Middle Kingdom Life

Matt | Middle Kingdom Life | Friday, November 28th, 2008

I decided to start this blog about a year ago because I wanted to write about teaching English in China with the hope to help others who were thinking of becoming an English Teacher in China and because when I first started looking for a job teaching English (back in’05) I couldn’t find much on the Net.  Recently I was introduced to an amazing site for people interested in teaching or living in China, called Middle Kingdom Life. Foreign Teachers Guide to Teaching English in China.

I wish I had seen this before I had come to China.  This would have made my life and the transition a lot easier.  This is the best and most comprehensive site I’ve seen so far on teaching English in China.

I’m still stumbling through, but here are some interesting pages I’ve read on this site.

Ongoing Issues: Dating and Relationships: Understanding the Attraction to Foreign Men in China.

  • This provides an interesting insight into some cultural differences when it comes to dating in China.  I’d say it’s pretty accurate when it comes to the pressures on Chinese women.

Summary Checklist

  • This is a nice summary of questions you should ask or think about before deciding on a school in China.  Some of the questions were interesting and can open your mind to some differences you’ll face, like a Chinese versus western mattress (i.e. hard like a rock floor vs. soft mattress).  Mind you I don’t think that’s a biggie question,  The others like: teaching hours, teaching subjects, distance to the school, split shifts, having resources, not being the only foreign teacher there, not working in a brand new school, these are all vital questions to ask.  Remember not all these questions you can ask the school directly and most you’ll have to get from the teachers currently there or preferably the ones who have left.  Also remember, things will be different from your home country and that is part of the reason you probably want to go teach English in China.

Latest News

  • This is a cool page that I’ll be checking more frequently as I’ve been struggling to find updated information on teaching and visa requirements rules that seem to change as frequently as a pair of dirty shorts.  Anyways, great site.  Lots of the info seems to be Guangdong specific as in Beijing, the “Barcode for Foreign teachers” has not appeared, but it might.  Also my “blue book” (foreign experts certificate) is held by the school, which seems to be common as the schools don’t want you quitting on them and jumping ship with the “blue book”.  This is one way they ensure you honour your contract or leave them in a good manner, as they need to release this certificate for you to be able to work elsewhere in China.

Still this site is a gold mine of information for anybody who wants to be an English teacher in China and I urge you to read on and enjoy.

Blogroll: Quality (enforcement) is job none

Matt | Blogroll,Food Safety | Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

For the past few years I’ve been concerned over quality standards in China and food safety was always high on my list.  Although I didn’t do anything about it and I continued to live in Beijing, it still concerned me.  There is so much food being produced from so many different suppliers and quality does not seem to be a concern for most Chinese products, so a food safety disaster seemed inevitable.  But when the melamine, baby milk scandal hit, it was a nauseating thought: some people intentionally poisoning babies to make money.  Some roots of the problem seem to be: lack of quality standard enforcement; low levels of care for fellow human beings; an attitude where passing the test seems to be all that matters; seemingly no concern for morality, where “my getting mine” is what seems to matter first and foremost; the all encompassing desire to make money at all costs.

Here are some interesting articles that give some background over these major issues facing China.

Asia Times recently reported Greed, Mad Science and Melamine, which gives some background on how and why melamine came about.  I guess it’s like cutting costs anywhere and trying to cheat and pass the test. Interesting to read that melamine was developed back in ’99.

Asia Times also had a great article about foreigners living in Beijing called Beijing Dangerous.  Here it talks mostly of the dangers on the streets of Beijing, from the insane traffic, to the air quality issues.  Again I think the root problems are the same: lack of enforcement of rules, people driving wherever they want, whenever, however, regardless of who’s in front or beside them; lack of respect or concern for other people.  That one bothers me the most.

Maybe the best thing to do is laugh at ourselves.  Here at Zhongnanhai: The Onion: China becomes the world’s top polluter -  they found a different take on pollution in China and how it could be a good, or at least humorous thing.

To end on a slightly more positive note, here is something else we can laught at.  The thought of seeing your teacher naked.  As a teacher, this is a terrifying thought from The Globe and Mail:The teacher has no clothes.

Mindset Review

Matt | Books: Mindset | Monday, November 24th, 2008

In the process of learning to be a better teacher, blogger, person I stumbled across the book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol S. Dweck.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

This little book hit me like speeding bus and and has fundamentally changed the way I think about learning, teaching and living.  I’ve been struggling how to get the ideas in this book across on my site.  I tried to review the entire book in one post, but it was a monster, so here I’m going to review a chapter a week and review some of the bigger insights I got out of the book.  It also gives me a chance to review the book again.  I highly recommend this book to everyone to see what you can learn from it.

Open your mind.  Open the book.  Here goes…

Chapter1 The Mindsets

Do you think people are born: smart; artists; athletes; teachers?  Do you think men can’t change?  Or do you think that anyone can change?  Do you think you can become smarter (more artistic, more athletic, a better teacher)?  Here the author splits us into two groups: fixed mindset or growth mindset. She stated, “my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects how you lead your life.”

Fixed mindset – is based on the belief that we can’t get any smarter; that our intelligence is fixed at birth (who knows), but that it’s carved in stone; every situation is evaluated as: will I succeed or fail?  Will I look smart of dumb?  Will I be accepted or rejected?

Growth mindset – is based on the belief that you can cultivate and grow any and every area of your life; that everyone can change and grow through application and experience and effort. That you can become smarter, through effort.

Here is a partial test to see which mindset you hold (mainly).

Read each statement and decide whether  you mostly agree with it or disagree with it.

  1. Your intelligence is something very basic about you that you can’t change very much.
  2. You can learn new things, but you can’t really change how intelligent you are.
  3. No matter how much intelligence you have, you can always change it quite a bit.
  4. You can always substantially change how intelligent you are.

Qs 1 and 2 are the fixed-mindset questions.  Qs 3 and 4 are the growth-mindset ones.

In the book, Ms. Dweck also mentions that people can be a bit of both, but they usually lean towards one or the other.

In my case this was true as I am a fixed-mindset person. While I do have great examples of being a growth person: learning Chinese; learning to skate to play hockey; becoming a teacher and teaching ESL for 3 years; learning to blog (still a learning experience).  Mostly though, my view on life holds the fixed mindset view: that I’m afraid of failing, that I view most decisions I make as win/lose, right/wrong, smart/dumb.  I don’t know why this is the case, but I do.  So when I found this book, it was an mind-opening experience and I couldn’t wait to hear and read more…especially the how do I become more of a growth mindset person.

Unfortunately, in order to grow and to learn something, I actually have to do something.  Fortunately, from this chapter I learned that the first thing we can do is to realize the situation we are in and to physically change our own minds: to think of someone we know who is a growth person; when we’re in tough situations, ask ourselves what would that person do here?  To think of a situation where we were in a fixed mindset and then to review it and to try to “put” yourself in a growth mindset and see what you can learn out of that situation.

To grow we need to learn.  To learn we need to work.  To work effectively we need to work on only those things we can control: ourselves.

8 Tips to Use Video in the Classroom

Matt | Teach English: Videos | Friday, November 21st, 2008

Have you used videos, movies, TV shows in your classroom before?

Have you done it successfully?

I have used them in the classroom, very unsuccessfully, and have seen other teachers have great success using videos to help students to learn English.  I believe using videos in an ESL classroom has a lot of benefits:

  • Students can see and hear English in the correct context.
  • Fun and interesting.
  • Often use idioms and phrases (movies and shows like “Friends”).
  • Creates energy as it’s a break from a normal lesson.
  • Can help students learn how to use videos to help them learn, or review their English.
  • Gives the students an “authentic” English environment for as long as the video is on.

Here are 8 tips to help you use video effectively in the classroom.

1.Make sure video is level appropriate – Don’t pick “Prison Break” for beginner English learners. “Friends” would be a better choice, but this too could be quite difficult for beginners depending on how you planned the lesson.  As their is more physical comedy, friends would provide more entertainment.  .I find videos work better when students have a better grasp of the language – intermediate level/ upper waystage

2. Don’t play the whole show/movie continuously– Remember students need things to be varied every ten minutes thereabouts, so if you play a 20 minute episode, the students may be lost, bored or worst yet asleep by the end.  I’ve seen all three.  I’d recommend having some activities or breaks every 3-10 minutes.  Ideally, only show a maximum of 10 minutes of video a few times.  You will likely review the video 2 to 3 times so the students can see it again.

3. Preview the video – please!!!  This will help you know what you want to cover during the lesson, also you’d need to do this to determine the language and vocabulary used in the video segment.  Also, this could help you determine if the piece actually is suited for what you want to cover in your lesson. Which leads to…

4. Have an objective to the (video) lesson – just putting in a movie to kill time doesn’t count.  Do you want to review an informal dinner party in England (strong English accents) for your advanced (Threshold) level students?  Watch a clip from Notting Hill.  Do you want to review clothing worn in different seasons? Watch a different clip from Notting Hill where all four seasons happen within a 3 minute clip.  Do you want a video that reviews clips?Groundhog Day could be used. Like all good lessons, you need to have an objective to it for it to be considered a class and not simply free talk.  Even better…

5. Use video as part of a bigger lesson plan – this will can help you teach or reinforce something, but don’t use video as an entire lesoon.  (This is straight from my TESOL training, but sadly I have tried to use a video as a lesson by itself and it failed miserably).

6. Create a worksheet – Give out a worksheet to help the students review the vocabulary, idioms, phrases or whatever you want to teach or review in that video segment.  This could be a good takeaway for the students.  Also it can be used for your break every 3-10 minutes.  You can have 3 exercises on the sheet and take up one at a time.

7. Let the students lead the video session through – like this one a fellow teacher did with the show “Lost”.  I think this is the most effective way to get students interested into a series type program like “Lost” or “Frieinds”.  This teacher had the students fill in this form as a group as their video club progressed week by week.  It was a great way to get the students interested in the program and understanding it, because he only wrote down what they said.  He facilitated their learning.  Plus it gave a great review board and a visual for their own learning.

"Lost" student led sheet

8. Bring popcorn – create a fun environment.  Popcorn always works.

Visa’s Easing Up

Matt | Visas | Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

Since the Olympics have ended, I’ve heard that the visa situation has gotten a bit easier.  Then I stumbled across this post Hong Kong Issuance of China Visas Easing from China Briefing.  This article mentions that it is for tourist visas in China and once you get onto the mainland you’d need to change it into a working visa.

As an English teacher, I highly recommend you get a full Z-Visa from your employer before you start teaching. The Z Visa is good for one year, is unlimited entry and exit to the country and states that you can legally work in China. Now the only problem is the standards are pretty high to get one: you need to have a university degree; you should have a TESOL/TEFL/CELTA.  This Z-visa makes life in China quite easy.

All good and reputable schools, should be able to handle and pay for a full visa for you.  Some schools might have legitamite reasons why they need to get you a F-Visa (business) instead of a Z-visa (working/teaching), but make sure you know why and trust the source.

An Angry Traveler…

Matt | Traveling | Monday, November 17th, 2008

The other day I got on a plane from Beijing’s Terminal 3 and 13 hours later arrived at Toronto’s Pearson International airport.  During the journey I learned a lot mainly from the guy sitting beside me.

At the gate I gave the attendant my ticket and I heard the guy standing behind me talking up the fella beside him.  The guy behind me, Allan, seemed like a very friendly guy.  At first, I was at first quite impressed by his style.  He looked like a trendy traveling and marketing guy.  He wore stylish dark jeans, trendy brown sports shoes, a trendy shirt and jacket, and he even had a trendy European (hair spiked in the middle) hair cut.  But what impressed me the most was how he easily started up conversations with others.  He seemed like a natural networker.

Then we got on the plane, and I had asked to sit near the emergency exit for the extra leg room, and who was sitting beside me, but Allan, as well as another foreigner.  Allan, the trendy, traveling, marketing, networking guy, introduced himself to all of us, shook our hands, and then he and the guy beside him started talking.  The were talking and drinking and drinking and talking and did I mention drinking?!

Soon, Allan went from being the trendy, traveling, marketing, networking guy into an annoying drunk who pestered and pissed off all the staff and who couldn’t stop talking.  Fortunately for me the new Air Canada flight had individual movie screens so I was able to watch five movies, keep my ear phones on and ignore Allan.

What did I learn from Allan?

The Good

  • Appearance matters – dressing well can give you a great first impression in others
  • Being friendly helps – he was a good conversationalist, but he was also friendly first; he smiled, introduced himself and shook your hand.  Good tips I think on meeting new people.
  • Ask questions to be interesting one thing I noticed about Allan, was how he would ask a lot of questions to everyone he talked to and I think that’s why he was such a good conversationalist.

The Bad

  • Don’t get drunk (on planes) – he quickly went from being an interesting guy who you’d want to talk to, to annoying guy you like to ignore, to a “where is my stun gun and how can I put this guy down?” type of guy.  He must have drunk 10 whiskeys before he passed out.  Before that he mentioned he had been drinking in the lounge, so who knows how many “deep” he was.

The Ugly

  • Don’t be rude to the airline attendants – this one pissed me off the most.  The more he drank, the ruder he became to the staff and of course the ruder they became to him.  They stopped serving him so he had to get up and go to them to get his whiskeys.  Now, while I know airline staff are not always the nicest, or friendliest, still it never, ever, ever helps to be rude back.

So, I had an interesting flight.  Mental note on the flight back I think I’ll ask for an aisle seat only, and not the emergency seat with the extra leg room as I don’t want to sit beside an “Allan” again.  Still, I guess I’m grateful for the lessons he helped me learn and now I really want to go shopping.

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