Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Intellectual Stimulation

The past few entries have indeed been a crazy mood swing. Thank you for your kind words and thoughts from around the globe. Sometimes, when things get rough, the loneliness is so severe that it prevents me from feeling and remembering the love and thoughts from far away. 

Things are a lot better today, as I knew they would be. I began teaching this week in the primary school just near my house. Although just the second day, the experience has already been immensely rewarding. I’ve worked alone and in small group setting with kids starting back in my piano-teaching days, then later tutoring and working with inner-city students in St. Louis. This is, however, my first time teaching in a classroom setting. I didn’t think I would like it, but I really quite enjoy the experience. I teach three classes, Form 4 through 6. Each class ranges from 30-40 kids. It reminds me of my primary school days in Taiwan; though the learning condition was much better, the open classroom, wooden furniture and the amazing obedience coming from the children remind me of those strict days of elementary school in Taiwan.

One thing much different from my education in Taiwan is the quality. I am not all that surprised by the students’ level here. The more appalling element is the quality of the teachers. The first day I arrived, I walked around and I am 95% sure I saw a teacher sitting at her desk with her head down, probably sleeping. Today, one of the teachers wasn’t there, so her students just sat there all day. Substitute teachers? What?

I had quite the conversation with the only male teacher there. He repeatedly tells me how difficult it is to teach these students, because it’s a village school. He speaks as though if this were a city school, it would be significantly better. Today, I told him it’s a mentality issue and that if he keeps saying the students here are poor (performance), they’ll never get better. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, the same problem that exists in inner-city schools across the US. He asked me about schools in the US and I told him that poor education quality also exists. I thought of the kids I worked with in St. Louis; the 8th graders that didn’t know their timetable and 6th grader who couldn’t read a storybook with pictures. I only get 30 minutes for each class a day and I will be teaching 3 days a week. The time is so short and really feels like baby steps. I am glad I am getting to know the kids in the neighborhood; they inspire me to come up with new projects, and they are also making me reconsider a PhD – teaching may not be so bad after all.

Aside from teaching, I still have a lot of free time in my hands. This morning, I thought I was suppose to be going to a development meeting in town, but there were some major miscommunication. I never really know what’s going on. Before, I thought it’s the language, but now, I am beginning to think the people here themselves don’t know what’s going on half the time. So with all my free time, I’ve been listening to lots of podcasts. Today I listened to an econ one about externality and subsidies. I never felt like a bigger nerd when Coase and Pigovian theory drew my attention and I laughed out loud at the following joke, “When you walk through the revolving door, are you one who never pushes and instead waiting for the others to push, because you are reaping the positive externality? I know all the economists do.”

In addition, I’ve been listening to lots of podcasts in French just to practice listening. Often, I put them on as background noise even though I don’t understand a thing. I think I am hoping by idling listening to it, I’ll suddenly understand it all one day. The Yale World Fellow stories have been a source of inspiration as well. If you know other good ones, let me know! Suggestions for books, podcasts, etc. are always welcomed! 

2 comments:

Megan said...

WOW about the schools .... I suppose it would be impossible for the village kids to go to the better schools in the city right? How far does it take you to get to the city again? Why don't they let you teach more and how long is a normal school day?

Recommendations on books I've read this semester so far (all related to music of course .. hehe)
-Kofi Agawu: Representing African Music: Postcolonial Notes, Queries, Positions
-Hale, Thomas; Griots and Griottes
-Meintjes, Louise: Sound of Africa!: Making Music Zulu in a South African Studio
-Olaniyan, Tejumola: Arrest the Music! Fela and his Rebel Art and Politics
-White, Bob: Rumba Rules: The Politics of Dance Music in Mobutu's Zaire
-Muller: Carol Ann: Rituals of Fertility and the Sacrifice of Desire: Nazarite Women's Performance in South Africa
-Gunderson and Barz: Mashindano! Competitive Music Performance in East Africa

Let me know if any of them sound interesting to you and I can send them over. I'm going to send you a package soon ... I swear :) It will probably be your Christmas/birthday present.

Mark Chmiel said...

Would you be interested in listening to Thich Nhat Hanh's dharma talks in French from Plum Village? Let me know!