Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Little Red Book Goes Public

What a charming surprise to find The Little Red Book Teaching ESL in China registered at the Vancouver Island Regional Library.

"Frank, have a look. We made it into the library system," I said.

He came over to where I was sitting and gave me a hug.

"Oh, wow. Our book is in the system."

I had been searching for my next good read from the online library site and recalled I had spoken to the librarian about having our book placed in their system. She explained that the head librarian would accept a copy of the book and his decision would determine its placement. Several months later, I saw our Little Red Book sitting on the desk of another librarian and I whispered to him that The Little Red Book was written by Frank and I and we are locals. He smiled and nodded but did not indicate whether or not the book would be placed in their registry.

Sitting at my laptop with the window open to the VIRL screen, I took the chance and typed in the title of our publication. Voila!

Victoria, BC : Trafford, c2008.
Additional Author or Narrator: 
Black, Frank.
103 p. : ill. ; 22 cm.
No. of Copies Checked In: 
Current No. of Requests: 
Total Copies Owned by VIRL: 

We are sharing our excitement with you to express our belief in the theory by Dr. Seuss, "Fun is good". We had fun creating the stories for the book, developing the artwork inside the book, working with a brilliant artist in creating the cover, and going through the self-publishing process.

If you are a member of the Vancouver Island Regional Library or any other, you can request the book by searching by its name or by Black, Susan

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Chinese Theory of Space

Chinese Classroom
The students at this high school in China study physics and know the theory that no two things can occupy the same space at the same time. However, the principles seem distorted by the way passengers are packed on a bus.

The wheels on the buses go ‘round and ‘round all through the town. A bus starts its journey every seven minutes or so in Jinyang, a suburb of Guiyang, a city with a population of approximately 3.4 million.

Today it appears that there is an attempt to break the world record for the most people gathered in one place. The passengers continue to pour onto the bus.

View of Passing Bus from our Bus
The bus driver opens its doors and without notice my husband and I are engulfed by a bullish crowd who want in at the same time. Using their elbows and knees as prods, the huddled throng pushes it way through the narrow passage. Arms extend to push money into its metal coffer. The army  makes its way to the back of the bus losing some of its mass to empty seats. I cling to my husband’s shirt and am pulled to a sitting position.  The passenger count is fifty-three. The bus doors swish close and with triumphant force it pulls away with its load. The people on the bus go up and down all through the town.

At the next stop the bus forces itself to a halt with a loud squeal and opens its large mouth to allow aboard twelve new passengers who jockey for overhead handles and seat backs to steady their stance. The horn on the bus goes beep, beep, beep, all through the town.

View from our Double-Decker Bus
At the next terminal, thirteen passengers climb on board. One is clutching a black plastic bag that reveals its contents with the swish of a tail and the rank odor of fish. Passengers stare at the bag's owner and move this way and that to avoid contact. Another passenger boards with a bamboo cage covered with a flimsy cloth. When it is set down it clucks. The motor on the bus goes chug, chug, chug, all through the town. The noise on the bus is waa, waa, waa, ring, ring, ring, talk, talk, talk, in a language that is incomprehensible to us and at a decibel that is ear-drum shattering.

The faces of the passengers are expressionless save for the girl who smiles generously at us, the foreigners. We return her kind gesture.

We are English speaking, reading, writing and listening foreigners who are seated comfortably on a crowded bus amazed at the attempt to achieve a world record for the most people in one place at one time.

A Bus Stop in Guiyang
The bus grinds to a halt and we get off with a short-lived sense of freedom as we are again engulfed and swept into the flow of the sidewalk crowd.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Do You Believe?

For our weekly English Corner, we would prepare questions that would provoke and encourage conversation among the students. At one particular session, we asked, “Do you believe you will learn to speak English very well?”

Yu Yi, a confident young man, shared his interpretation with the rest of the group.

“First, I like English very much because I think it sounds well. So, I think and I believe I can learn it very well. More important, English is useful to my life. I can use it to make friends and I can use it to chat with foreign friends so that I can understand other countries’ cultures. With this aim, I must learn it well. I learn English by doing listening, reading, writing and speaking. I always watch the English program on the television or on the radio in order to practice my listening. I also read some English newspapers and magazine so that I can speak well and have a nice voice. I’ll remember some sentences when I’m watching a movie or reading. This can also help my writing so it is necessary and interesting. When I want to relax myself, or when I am in a good mood, I’ll read some English. This is the most interesting thing to me. Learning English is a hobby rather than a responsibility to me. I am interested in it, so I believe I can learn it well.”

Yu Yi went on to be a welcome volunteer at the 2008 Olympics held in China.

Frank presenting a question at English Corner

Our friend, Steve, leads the English Corner group

Frank's sketch of the Chairman Mao statue and Cultural Centre (Guiyang)


Monday, February 17, 2014

Being a Class Monitor

Susan with Yue Yu (left) and Zhang Zheng
Every middle school and high school classroom in China is firmly structured and follows the communist philosophy of duty. One of the communist system’s strongest advocates is the classroom Monitor.

Meet Yue Yu, a grade two student in a high school in China. G
rade two in China can be compared to grade eleven in Canada.

Yue Yu’s duty is to observe and report the overall conduct of the students including the subject study leaders, the group leaders and student on duty, to the school's head teacher. The monitor is also responsible for reporting on the foreign teacher. Yue Yu reports absence, misbehavior, inappropriate language, inappropriate topics, late arrival, unfinished homework and homework not handed in. Yue Yu takes her duties as monitor very seriously.

“How did you get chosen to be the monitor?” I said.

“The Head Teacher chose me to be the monitor because I have the highest marks in every subject”, Yue Yu said.

Monitor leads study on Vancouver, Canada
Yue Yu’s English is a band score of 4 IELTS. IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System. It is a test of English language skills designed for students who want to study in the medium of English either at university, college or high school. Yue Yu’s band score of four indicates that she is a ‘Limited User” and that she has basic English language competence that is limited to familiar situations. Yue Yu has frequent problems in understanding and expression and is not able to use complex language. This is good news and bad news for the teacher, because part of Yue Yu’s responsibility is to report the teacher’s words and actions in the classroom to the Head Teacher and you want her to comprehend your meaning.

The duty of classroom monitor is described by Peng Wen Juan, a Chinese English teacher, this way:

In my opinion, the job of the monitor in a class is to be a good example and a good guide, to lead the class to having a good attitude towards studying, and also help teachers to have good classes. best wishes! 
Peng Wen Juan

Saturday, February 8, 2014

You Are Cared For

Every high school class in China has a Monitor. His or her duty, as described by a Chinese English teacher, reveals its purpose. 

“In my opinion, the job of the monitor in a class is to be good example and a good guide, to lead the class to having a good attitude towards studying, and also teachers to have good classes.”

On March 13, I stayed home from my teaching job at Tianjiabing High School. My flu condition had reached a crescendo where I couldn’t talk. I relayed a text message to the Foreign Teacher’s office and advised them of my condition. I slept most of the day and woke the following morning refreshed and ready to be with my students.

Susan teaching song at English Corner
I walked into Class No. 8 and was greeted with happy faces and a solitary note atop my desk at the front of the room. I glanced quickly at the message and absorbed that it was written with compassion and concern for my health. The Monitor, Jammy, expressed her unease for my having removed my coat days before.

“Dear Mrs. Black,
Are you alright now?
There are lots of changes of the weather in spring in China. So you must pay more attention to the weather. You can’t take off your coat when feeling a little bit hot. Because it may be colder.
So you’d better wear more and not take off your coat. Or you will catch bad colds and feel sick.
It won’t be good, right?
Love, Jammy.”

Frank entertains the students
Lovely Jammy cared. The classrooms in many of the Chinese schools where Frank and I taught did not have heat so we learnt to wear a warm jacket. My mistake was, after having climbed five flights of stairs to get to Class 8, was to remove my jacket and teach in a cotton blouse.

Your students care. They don’t want to have their classes interrupted, nor do they want your English class replaced with a math class. You are an important participant in their lives. Take care and you will be rewarded for your passion.

Jammy's note

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Student On Duty

In every middle school and high school classroom in China, there is a Student On Duty. His or her responsibilities include erasing the blackboard for the teacher, sweeping the floors at the end of the day, aligning the desks between classes, opening or closing the curtains and windows, and other duties assigned by the Chinese teacher.

Foreign teachers don’t always know that you have a helpful assistant in your midst. I discovered their existence one day when I was presenting a class under the observation of Chinese English teachers. Before class, I filled the blank board with words and phrases for the students to use to build sentences. After the fifteen-minute session, I turned my back to the audience and began to erase the board.

“Mrs. Black, Wang Jie Yu can do that. It is her duty,” one of the seated teachers said.

A young girl came to the front of the class and removed all the script from the blackboard. This gave me the opportunity to scribble the second session’s tasks for everyone to review. I thanked the young student as she took her seat and noted that I would call on my student on duty in every class to help me out.

Learning takes place when one is able to enact social norms after having learnt them. A ‘transformation’ effected in a practical action must take place. ~ Confucius

Student on Duty supports the teacher
Students on Duty will clean up after New Year celebration

The Highest Duty of Civil Life

Teaching a song at English Corner
You can read an excerpt from my story published at DreamWave  Teaching English In China
Teaching English in China, to middle school and high school students, changed my outlook on youth. In Canada, I had left behind an excruciating experience with my grade 8 students, where one of the boys piled papers on his desk and set it on fire. That evening, I discussed with my husband that we take a teaching English as a second language course and head overseas. I had heard that the young people in China were respectful of their elders.
Students prepare for a fashion show
Susan interviews performers