Friday, April 27, 2012

Classroom Nuptials

This week, my sophomore classes learned about American weddings.
After going over some information about interesting facts and common
traditions, we held a wedding re-enactment in the classroom.

Things mostly went as planned: the attendants walked down the aisle,
the "bride" entered with her "father," and then the "minister" started
the ceremony. In one of the weddings, I had neglected to fully
explain the roles of the flower girl and ring bearer, so they trailed
in confusedly after the bride. Then the ring bearer popped up again
during the ring exchange. He hovered behind the minister and reached
out to give the rings to the couple at the right moment. (Also in
that wedding, the groom got down on one knee to put the ring on the
bride's hand. After all, rings and kneeling go together!)

Another funny thing was the song. I told each class to choose a
singer who would prepare and sing an English love song. I shouldn't
have been surprised that one girl chose "My Heart Will Go On," which
is a song that will go on and on and on in China, just like their love
for Jack, Rose, and all things Titanic. (Titanic 3D is a smash hit

Here's an interesting thing I noticed while doing these weddings. I
used traditional music ("Ave Maria," "Amazing Grace," and organ
renditions of "Here Comes the Bride" and the "Wedding March." ) I
used traditional vows and as many traditional phrases as I could ("We
are gathered here today...", "I now pronounce you...", etc.). And
each time, when the music started and the attendants started filing
down the aisle, I felt like I was really watching a wedding.

I really love those beautiful, well-worn words and songs.

I started to think about how these "weddings" were planned in a day
and rehearsed in 10 minutes. The total cost was less than $20. The
brides wore toilet paper, the rings cost 3 RMB apiece, and the little
cake we used for cutting was just 8 RMB. We baked the cupcakes
ourselves. The bridesmaids did not match, no one was dressed up, the
attendants carried fake flowers and the room was not decorated. In
spite of all these things, it still felt like a wedding. (Except that
bit with "My Heart Will Go On.")

Take note, modern-day brides of America! It doesn't take $27,000!

Here are a couple related articles:
Sarah Bessey on her $35 wedding ring:
Rachel Held Evans on her Pre-Pinterest Wedding:

I'll post photos if my Internet ever speeds up enough to let me post
from my blog site. :)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Poor Little Blog, Still

Hi everyone! The Internet is still running too slowly for me to do
much on the American web. If I can't get some of my photo posts up
soon, perhaps I'll delight you with some fascinating picture-less prose.

Feel free to dig around in the archives while you're waiting. Since
starting this blog, I've written somewhere around 500 posts and I'd
guess about 100,000 words. Some of my favorite stuff includes the "Is
this normal?" series, the "In their own words" posts, travel wrap-ups,
and posts about celebrating American holidays in China. Have fun!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Poor Little Blog

My poor little blog looks so neglected lately.  Just one little post in the last week or two.

I've tried four or five times to upload an Easter post with some photos, but my Internet has been so slow that it just doesn't work.  Maybe I'll try again soon.

Until then, talk amongst yourselves. :)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Here Comes the Son

"For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
The LORD gives grace and glory;
No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly. 

Easter sunrise in Rizhao, China, 5:45 a.m.

O LORD of hosts,
How blessed is the man who trusts in You!"

Psalm 84:11-12

Thursday, April 5, 2012

On Relinquishing Control in the Classroom (and Life)

Last night some students came over to make a chocolate cake with me.  I usually start baking sessions by announcing that baking is like chemistry and we must follow the directions exactly or the cake won't turn out.  Then I demonstrate by showing that "one cup" of something must be one cup level across the top; not more, not less.

Yesterday, the girl in charge of putting in one-and-a-half cups flour didn't use the 1C and 1/2C measures I had so helpfully put out.  Instead, she dipped the 1C measure in the flour three times, each time catching a different amount of flour, which she dumped in the mixing bowl.

When it came time to stir, the stirring girl didn't stir in nice, robust circles like I prefer; she dabbed at the batter in finicky little stabs.

When it came time to cut and serve the cake, the serving girl just speared each piece with a fork and deposited it on a plate, rather than sliding the fork under the piece to keep it looking nice.  She also inexplicably started out by giving two pieces to each person, stacking them on top of each other.

You see what I mean.

If I have students come over to cook, I have no choice but to give up my idea of how I think things should be done.  Even if I give specific instructions, there's no telling how the students will understand them.  Over the years, this has resulted in some funny concoctions (like Leonard's hot pepper cookies), lots of messes on my kitchen floor, and some highly questionable table manners.  Just last night I was watching a freshmen boy try to eat his pizza using a knife and fork for the first time.  I couldn't help but comment I've never seen someone use a fork quite that way before.

There's a lesson here that can be applied to teaching in general.  I like to run a well-ordered class that begins and ends on exactly the right minute.  I like everyone to pay attention and do what I say.  I like my assignments to be followed to the T.  (Sometimes these things happen; sometimes not.)

But I don't want to be a controlling teacher.  I have to remind myself:
  • My way is not the only way.
  • The answer I'm looking for may not be the only good answer.
  • My class is not their only class.
  • My class is not their most important class.
  • Things will not go as planned.

By taking this attitude toward teaching, I am more able to:
  • Teach to the moment (go off-plan)
  • Laugh with my students
  • Give grace to my students when they mess up
  • Give freedom for creativity
  • Accept that students have lots of things on their plate, which may mean that I grant their request to re-schedule an exam, miss a class for the department basketball tourney, give extra time for a difficult assignment, and more.
  • Relax and have fun teaching

Just a little something I've learned from teaching for three years in a place where plans can't keep up with changes and where you never really know what a student is going to come up with next.

Epilogue:  As we were eating our cake last night, one girl said she had stayed up until 2:00 a.m. the night before because she was excited about coming over to bake.  I'm glad I didn't ruin the fun by harping on about the proper way to prepare and serve a chocolate cake.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Qing Ming Jie

Today is Qing Ming Jie, which literally means "Day of Clear Brightness" but is usually called in English "Tomb Sweeping Day."

It's a day for remembering ancestors, caring for their graves, and burning money and other stuff to send them in the after-life.  People burn fake paper money, among many other fake paper things.  Joann explains it well in this post: Hell Money.

So far today I've gone to the seaside with some student friends.  The weather is nice and there were dozens of kites dotting the blue sky above the beach.