me. I knew there was a reason why I love art museums. But I did see an iron lung which made it all worth it. and some awesome ranges

And that’s it! I didn’t take as many photos because it was raining for many of the days and I didn’t want to ruin my camera. Once I move to London, you’ll all be able to see pictures as often as you like!

Love, Hannah

I Love London

I have returned from a longish sojourn abroad back to a city that I haven’t been able to stop dreaming about since I left. There is a song that explains how I feel about it.

I don’t dance like this, but I sure do feel swell of heart whenever I think about it.

What did I get up to while I was there? Let me reiterate that we were only given two weeks out of country as per Fulbright martial law, so I immediately took off to the best place I could think of. Most people went traveling and touring around Southeast Asia, but I had business to take up. This trip was half visiting/curing myself of heartache for having been gone so long, and half business of visiting prep schools and informational interviewing headmasters to see whether I want to move there after I finish with Columbia.

I ended up meeting with three Prep Schools there, and one other graduate school (in case, you know, I’m crazy enough to give up Columbia) and took ample notes and had a lot to think about every day when I came home from school.

The other thing I did while I was there was eat a lot of yogurt hit up my old haunts and go to as many museums as I could possibly go to and walk around a lot. And yes, I did eat a lot of yogurt. Taiwan has no yogurt (the audacity, I know) so I made sure I got my fill of all that and all the things I can’t find here (real salad, almond milk, cheese, good chocolate, yogurt, tomato sauce, hummus, zucchini, rice cakes, etc).

Where did I stay? With a lovely friend I had met with whilst studying abroad. She is in her last year this year and has a flat in SE1 (which, if you don’t know London, is right across the bridge from St. Paul’s and a bit behind the Tate Modern and nearby to Borough Market). Very central to a number of things. Very happy about that.

Let me just share these moments with you.

AF’s flat- back view.

AF’s Flat!

Not sure what this means….

Streetlight reflections

It was, of course, raining, and continued to do so most days. Thank goodness I’m used to that 😉

London has wonderful street art!

I have always found this amusing.

I walked around by myself the first night, just taking it all in.

The next day, AF and I went to Borough Market and ate all the samples. But we bought lunch too.

some salsa, potato salad, cole slaw thing, and barley something?

Not sure what all this was, but it was only three pounds, so I was pleased to have a nice boxed lunch. I’ve never actually bought lunch at Borough Market, so that was quite fun.

The Roebuck. A Beautiful building on Great Dover Street.

Aside from everything else, I was overjoyed to have decaf tea at my disposal. I think I must have bought a package every day I was there.

yogurt parfait and lovely tea.

Then AF had to study and the museuming began. Since she only had one key, I usually took it because I’d come back for dinner and she would not return until around nine. It made things easier, if a bit strange.

This mirror is ‘art’

The Tate Modern has many strange exhibits. I’ve been twice and I’m unsure I love it, but this is one piece I just ADORE. It changes every time you look at it 😉

how lovely is the model?

Not sure I understand this one.

I like what this says.

Half the reason I’d go to these galleries was the (man) people watching.

People just as beautiful as the art they look for.

 

Kind of neat

These kids were playing in the light room. It made for lovely photos. .

tortured souls

 

Dali, obviously.

 

Still unsure what I make of modern art, but at least it is thought provoking. God knows after five months I needed that!!

Tune in tomorrow for more photos!
Love, Hanah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Passing Holidays and Upcoming ones

Forgive me for this, but whoever said Christmas HAD to happen every year? (Do I even need to apologise for feeling like I want to wait until I’m back with family to celebrate?)

That said, both Christmas and New Years came and went without so much as a batted eyelash. I spent Christmas working and, aside from the most lovely parcel from my family, I thought not about it at all. New Years was much the same, I watched ‘Love Actually’ on Netflix and cleaned my entire room and made myself a giant wall calendar that shows the months and days I have remaining here. Photo forthcoming.

In other news, the relentless rain has stopped and Taiwan has once again been blessed with ‘wonderful weather’ although this time it is more to my taste: around 60-70 degrees and partly cloudy with rays of warm sunshine. Not of that awful heat. I have been successfully able to wash my clothes and hang them out to dry in record time without having to use the darn dryer. Sorry for my lack of photographs, the rain put a damper on using a nice camera. I will have more soon, I don’t promise, I think.

In classroom news I had a very exciting day yesterday. You all know my woes of the fact that I do not get to teach very much/at all in my coteaching classroom. Yesterday, however, my coteacher was sporting a face mask a la this:

note: not my coteacher

and informed me weakly that she had work to do and would I please take the two first grade classes. Trying not to jump up and down and scream, ‘HECK YES I”VE BEEN WAITING FOR THIS MOMENT’ I took the mature route of, ‘oh yes of course, I’d be happy to’ and scurried upstairs (well, I walked) to ready everything in the classroom/check my email.

The first graders arrived and I was ready with the Eric Carle book, ‘Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What do you hear?’ in hand. I gathered the youngsters on the floor in front of me, which was something they’d obviously never done before because even when I explained in Chinese they were hesitant to sit anywhere but their seats.

Soon we were stomping around the room singing the Alphabet Song acting like different animals, they were laughing and smiling and fully into it like I’ve never seen them be before. We reviewed all the letters and the classroom English and I had well, a blast.

After the first lesson (we teach two in a row which are the same), my LET spoke up from her place in the back of the classroom where she’d snuck in during my lesson and remarked, ‘That was impressive.’

It was really all I could do not to tell her, ‘yes, yes it was, wasn’t it? And I’ve got more where that came from!’

Overall, it was a lovely day and I was tickled pink to have been teaching. Sometimes it gets to be a cycle where I am not used in the classroom, I see the lack of inspiration, therefore I’m not inspired, so I can’t step up, round and round and round. Do you see? But I’m always amazed at how much I can just think up ideas and run with them and have them work out and feel like an amazing teacher. Just imagine if I got to do that every day!

~~~~~

Upcoming? Well, I’m going to be leaving for our Midyear Conference (being held here) on Tuesday evening and then going straight to our family friend’s house in Taipei until Sunday night when I will get on my flight to Paris! I’ll hopefully be blogging from there, although pictures might not be able to be uploaded, we’ll have to see.

Love, Hannah

On Corporal Punishment and Public Embarrassment

This is kind of a difficult post to write, mostly because it makes me uncomfortable to acknowledge that the topic exists in my daily life.

I come from the loving arms of Waldorf school where kids write ‘I’m Sorry’ cards and teachers hug kids and corners are rounded from windows to papers. Although I made rounded class signs for each of the classes at Kai Xuan, this gesture cannot mask the fact that I am teaching English in Taiwan where students scream commands au masse and bow and line up and solute and such. It can also not mask the fact that classroom management here is done very differently even than public schools in the US.

I haven’t yet gotten used to the way Special Education is approached here. It is almost as if  SE students are written off from the start and increasingly left alone or ignored. I have been told by my coteacher, ‘oh that one is autism so he won’t do anything,’ and watched her send kids to the single desk at the side of the room if they misbehave. At this desk they do nothing. Often they are sent outside to sit on the balcony, where they cannot even hear the lesson.

We have a first grader who is particularly full of energy and obviously has impulse control issues. He will get excited and dig his sharp little fingernails into which ever body part is closest to him, and he will do it hard. If he is angry, he will show it quickly. On wednesday we were learning a dance to ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ and I looked over to see him do a full arm sweep of all the belongings on my coteacher’s desk. She stopped class and yelled to everyone to look at him. He stood there with an indignant look on his face, obviously dealing with some emotions, but no one was going to deal with it, and it was obvious from the way that he continued to behave that no one ever had.

As an assistant sub in the US, I have worked with the behavioral program. There are provisions and special cares taken with kids that have impulse control and anger issues. None of these methods are public shaming or yelling or physical abuse. I am never sure what to do when he acts out, as I am not yet formally trained in this, but I am sure I know enough not to berate him and make him feel that he is a ‘bad’ child. That surely only would only enforce his need to act out.

I have seen the students lined up and full on yelled at, students dragged across the floor by the necks of their shirts, and students hands slapped with rulers. Each time this happens, I cannot keep my mouth closed, in a very similar reaction to Michael Banks in Mary Poppins (‘Close your mouth Michael, we are not a codfish!’)

Besides the physical abuse, what almost bothers me more is the constant competition. It seems that every week they are recognizing the same students for this, that, or the other thing at the weekly assembly. What does this say to the kids who can’t afford cram school or just can’t perform on tests or do as ‘well’ as these prize students for whatever reason? Does it just reenforce the feeling that they will never measure up? I want to celebrate all efforts. My LET is constantly having me put check marks on the board to mark who is talking and being disruptive. Calling attention to bad behavoir and never really paying attention to good actions. After the midterm exam, the students with low scores were told to report their scores to the class, and I’ve seen her line up students with no homework so the class could look at them. They laughed, of course, but a laugh is a mask for embarrassment and mortification.

I don’t have a solution for this, I can only say that I cannot wait to have my own classroom in which I can validate each and every one of my students for who they are as human beings, not in terms of how they stack up against their classmates. It makes me feel rather sick to suppose that anyone is ‘better’ than anyone else or more deserving of praise.

Love, Hannah

 

Our Milk tea River

80% humidity and It is class time but I’ve been relegated to the computer to do something or other.

‘Maybe you want to work on the third grades….I will just let the sixth grades do the workbook…’ Ellen said to me, after I gushed to her about fleece-lined pants in an awkward attempt at conversation. I don’t really ever know what she wants from me, so sometimes I just end up awkwardly hovering around her desk until she tells me to go make myself busy- or that in so many words.

So here I sit with hunched shoulders, fingers sticking to keys as I type. If I were to tell you that I wished I were at home in the states experiencing winter you might think I was crazy.

‘But you’re living in Taiwan!’ you might say, ‘it’s warm there!’

Well there, my friend, is where you are sadly mistaken. It has rained all week, and it will rain all next week too. The weather here in the winter is moist, damp, and full of rain that creates fingers that are at once cold and sticky. You will stick to everything. Your clothes will not dry. Your towel will not dry. You worry that if you take a shower you will mold because your hair won’t dry. You will begin to keep your electronics in plastic bags because you’re afraid of them rusting or becoming damp. Nothing will feel warm anymore, even if you wear six sweaters. Of course, the sweaters you brought are nothing more than cardigans since you didn’t think Taiwan got this cold in the winter. Denial will never get you anywhere.

Yesterday we discovered that our washer has a drier function. Unfortunately it takes about 4 hours to go full cycle enough to even take the wet out of things. That, and they are damp again an hour later. I am on the verge of defying my stingy nature and buying a dehumidifier.

Rain falls relentlessly here and when it isn’t full on raining, something wet is happening and causing every surface to be covered in a sort of misty film that makes trying to find anything dry, towel, plate, electronic screen, almost impossible. Nothing feels clean. I mopped the stairs from top to bottom yesterday in a strategic pattern such that I wouldn’t re-track my steps and create muddy footprints as I went. Of course, we had to be careful all day because it was still wet hours later.

Yesterday, as we took out the trash, I watched the river. I always seem to get my best ideas whilst taking out the trash, when my hands are too grimy with compost and old newspapers to write anything down. Today’s image was our river. The river runs behind our house, littered with old chicken bones and overgrown green moss. On still summer days, the water is clean and clear. Lately, however, it has been churning and turning up the secrets that lie on its bottom. Our riverbed cup is filled with milk tea with small white waves of foam.

Love, Hannah