Teaching and Learning Abroad

The Traveling Teacher Adventures

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On Sunday I gave a lovely presentation on Project Based Learning and Assessment at the High School in Rui’an. A half Professional Development day followed up with a large lunch and a visit to a local museum (yesterday’s post), I oddly enough felt as if I were in an episode of the Twilight Zone…here’s why. As a graduate student, we were required to attend several professional development days and half-days, after which we were supposed to write-up our findings: what did we learn, what did we notice, what could have been better, etc. 

Old habits die hard I guess. Upon entering the building, I realized that 1) my toes and fingers were already frozen despite my tights and gloves, and B) this was a real opportunity to see how teachers in China encounter Professional Development days! I’ll save you the suspense of reading through a long post. Much the same as in America, I encountered two reactions. The first - as I was lecturing, I was so pleased to see several younger teachers frantically writing down things they thought might be helpful in the future.

The second was the complete opposite, “Jaime,” my co-worker implored, “what do you think of Professional Development days? Do you think they are full of *crap?” I’m guilty of both attitudes to be sure, but then again, aren’t most students the same way? We are told to go to class, take notes, and listen as this information is important…but really, if we cannot find any meaning or relevance to the material we simply zone out…or in my co-worker’s case, read next week’s Japanese lesson. 

Other than these two completely differing observations - I am sure now that my co-worker would have rather been hanging out with his family - I found the day to be interesting none-the-less. We started out by signing in to the conference, grabbed our goodie bags with a memory stick and some literature about various English courses offered, and headed upstairs to a large and unheated room. The place was like a cement cinder block - I could see the heaters, I implored them to send me some of their good warmth…but no. 

A panel of speakers began the day and as I was the only foreigner, they spoke in Chinese about everything they’ve done in the last year. About 15 minutes into the speech, one of the organizers came up behind the panel to tear down the banner they’d hung above the projector screen. It was blocking a good half of the screen, so what better time to tear it down than in the middle of someone’s speech? I guess I was the only one who found this funny as the man yanked and pulled the red banner while my boss sat there continuing to speak. Looking around, I was the only one phased, so I promptly stifled a laugh. 

Our first speaker began around 9:30 and spoke until about 10:40 - she was animated, excited and generally passionate about her topic. I’m still not entirely sure what she was talking about but, several times she mentioned Parker Palmer’s Courage to Teach, a book we were asked to read in grad school. Speaking 95% in Chinese, I found it hard to concentrate as my mind wandered to other important things like - what are we going to have for lunch?

My turn came, and I was able to speak for a good hour or more in my usual animated way. Despite not having a translator, these English teachers were a great audience - laughing at my jokes and nodding their heads when appropriate. Unfortunately for the previous speaker, I think her speech left her a bit exhausted as I noticed her head bobbing up and down, finally resting on her desk. I hope I didn’t bore her to sleep!! Ha!

After our speeches were finished, every one filled out of the building for a quick group shot. Then, it was off to the restaurant for a big feast/meal. This was usually my favorite part of the professional development - the food!! Coffee? Muffins? Cookies? Not here friends, we ate fried rice, two different types of fish, a tofu and clotted blood dish, dumplings, duck with the head in-tact, sliced pigs ear, chopped pork and veggies, two types of soup and Italian wine. A lot better than cookies and coffee? Yeah, I’d say so. 

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