Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Settling In

We sort of wandered around on Sunday towards the area where we think we might want to live.  We found a charming little park with rock doves or pigeons much more skittish than those in Chicago, and more evident than those in Madison.  We approached a woman getting out of her taxi to visit a friend in one of the apartment buildings and asked what we should do if we wanted to live there.  I can't imagine how this would be going if I didn't know some Mandarin.  She was very friendly, but didn't speak any English.  She actually led us around to look at bulletin boards for rental signs, leaving the apartment door open.  Unfortunately, she didn't find any.  Still, we got an idea of the kind of place we'd like to be.

On Monday I had my first day of training with Kojen.  I was desperately nervous until I remembered that they didn't want me to speak Chinese, and that I was in fact there to simply be a native English speaker with some idea of how to pass the language on.  That first day went quite well.  I observed two classes: Y6 and A2.  The letter refers to the overall level, and the number to the microlevel - much like the streets here.  Y is the most basic level, and the microlevels are 1-6.  M is the next, and goes from 1-12.  M goes at half the speed of the next level, K, so that M12 is the same as K6.  K also goes up to 12, and then the students go on to A level.  My AD (Academic Director) said that usually kids get to about level 10 before passing the age acceptable for the next letter level, so the 12 classes are sometimes pretty small.  There are four kinds of teaching positions: FT (foreign teacher), CT (Chinese teacher), TA (teaching assistant), and TT (telephone teacher).  Each class is twice a week (M/R, T/F, W/S), with once per week as the FT's class and once as the CT's.  The TA and the CT are often the same person, which helps with continuity.  The TT (again, often the same as the CT and TA) calls the students once a week for 5 minutes to give them a pop oral quiz.  

The first class I watched was a Y level class - Y6, which is the highest of the most basic, youngest class.  They were dangerously cute, the five of them.  The teacher said, "Who's being good?" and they all ran shrieking and giggling to their seats, where they sat up impossibly straight and shoved their tiny left hands (fists closed) into the air, waiting to be called upon.  They were covering initial clusters CL, GL, and BL when I was observing, and they played games for the privilege of answering the teacher's questions.  When they answered correctly they had to participate in a game of skill (ball throwing or some kind of race) before getting a tiny little prize called a "jian ka," which means "reward card."  The jian kas come in different denominations, and when the students have collected enough of them they can trade them in for little notebooks or pens or erasers, etc.  "Teaching by stealth," the teacher called it.

Class 2 was an advanced class, quieter, although they still played games.  The teacher made lots of eye contact used vocal variation to good effect.  When a student or two got out of line, he looked at them all and jovially said "I can stay after class."  Everyone immediately shut up.  The room was pretty evenly divided between girls and boys, and by divided I mean that all the girls were sitting against one wall and the boys against the other.  In spite of their quietness, they seemed to have a pretty good rapport with the teacher.  He introduced us (Robin was watching the same class) as "very smart," and one of the girls looked determinedly at her desk and muttered quite audibly, "Smarter than you!"  He laughed and agreed, and the class went on smoothly.

The third class I watched was a K class at a different branch of Kojen.  They seemed restless at the beginning, but settled down eventually.  The teacher used flash cards and a game he'd made up.  There were more kids in this class, and the integration between girls and boys was more complete.  Once the kids got used to the game, they got into it and started wanting to play a little more.

The fourth class was also at the second school, which is where I'll be doing most of my teaching.  It was another K class, and was even quieter than the third.  Even when the teacher played games with them they were quiet.  They livened up once, when one of them wrote "The doctor told him to eat the flu" on the whiteboard.  I flinched in a possibly dramatic kind of way, stuck my tongue out, screwed my face up, and shook my head violently back and forth from the back of the room.  They laughed at me.  I consider it a complete success.

Back at our temporary apartment, we lost water completely for a day, and the pressure's been very low ever since.  It's really hard to take a shower with water that has all the flowing power of a mud puddle.  

Yesterday's training session didn't really give me any new information, but it was good to go over the old stuff.  Yesterday morning, however, I walked into a realty, said "Nǐ huì shuō yīngyǔ ma?"  The lady said "Bú huì," and I sighed and said "Wǒ gēn wǒde hǎo péngyou zhǎo yīge fángzi..."  After a lot of discussion and drawing of pictures, she took us to look at one which we immediately liked.  Furnished, half-way between our two schools, and in the same area I referred to at the beginning of this post.  We told her we'd come back the next day and hoped very hard all the way home that we could make it work.  Today we clinched the deal after much finagling of finances, and we now have a lovely two-bedroom apartment with a fish tank and room for plants.  We're going to have to buy pillows, though.

When I signed onto the internet today, I found that one of my friends from Madison is planning on showing up in Taipei in a week to work for Kojen also.  Taipei is apparently The Place To Be.


M said...

Wow! Great looking apartment. Good luck with the fish! And what an accomplishment to be able to negotiate all that. Interesting to hear about all the class levels. It is so good to get these updates.
Love you

Anonymous said...

Congrats on the new apartment, especially considering the location! I'm glad to hear things are going well so far :)

~Katherine G