Sunday, May 17, 2009

Confusions, Conundrums, Cultural challenges... (Hoppy Palace #4)

(photos: scenes from the Kowloon Tong mall which seemed to illustrate my current life's confusions ...)

The new center of the "Hoppy Palace" opened this week and I had to conduct a series of "trial classes" which were, truly, a trial.
During these sessions we teachers each take 6-8 children and assess their English skills and assign workbooks.

The "orange" workbooks are bright yellow, but when I asked our principal if we couldn't just call them the "yellow" books, she said, "Oh no, these are the orange books. See, it says 'orange' right here." And she helpfully pointed to the word "orange" printed at the top of the book list.

At least half of the two dozen different "orange" books are labeled "Book 1". So somehow I have to figure out the difference between Book 1 Elementary, Book 1 Basic, Enrichment Book 1, and Level 2 Book 1.... not to mention Intermediate Book 1, Advanced Book 1, and Advanced Book 1 Level 2.

Then there are the "Book 1's" in the additional colors of blue (which are white), pink, green and purple.

I spent hours at home trying to figure out the system, and could not. For the first time since moving to Hong Kong, I was in tears, wondering how on earth I could be to be fair to each child.

So yesterday I had 8 children delivered to my minuscule "classroom" which consists of two plastic tables and six wobbly plastic kiddie chairs (one of them already occupied by yours truly, so you can see where we had a problem from the get-go). They were mostly preschoolers and kindergartners, so my first order of business was to launch into cheery story-telling mode, which was not enough to keep two of the tiniest from bursting into tears, and a third little one from escaping down the hallway.

I was grateful for our three front office staff who came in, spoke in soothing Cantonese, and got the little people quieted down enough so that I could do my individual assessments: Four kids with no apparent English skills whatsoever: Easy, Book 1. Two kids who knew all their English alphabet and most of the animal names... ummm Book 1 Elementary, perhaps? And the big ten year old who looked properly disgusted to be in the same room with the rest of us? Maybe I'd better see what those white, um, blue books are all about...

Uh-oh, without any name tags, I managed to mix up Ling Ho Wing and Leung Hau Wing... quick get two new assessment forms.

Afterwards, dozens of anxious parents want to know my opinion of their progeny.

"He/she is a wonderful, beautiful, smart child," I say, "very eager to participate and I think he/she will learn very quickly."

I believe that, I really do.

"Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth." -- Luke 3:5 (taken totally out of context, but I'm still claiming the promise)

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