Monday, May 30, 2005


One good event to keep my mind off my er... light workload is the Intrax Ping Pong championships. A great idea that has occurred only once previously. It will be in the afternoons for the next three afternoons, with single prelims tomorrow, doubles prelims the next day and the championship finals on the Thursday. It should be very interesting. I have a couple of intense rivalries with players so it will be interesting to see how it pans out. I have a reasonable chance of winning either of the competitions.

I have gained a couple of new tricks since my return. One of them is being able to reflect smash shots, which is something I could never do (although I have vivid memories of a former Chinese student doing it to perfection years ago). Doing so, in itself can be a winning shot because when you smash you expect to win the point immediately (or hit the net immediately and lose a point) and it is psychologically strange to have to play it again, and sometimes difficult because it comes back only marginally slower than it is hit, and when it comes from me, it comes bearing a little spin too. There is one kind fellow, who has me as a bogeyman. He is a good smasher, can smash anything really, but tends to smash very straight (not to the corners). A usual point with him will be him swinging successive smashes at me, with me flicking them back each time till his frustrations get the better of him and he hits it into the net. The most important thing is to stay close to the table (unless it is an overhead smash).

The Japanese student who, with me, restarted the ping-pong fad originally struggled to reclaim his prowess (being the only person who has actual ping-pong competition experience), but now is coming into form. He underspins it better than me, although just recently I have discovered a few ways to repel his serves. But he can be unplayable, with some of his arsenal. One other factor that opens the door is that the other teacher who plays ping-pong has been tied up in the new course he is running and it is nice to play a little before going into matches like that.

Probably the greatest danger for me now is my serving. Traditionally my serves are lethal against anyone who doesn't understand spin but seemingly innocuous to anyone who has played me in a few games. In fact, one of my core serves can be easily preyed upon in doubles matches leaving my slow partner no time to get to the inevitable cross-court shot.

One interesting fact about doubles is that it is not necessarily the pairings that matter, but who receives from who. I am better, of course, against the smashers and the spinners. Anyone who serves flat and fast or places the ball with speed gives me nothing to work with and can reduce me to my simply return shots, which in turn can set up a smash shot at my less accomplished partner.

So yeah, a report will follow tomorrow evening about the results (or my crying disappointment).

Sunday, May 29, 2005

My Studies

I am in the depths of study. My mind has been taken over by the urge to learn and recoup my Chinese knowledge. Last time I was in China, I picked up a pile of books to help me learn, and I have picked up one that has been not only helpful but interesting. I want to go through it as much as possible. My speaking and listening have picked back to a respectable level (respectable by my standards). In this little work hiatus, I will be aiming to get all the knowledge I can about both the HSK (Chinese exam) and the Japanese Proficency test and even check if there is an equivalent Korean test. And then bulk up on my knowledge of all of them.

My mental immersion into Chinese brings some thoughts of what I can achieve with a bit of mental elbow-grease. I found myself correcting one of my common language learning mistakes: that is, learning in an undirected fashion, e.g. just reading the newspaper and learning words from it. That is not to say it is bad, but a lot more can be achieved with directed learning. Undirected learning is for the bus. Directed learning is for a set time devoted to learning.

Anyway, my last morning of set work for four weeks is tomorrow so I will go freshen my mind, basking in the moonlight on my bed.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


Well, it has been an interesting day. All that follows is the contents of my subjective mind. And most of it is just the verbal download to enable me to sleep soundly, without mental discord.

Clouds have been brewing a while at work. Recently, the American headquarters of my language school has been tightening the purse strings. This distressed a co-worker who suddenly found the course he was planning no longer existed anymore. Then came the staff meeting on the Tuesday which talked about the changes which didn't seem all too bad, such as a four week cycle, new textbooks to be used etc. etc. AND there was indications that their were going to be fewer teaching positions than there would be teachers, in the short term.

Following the staff meeting, some of us had individual meetings with the management, to talk about our desired future classes. Since I had taken the last two weeks with the mornings off, they asked me whether I wanted to continue that way. I said I did not and that I would like to work.

I had chosen to do without morning work (for a short time) as a way to save myself from my own commitments to the school. I had said I would simultaneously plan two courses and teach, which I found was not possible while keeping my brain together, so accepted (at what is lower pay) mornings off to 'save' the afternoon higher course, tidy up the lower course and do the things I was procrastinating.

This was also a good benefit to me, admittedly, because I had fallen off my applications to primary schools and hadn't had much time to devote to my other studies. But now the lower course has reached 12 weeks! That means it needs much less maintenance as it repeats. I don't need to work on it much longer. And the higher class is the only thing that I need to bother with for the afternoon.

Now, comes the punchline - due to the aforementioned budget restraints and limitations caused by student numbers I won't have fixed morning work for the next four weeks, perhaps indefinitely. In one way, I am rather annoyed and another way I see it as a rational decision. I took the time off in the mornings, in part, for the company. If it were not for the task of maintaining both afternoon courses, I would not have asked for the time off. I have put a lot of my own time into the school and accepted less weekly pay for it. And to be told that I won't be required full-time after that, does cause me to feel a little knocked back.

But, I can't see any other worker that deserves work less than me. One has a mortgage, I would cede work to him. The 'meek' one, formerly mentioned, has lost a lot of income in the labour shortage here already and won't be fully employed even in the new arrangement. The other teacher also has rarely had a regular supply of work, yet is bound to stay longer than me and be more useful to the company. There are lots of pragmatic aspects for the school, which I console myself with.

But at the same time, I should rightfully be the first to go, as stated, I was always there just to get me through to my first primary teaching position. The threat of my rapid departure has been there for some time, and has probably made the decision of management to choose this path much easier. One plus will be to cause me to push me harder to find a primary position - which has been my original goal. All disappointment at being denied work is because of my wrong attachment to the language school. A very important point for me to see.

Anyway, financially, this means going on a tight budget even to maintain my current cash level (making me wish I hadn't paid off the student loan in full). It will mean slashing my discretionary spending which has been high since I started work. My income works out at about $1200 less for the next four weeks.

The second curious happening today is being mildly censured for my ramblings on this blog. It ain't just airline hostesses who have this trouble it seems. The censure was on these grounds:

(1) I don't know the full details of certain events, so I shouldn't portray things as if they were fact.
(2) I used the wrong title for a person, the person I called the administrator, is actually the head teacher. I called this person the administrator as this person assumed the role of the person I formerly called, "the administrator".
(3) I made comments that could be distressing for people mentioned in my tales.
(4) If I have qualms about the head teacher's performance, I should just tell him.

I think (1) is a 'don't go there' point. EVERYONE has perceptions, just because they are written down rather than spoken or thought, it doesn't make them any less real to me. If anyone believes this is any more than my opinion and subjective perception though, please re-educate yourselves. If you believe me, you'll believe anything.

Comment number (2) could be a pertinent point - although I think it is rather semantic. The head teacher, in the time that I am referring to, was not 'teaching'. He was allocating classes, drawing up class rolls, handling testing, evaluating teachers, preparing professional development and courses. It was for these roles that I was referring to as belonging to an administrator. It doesn't really matter to the substance of my comments but simply the name of the role...

Comment (3) is a more real concern, except for the fact that I do not e-mail those people. They have no other way of getting my blog address. And if I were to send something to them, I would remove the signature to my e-mail which is the only source of my blog address. Although it is VERY pertinent that the only reason for me being censured here and now was that I forgot to remove my signature when forwarding something to the head teacher. So obviously I'm not careful enough. But I have found that the signature function is more flexible than I thought. I can now add it whenever I want. And it is not the default to add it anymore.

Comment (4) was a surprising thought. I am highly outspoken on most things. I wrote an e-mail last week directly referring to problems and criticism to the head teacher and the school. I DO say things to him. Actually I was worried that I made too many suggestions, and that it might seem patronising. I think everyone needs a mentor, and perhaps I was mistaken in believing I could give him advice or feedback.

One good thing is that I have been wanting the head teacher to be more upfront and challenge his own communication issues (what I see as issues, at least). And he came to me directly about this. So maybe it is a sign of improvement (although he didn't come to me straight away to say that I wouldn't have work - so I had to go in and ask directly - although there was eventually a meeting late in the day).

So as the smoke clears I see myself with a very different May/June to what I expected. One bad side is that soon as I heard, my motivation to work for the company has plummeted. I can only motivate myself for working for the students and myself, and not be constructive for the company. I found it hard to even think of what to supply to the reliever for tomorrow morning. I hope he manages my former students depend on it. Now, I realise, I can claim that time as preparation. I would never have noticed otherwise, it was formally a natural function of working.

Plans now, broaden job search - Primary schools are annoying the hell out of me.
Rig up language exchange - I am motivated like never before.
Get fit - I have no excuse.
Start writing again - maybe that is the gold mine future I have always underestimated.
Relinquish my responsibilities at Intrax - get mentally divorced from the job

Perhaps I should do some formal planning. Anyway, time to shut my eyes for the night.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Quote from an acquaintance

In 2001, while on a Habitat for Humanity build, I met a guy called Sandor Lau (Sandor is pronounced Shon-door). I only found out later what a talented, motivated person he was. He is a Fulbright Scholar. I spotted him on Asia Down Under (presenting just one item on the Auckland Film Festival). And then he appeared with a documentary on both TV1 and Maori TV, Behaviours of a Backpacker, both times I missed. It is on the Asian Film Festival though, next Sunday at 4pm (paired with another short movie).

Anyhow, with the knowledge that he obviously had the desire to push himself to the top (something I have a lot of admiration for), I wasn't surprised to hear him on Radio New Zealand this morning, commenting about the scandal of the Ba'athist party members being found in NZ. He was rather forthright with his views, delivering a wonderfully rhetorical leftish spiel. He did have one humorous, but meaningful line:

"War is just terrorism with a budget"
He then went on to assert that members of the British Labour Party and Americans in general should be treated with high suspicion if they should want to come to New Zealand as the war against Iraq is considered illegal by Kofi Annan etc.
Anyhow, I will be looking forward to more from him, and hopefully will finally see his film.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Optimal Self-efficacy

You could almost call me a confidence man, because simply I have an unreal sense of confidence in many of my skills. One thing that we learnt in the education course is that self-efficacy (your belief that you can pull something off) is one of the most crucial determiners of success. Well for teaching English in general I have very strong belief. Even though I have produced some lacklustre performances, I still believe that I am not just a good teacher, but an exceptional teacher.

Of course, beliefs like this are not necessarily true. For example, for most of my teens and early twenties I was psychologically tall. Why? For a short time, I was pretty tall for my age. I got a literal "head"start on many of my classmates, before they shot past. For some reason, that belief of superiority and height advantage were frozen in time and mind. Ever since I have never been concerned about height, even when others seem to emphasise the importance of it.

Since I came back teaching English, I still have had the positive belief about my teaching despite some less than convincing performances. But over the weekend I engineered a little teaching miracle. I was given the responsibility of saving a course and maintaining another. In a curious turn, even the student who left my "lower" class has joined the higher class I'm teaching. So I have increased the roll! In a word, I fulfilled my vision of myself perfectly. The theoretical model of Daniel as a good teacher became true. And it was a good feeling.

The classes I have produced are challenging - two observers were a little rattled at how much responsibility and tasks I was throwing onto the students. Maybe that is a drawback already and something I will need to think about. Some students are in shock that I am making them do work - this class is becoming a "Just do it!" class. Actually I think that is a good idea to really instill explicitly from tomorrow.

Either way, challenges are still there for me too. Like how can I maintain this. I am just thankful for the mornings off.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Zhen-de pressure!

It really was a case of a whirlwind week in the fishbowl that is my language school - but the main consequence is that now I am twice as busy as I was before. Here's how it happened:

As you may know I have been developing a course. Well, actually it is one half of a pair of courses, me planning and teaching the lower of the two. The higher level of the two being planned and taught by two different people. It had always seemed on the precipice of disaster. There was not enough time for it to be planned (the planner being burdened with other tasks), the teacher, as talented as he is, was struggling with the dearth of materials and his other obligations (he is doing a correspondence course and buying a house). But not to worry, he was changing from that class to prepare another course, handing the upper course on to a new recruit, let's just call him Kate.

On Friday (two weeks ago), after taking my class to a hair salon, a student from my class told me that they wanted to try a different class for the last two weeks they were at our school. I said that was fine, and made a few suggestions on what she should do.

After a peaceful weekend, then came a very unusual Monday (last Monday). The planner and teacher of the higher course decided to meet with students first to ask how the new teacher was and to ask what they thought of the course. Apparently it was very sobering, the students being rather outspoken about some of their dissatisfaction. The meeting stretched and alarm bells were ringing. Then I heard that the student from my class I talked to on the Friday and one student from the higher class had discussed with the Japanese counsellor about their unhappiness with their course earlier. After Monday, we had an informal meeting, a prelude to a Tuesday formal meeting to address the issues. The Tuesday meeting, brought to my attention that there were some not so apparent qualms with how I had been planning and executing my lessons.

Wednesday brought the management into class to discuss with the class their exact feelings and recommendations (without the teachers present). The outcome of this was interesting. Suddenly it was more clear. There were some students who were not happy but majority were not in my course. Whew! But there are still a lot of changes to make... BUT, a very important change suddenly became necessary. The new recruit, who was unfairly dropped into the burning house that was the higher course, asked for something more structured.

The decision was made on Thursday: I would teacher the higher class, Kate would teacher the lower class. I would be preparing my afternoon classes, Kate's afternoon classes and of course still attend to my morning classes. The upper classes would be converted to a free-form conversation/activity class with me having carte blanche and responsibility for every aspect of it. Man!

To be honest, I said that the aforementioned workload was fine with me. And I can claim the hours I spend on it for my wages.

I am suffering a little from stress I believe. My muscles being tense and I seem rather tense even when I think I am relaxing (something Xin noticed). This became more obvious at about 4am on Saturday morning when I awoke rigid and stressed. I think my mind had been puzzling over it during the night.

Fortunately my Saturday commitment collapsed and I was free in the evening to have a creative burst solving most of the pressing problems. Many of the ideas had been brewing on the Friday but maybe some of it was developed when I should have been resting on Friday night...

Either way, I am on my way through this bottleneck... But I am planning perhap another morning week off.