Middle school musical

The evening in question took place last week at the middle school where we, Simon and I, had been asked along to judge a series of English-themed acts prepared by classes from grades 1 and 2. I have recently found that there are three middle schools in Shishan. I already knew about Shimen Experimental and non-experimental middle schools (easily confused, especially considering they are right next to each other!) because of the other foreign teachers we have met who teach there. The other school is probably the public (not as in ‘Eton’, ‘Harrow’, etc.) option. I’ve heard from the teachers that we know that the other Shimen schools each hold around 3000 students, so there’s probably close on 10,000 middle-schoolers in Shishan. Thankfully we had only been asked to judge the English proficiency a very small proportion of Shishan’s school population.

Naturally, we were given only a few hours’ notice, but it’s very easy to say ‘yes’ to Jojo (head of English in our school), who’s always a delight when we see her. We made our own way to Shimen Experimental middle school, getting some food along the way. We easily knew our way to the school, having been there only a week before to play a football match between the teachers of our respective schools (we won, of course!). But this wasn’t enough to convince Jojo, who called me multiple times to ensure we had found the right place. When we arrived at the ‘venue’ (way before Jojo and co.), we were ushered to the front row of a chaotic lecture auditorium which was filled with excited early teens, many complete with props and dress. A few parents had come to watch too. Sat alongside us were four more foreign teachers who had similarly been roped in for judging duty. We never really got an opportunity to find out their story – by the time the 20+ acts were over we couldn’t get out quick enough! It seemed strange that we had lived here for 8 months without ever seeing any of them.

The spectacle went off with a bang when one boy took to the stage with a rendition of a Michael Jackson. His dancing, complete with moonwalk, was incredible; his English inaudible. I’m afraid I didn’t give him a very high score. The whole evening was ably hosted by a boy and girl who struggled manfully against an audience completely disinterested in what they had to say because it was all in English. Most of the acts were groups singing (sort of) and dancing along to horrible pop songs and two renditions of ‘My Heart Will Go On’, following the recent release of Titanic in 3D. The best acts to watch were the short plays. We had The Ugly Duckling with very amusing costumes, Cinderella, and, best of all, Romeo and Juliet. All stories presented a deviation from the traditional story, which I’m not sure was always deliberate. The Romeo and Juliet short, as well as presenting the best English, was the funniest, with Juliet’s father putting in a star performance. The worst act was also a short play entitled ‘Captain China’, which was an unrehearsed, uncoordinated, incomprehensible shambles, fronted by a maverick child whose unwavering self-confidence was unnerving.

The evening, just like most school shows at home, drew on way too long and produced a slightly disappointing standard (apart from the moment that one’s child takes to the stage, of course!). None was more restless and fidgety than Jojo, who was sat behind us. I felt the level of English on display was particularly disappointing. The trend in Chinese schools is that  the children’s reading and writing far exceeds their oral English. I’m sure this was true of these children, who probably weren’t given the time to do themselves justice. I was called on to judge in similar, scaled-down circumstances for grade 3 in our school, and I walked away from the Experimental middle school convinced that my children could do much better in a few years’ time!



2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Hannah
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 04:50:59

    Didn’t you say the school was called “Experimental”?? Hmmm sounds slightly tedious… I’m sure your pupils will be fluent!


  2. Judith Ross
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 03:49:13

    It sounds like a bit of a nightmare!


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