So last week I told Laura (my boss) that I would like to renew my contract and stay here at Huzhou Vocational and Technical School for one more year. There are a few reasons I decided to stay here as opposed to somewhere else.
For one, I only plan on being in China one more year, and if it's just going to be one more year, I'd prefer to be someplace that I am familiar with that I know will be a good, comfortable, safe situation. It's not that someplace else couldn't be better. But, from stories I've heard on the internet and from other foreign teachers, I got pretty lucky landing here. It seems that teaching college kids is preferable to younger kids, the hours are pretty decent, and Laura, Hebe, and Violet (the ladies who help us with any problems we have) have all been fantastic, bending over backward to assist when either Ellis or I would have any problems. In addition they've all become really good friends.
Further, the school takes care of us pretty well. The on-campus apartment they provide is not only pretty nice, it's pretty big, and, by virtue of being on campus and behind the guarded gate, it's safe. (Which is an even bigger plus for Ellis... unfortunately for her, she's been harassed by her share of creepy guys here, both Chinese and foreign.)
Also, they will still give us the airfare bonus stipulated in the previous contract, and the new contract will be effective as soon as the old one ends, meaning it will begin in July and run through next June. This means that they will even pay us in full for July and August... when there are no classes.
I have to say again, in this experience, I feel really lucky to have been connected with this school.
In other news, this last weekend I was asked to be a judge for the Huzhou city oral English competition. There were students competing at six different levels: college kids, high school kids, middle school kids, and 3 levels of elementary school kids, divided by age. It was an all day affair. It wasn't so bad, though it was a bit repetitive at times.
I was surprised to see that, to me at least, it seemed that the middle school kids had a higher level of proficiency than the high school kids. Laura said the same thing and suggested that perhaps it was because high school kids spend so much time preparing for the college entrance exam. (On that note, the college entrance exam in China, is something akin to the SAT, except longer and FAR more important. In the states, your SAT scores can vary in importance depending on your high school grades and extracurricular activities like sports or volunteer work or leadership roles. This means that the SAT, while important, counts for anywhere between 20% and 50% of your admission criteria. The Chinese college entrance exam counts for 100% of the admission criteria. They don't care what you did in school, what your extracurriculars were, the difference between going to an "ok" school vs a "good" school vs an "excellent" is ONLY your score on this exam.)
With the primary school kids we had to watch them give a minute-long presentation, after which we would ask them one question. We (the judges) were given a list of questions to ask the students. It was actually pretty rough, because after you ask a question, you hope and pray that the student says SOMETHING. Too often though, especially with the younger children, they did not, and we were just left with an awkward silence.
On the whole, however, I was very impressed with the English abilities of these kids. And even if their level wasn't fantastic at such a young age, I believe the younger you begin to learn a foreign language, the better, so more power to 'em.