The Grass Is Always Greener…

Apologies for letting so much time pass since my last post! Between having to deal with shoddy Internet connections, cruddy VPN services, and… oh yea, my job… it’s been difficult to find the time and motivation to write anything, despite very much wanting to!

So, as of right about now, I’ve been in China for an entire month I think! Wow… four weeks to the day! It’s pretty hard to believe that so much* time has passed already. I know a month isn’t that long, but when you’re in a new country, a week can feel like a month so…

I suppose an update would be a good start. I know I haven’t posted since I started teaching, so I guess I’ll tell you a little about how that is going. Although I’m afraid my words won’t be able to adequately describe how crazy the experience actually is for me.

Having just recently finished being a “student” myself, it feels quite strange to so suddenly be on the other side of the desk. As a student, there are certainly many things that must be simultaneously juggled in order to survive, however I’m beginning to realize (and it hadn’t been previously apparent to me either), that teaching a course with 97 students requires its fair share of juggling as well – especially if you are developing the course as you go. Not only is coming up with lecture materials a challenge, but making sure that each of your classes isn’t completely filled with lecture is a challenging necessity as well because students can’t pay attention to a teacher preaching at them for 90 minutes straight – especially when that teacher is speaking in a language that most of them only have a tentative grasp on, about a topic such as engineering. So in each class I’ve been doing my best to break up my lecture time with in-class exercises where they can work in groups on some problems relating to what I was just teaching. That way they can converse in Mandarin and hopefully spread/solidify knowledge.

So there’s building productive, effective classes. There is also the development of a tentative schedule for your class to follow as the weeks progress. That had to be done prior to the start of the semester, and that was incredibly difficult because I had NO IDEA how any of my classes were going to go because one – I’ve never taught an official class before, and two – I’m still in the process of developing the course. But so far, things are progressing according to schedule, and the student took their first exam today. I’m taking serious notes as I go so that hopefully, if/when I teach this course again, it’ll become much smoother and better put-together.

Next is the creation of the grading structure for the class – and sticking to it. Nothing is more likely to incite rebellion than if you change the grading structure of the course half-way through a semester. So fortunately I think I’ve managed this hurtle okay, but filling in that grading structure with actual gradable material is another thing altogether. Homeworks, quizzes, exams, presentations, in-class participation, etc… All of these things have a similar grading rubric of their own which has to be determined, ideally before you start grading them. Consistency is key. I know how I was when I was a student and nothing would fire us up more than when somebody got points (or didn’t get them) for one  thing and another person didn’t (or did)! But then again, I’m also realizing the hard way that developing a rubric beforehand, and sticking by it for the grading procedure can be restricting, especially for something as dynamic as a presentation… Oh boy, I don’t even know how to get into this – so I don’t think I will. I’ll leave this one to your imagination.

So I think that about sums up the moving parts. All I know is, being on the other side of the desk seemed like an easy life from the perspective of the student, but now I think I know a little better. To all my former teachers and professors that may be reading this, here’s to you! I think I now know a little bit more about how hard you worked for us – thanks a lot! 🙂

That being said, I am loving my job and my class! I am teaching 97 students who are split up into two groups: Mechanical Engineering sections 1 and 2, and Civil Engineering sections 1 and 2. I teach two lectures to each group on Mondays, so that’s a full six hours of teaching which leaves me exhausted. So most of the time I really need my weekends to prepare for that insanity. I had no idea that my schedule was going to include a bomb like that until three days before I started teaching. Tuesdays and Wednesdays however, I only teach one class to one group each day. Then on Thursdays I teach the ME’s first in the morning, and then the CE’s until lunch, and then I’m done for the week. So all-in-all, it ain’t a bad schedule. Just Monday’s are a little tough. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays I have a couple office hours during which I get some work done and help out the occasional student.

To finish things off, I would like to post a picture of my students after an activity where I had them constructing the tallest towers possible using only 4 sheets of newspaper and 20 cm of tape, but I’m not sure if I have the permission to do so. I guess if I blur out their faces, at least I can show you one of the better towers! I’ll also throw in a couple of my favorite shots from the last few weeks!

Tower building activity that the students really got into!
Tower building activity that the students really got into!

Next post should have a ton of food pics! Don’t read hungry! 😉

Bad for your lungs. Good for photography??
Bad for your lungs. Good for photography??
Skies Became the Sea - A bunch of people flying MASSIVE kites at Xinghai Square!
Skies Became the Sea – A bunch of people flying MASSIVE kites at Xinghai Square!
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