Hi-ho Hi-ho, off to work I go

There’s nothing like a lot of work to keep you from being social, whether it’s stateside or abroad. And while my social life these days consists mostly of spending time with my kids and posting on this blog, both have been neglected the past few days.

Due to the national exams this week, the company was not able to find a Vietnamese national to teach the Reading and Writing segments of the course and asked me if I’d take it over for one of the classes. Usually I teach two different groups of students both the Listening and Speaking segments, but since I need the money, I agreed to take over the subjects for both classes. So instead of the regular 7-9 a.m., then 1:30-3:30 p.m. classes, I am teaching from 7-11 a.m., then 1:30-5:30 p.m. And then on Monday and Wednesday, I teach a community English class from 7-9 p.m. Needless to say, I’m a bit tired. 8-10 hours a day in front of a classroom full of students wears you out, in addition to the prep time that is required for each class. The kids have hardly seen me, but next Thursday I’ll end the 44-hour work week and go back to 20. Thank goodness.

Last night a few students came over to watch “Jumper” and eat popcorn with us. What a great snack! I found it in Hanoi and bought two bags of popcorn kernels. We also managed to find bacon, grated cheddar cheese, baking soda, real butter, a few spices (cumin, oregano and “Italian seasoning”), dried chickpeas and rice flour.  Of course, it cost as much, or more, than it would have in the States, but it’s nice to have a few things that will help make food more palatable for Audrey because despite her expressed intention to eat three square meals a day here, it’s turning into an issue again. At this point, I’ll do whatever and spend whatever to make sure she gets enough calories.

Despite my own best intentions, I haven’t managed to get as much writing done as I’d planned, though I have managed to get a few pages written over the past week and did some editing the week before. It just requires a lot of time and a lot of focus, something I haven’t had as much as I had hoped. Although, I must admit, it’s been helpful to be here when writing. The sounds and the smells had diminished in my memories and to be back makes it all clear again. I guess what I’m saying is that even though I’d planned to be done by now, it’s kinda good that I didn’t finish. There’s still so very much to be written.

Attack of the Mosquitoes

Since we moved last week from room 211 to 213, our mosquito population has been near zero in our room. Nary a bite for any of us. It’s been wonderful.  But outside our room, there are openings in the sidewalk, close 3 feet by 3 feet wide, where the water sits. Why they are uncovered or where that water is going (or is from), I don’t know. What I do know is that they’ve been a breeding ground for mosquitoes and yesterday, was their birth day.  Audrey and I tried to head to the badminton range, but the swarms of them were intense. Little tiny mosquitoes flocking together by the thousands.

I had to teach my evening class, but while I was gone the kids had kept the door open, as we always do. The mosquitoes found it and the room was home to hundreds and hundreds of them. Out came the bug zapper (the electrified tennis racket) and the kids started killing them, then hid under Stuart’s mosquito net. When I arrived home after 9, I unwittingly let in hundreds more than had been following me back from class. This time, I went after them. The mattress and floor and bathroom sink and kitchen counter were all littered with their dead bodies.  This morning, there are more dead. Thanks, I’m guessing, to the chill of the air conditioner and lack of food.  To be honest, though. I’m a bit nervous to walk to class. I’ll just have to spray myself down first. And hope that the influx dies as quickly as it appeared.

Teaching as a family affair

Hong Duc University in Thanh Hoa, Viet Nam

Thursday was test day for the students. In the big picture, it’s actually a test for me–a way to have a control against which they will compare the students at the end of my teaching term.

So I found a test in a book that I’ve yet to use here (in hopes of avoiding them knowing anything about it) and proceeded with listening and speaking tests.  The listening portion started off the test period with two student conversations, followed by two lectures (on human adaptation and Impressionism).

They proved to be fairly difficult with a woman speaker whose lilt and breathy voice made her a challenge to understand for many of the students. But they managed to get through it and onto the speaking portion of the test. And that’s where my kids came in to make their debuts.

I gave them a list of a half-dozen prompts, ranging from “What’s the most difficult sport and why?” to “Summarize how to prepare for a test,” that the kids would present to each student. Stuart, the technology-savvy teen, used the Memo application on his iPod to record each student’s response. Audrey used her iPod to time them (15 seconds to prepare, 45 seconds to speak). Together they managed to record 34 students spoken responses. And from there I am grading each for flow, content, pronunciation and amount of fillers (including those blessed um’s and uh’s). It was an ingenious method, if I do say so myself and allowed me to stay with the class, working on pronunciation and listening via a game of word Bingo.

I couldn’t have done it without the kids. In truth, I’m not sure I could do any of this without them.