So. It’s been a while since I’ve updated you on goings-on other than travels, so let’s catch up on July first. To review: I finished teaching in mid-June, received two enthusiastic visitors (Dvora and Matthew) in June and July. Next, I was in Wulong working on Peace Corps Summer Project.
Remember that Summer Project is the annual PC China extravaganza where volunteers from each province come together to lead various teacher-training workshops. Usually volunteers are in groups of only 4-6 but this year all of the volunteers from Chongqing were working together since we were teaching workshops for all of the teachers of an entire county school district. From July 10-22, 18 of us volunteers toiled in Wulong teaching something like 300 teachers of all ages and experience levels. It was…interesting.
First, we should try to see it from the teachers’ perspective. Imagine you have been a teacher for 30 years and are told, doubtless rather last-minute, that you are required to give up two weeks of your summer so some Americans can show you how to teach. Apparently the trainees weren’t well informed about what our classes would actually entail, and most of them were seemingly expecting to spend two weeks singing English songs, watching us dance, and seeing some movies. Instead, we 25-year-old Americans marched in and explained: we know you have spent the last 30 years leading your 75-person classes of middle school students in rote memorization exercises out of the textbooks. But instead, you should consider a complete overhaul of your methods, teaching philosophy, classroom structure, and activities! Let’s practice!
There certainly were some teachers—most of them young, enthusiastic new teachers—who enjoyed their two weeks with us and will be making some changes in their classrooms. But for most of the trainees, and in many ways for us volunteers, it was a rather frustrating two weeks. One trainee brought both me and my teaching partner, Amy, to the verge of tears in separate sessions on Day 4. Many trainees would just show up to the first hour of class and then disappear for the rest of the day. And there were trainees in every class who apparently didn’t understand a word we said because, despite being English teachers, they just plain didn’t speak English.
This experience definitely made me thankful for the proficiency level and enthusiasm of my usual students in Beibei. I’ve also heard volunteers say that Summer Project is one of the highlights of their entire PC service, so by no means are all experiences as challenging as our was at times. Nor am I sure exactly what I would do differently if I were executing such an event again: better inform the trainees about what to expect, definitely. Perhaps not make it mandatory, but just open it up to teachers who were actually interested enough to get something out of it. And on our end, my team of teachers probably should have scaled down a little—less difficult activities and more repetition of just a couple of teaching techniques.
And although Wulong wasn’t the most happening place to spend a fortnight (again, it actually made me appreciate further the atmosphere and even the food options in Beibei), it was fun spending time with all of the CQ volunteers, many of whom I don’t see on a very regular basis. And the best highlight of all: most of the CQ ladies crowded into mine and Amy’s hotel room every afternoon, working it out to P90X, Insanity, Hip-Hop Abs, Belly-dancing with Dolphina….
In any case, the first birthday present for my 25th year was that we finished in Wulong a day earlier than anticipated, so we were back in CQ city to celebrate the eve of my birthday with one of the most enjoyable meals of my life: McDonald’s. Shortly thereafter, I was back home in Redlands. Let’s save that for a separate entry.