Monday, April 13, 2009


Last week we gave final exams to our seven week classes. I can't decide if my students are getting worse or if I'm getting better, but I'm catching more cheaters than ever before. It seems there are always those ready and willing to take on the challenge of my "no cheating or fail my class" spiel. Before any exam begins, I run over the basics, "If you speak a word during the exam, I will fail you; if your head turns in your neighbor's direction, I will fail you; if you look at your cell phone, I will fail you..." Inevitably, there are those who refuse to heed my warning and embark on a dark path of connivery and deceit. This semester I caught one guy with a cheat sheet, one guy who had written the vocabulary words on his desk and then tried to convince me he didn't look at them during the exam, and two guys cheating off of each other. Despite these dark splotches on an otherwise wonderful exam time (I LOVE finals), I did have a few success stories. Before any exam begins, I can always pick out the ones who are likely to cheat, and I pay extra close attention to them - not to catch them, but to put enough pressure on them so that they will elect not to cheat. It seldom works, but the few times it does are well worth the extra effort. I consider it one of the noblest works to pursue during finals - preventing would-be, lazy students from becoming cheaters. Sometimes I remove the temptation from a wandering eye by asking the student to move to a spot completely devoid of his fellow classmates. Sometimes I simply stand close to the would-be cheaters. I've saved many a student from himself this way. There are also those few times when I decide grace and mercy must replace justice and allow myself to overlook a quick interchange between two students. It's on these occasions I have been known to let the students leave with this final thought, "Remember this as the day you were lucky." Ah, finals...they bring out the best in us and the worst.

So with finals classes! This week we begin classes to replace the ones we just completed. The first day of class is my least favorite. They are impossible to plan for. In any given class, we might have thirty students or we might have sixty. They might have already had a foreign teacher and, therefore, and English name, or I might be their first. Their English level might be as good as an English major's or they might not understand a word I say. There's absolutely no telling what to expect so we've all had to become pretty good at spontaneously adapting to class dynamics. Even still, the first day of class usually entails the students asking me lots of questions about myself and America, and the more I talk about myself, the more disinterested in the topic I become.

Jessica and I have been meeting about four times a week - when it's not raining, or when we're not sick, and when the stars are aligned just right - to do a little exercising. Twice a week we meet for a short jog, and the other two times we meet to hike the mountain. Last week we mixed it up a bit and decided to play badminton instead of go hiking. In order to play badminton, you must get past the Badminton Nazi. He's this little old man with bushy eyebrows and a scary disposition. He sleeps in the gym when he's not running foreigners away. As teachers at this school, we are entitled to make use of the badminton courts free of charge. Badminton Nazi knows this and will comply if, and only if, we bring him our teachers' cards, proving to him we are, in fact, teachers at this school. Granted, in the past, we have brought foreigners from other schools to play with us, but it really shouldn't be that big of a deal. Anyway, we have since been trained to bring our teachers' cards with us every time we want to play. I have been a teacher at Qi Yuan for two and a half years and have played badminton more times than I can count and still Badminton Nazi insists I show him my teacher's card every time I come. Not only must I show it, but he actually compares the photo to my face to ensure that I am who I say I am. Two and a half years! I could probably draw an accurate sketch of this man's face, but he still can't recognize me!

Easter Day was rather pleasant - well, the day wasn't so much as we were hit by some torrential downpours - but the activities were great. Meeting, Easter dinner, naps, movie, more rest. Megan and Kat scrounged up some lamb, which turned out deliciously. In honor of my dad, I made hot cross buns -somewhat of a tradition with my family. We also had some bacon wrapped green beans, deviled eggs, and some incredible strawberry walnut salad Kat came up with.

The different departments in our school are beginning a volleyball competition this week. The English department has been practicing for a few weeks. I go out and play with them when I can, but I seldom have time. Abraham, the guy in charge of giving us foreigners our classes, has insisted Barry and I join them this week for the competition. Barry has played a lot more with them than I have, and he plans to join them, but I have class during the evening two nights this week so I wouldn't be able to go to the matches. After explaining this to Abraham, he told me to simply reschedule my classes. "The competition is first priority." So he says. I'm pretty sure I may be damaging my relationship with Abraham by refusing to reschedule my classes, but class is my first priority when it comes to this school.

Last year we asked our Father to bring us a harvest of male leadership to Shiyan, and he delivered. Currently, I'm studying with four boys who are incredible individuals. Keep them in your prayers. We also are wanting to continue petitioning our Father for good replacements. At least three of us teachers will be leaving after this semester, opening up three spots for those wanting to serve here. We're hopeful for good, solid replacements whose focus is what it needs to be. We could really use some help in bringing this request before our Father.

Well, I have a couple days free coming up. My students have given me time off since they're preparing for a big exam this Saturday. They're pretty stressed out about it so we rescheduled our Friday classes and canceled our evening discussion groups to give them more time to prepare. I'm not sure yet what I'll do, but with the weather being absolutely gorgeous, I'm thinking either hiking or swimming are in the forecast.

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