We are continuing our series of 2017 Annual Chinese Teaching Conference blogposts with an interview with Kay McLeod, who is the Confucius Classroom Manager at Beths Grammar School. Kay has very kindly taken some time to answer questions about the workshop she will be doing at the Conference on Friday 23rd June.
Hello Kay! Your workshop at this year’s Conference is titled ‘Student-Led Chinese Outreach’. Can you please tell us a bit about it?
Yes! This year I tried a new initiative in which I arranged for older students to promote our school’s achievements in Chinese learning by teaching short workshops to children in local primary schools.
The initial project worked so well (for all involved!) that I am intending to embed it as a regular part of my school’s Confucius Classroom outreach programme. It could also play a part in the expansion of the MEP, for any schools with a responsibility to recruit satellite schools to the programme. My workshop will be a chance for colleagues to hear first-hand how an outreach project like this can be organized and conducted, and how students themselves benefit from it. I also hope we can brainstorm just a bit as well, and come up with more approaches to student-led outreach. Perhaps there are even some colleagues who’ve built similar projects before, who can share their experiences and expertise.
- How did you become interested in student-led outreach?
It arose out of necessity, initially – I wanted to offer support for a local primary school’s Chinese New Year celebrations. The primary colleagues had asked if I could arrange some some language “taster” sessions, but my colleagues and I were all under too much pressure to be able to take time out for the event ourselves. So I gave my Year 12 students a few lunch-time training and preparation sessions and sent them off to see how they fared. Sure enough, they really enjoyed the experience, learned to organize themselves as a team, and had an opportunity to build their professional confidence in leaving their familiar routines and using their Mandarin skills to promote the subject they are so proud of.
I firmly believe that our students are our most effective ambassadors. Quite apart from their subject knowledge, in my experience students are at their best when they are outside the school context – there they are at their most mature, organised, collaborative, creative, resourceful, etc. – and this is a force none of us really have enough occasion to harness to the students’ benefit.
- You have been coming to the Conference for a few years now. Why do you feel it is important to attend the IOE CI Conference?
That’s right, I try to come every year if I can, though this is the first year I’ll be delivering a workshop. There are two main reasons I think it’s important. Firstly, of course, it’s a vital professional forum where we can all keep each other up-to-date on the latest key information about Chinese teaching in the UK – from changes in exam specifications to learning about exciting new initiatives such as the Mandarin Excellence Programme. Secondly, more personally, the Conference has been an annual source of enormous encouragement and inspiration for me, a chance to “reset” my professional aspirations to include all kinds of ideas, both new and revisited, that I come across during the two days.
- You spent some time as an interpreter for a Chinese Opera group. Can you tell us a bit more about this and how you got the job?
That’s right. After graduating from Edinburgh University’s Chinese department I was lucky enough to get an informal internship as the in-house translator for the Jiangsu Province Kun Opera Theatre in Nanjing. The internship lasted for two years as I just couldn’t bear to leave! I can’t overstate how influential this period was on my love of Chinese culture and my desire to help others access its richness for themselves. I still try to visit the theatre whenever I can get to Nanjing. My office was in a beautiful ancient courtyard and I shared it with a composer and a clown – what more could one ask for? Above all, the people I worked with made me feel part of the “work unit” – in particular one of the troupe’s veteran xiaochou-type actors named Ji Shaoqing became both my teacher and my friend, patiently talking me through any difficult historical references or obscure allusions in the texts.
Kun Opera is a particularly beautiful form of Chinese opera, and very old – most of the operas and scenes I worked on are written in classical Chinese (for the libretti) and a mix of early Qing vernacular and Suzhou dialect. If you are not sure whether you can “get into” Chinese opera or if you’re just not experienced in listening to it, Kun opera is a good place to start with its vast repertoire, including plots based on ancient legends or historical figures, and its beautiful haunting melodies. And of course, if you ever have the chance, take your students to see it live! Last year my own old troupe visited London and I was able to bring my sixth-form students to see real live Kunqu in Covent Garden – what a treat.
- And finally, to new Chinese teachers coming into the profession, what advice would you give?
I would say: allow no upper limit to your expectations of your students; show them you always expect more, whether it’s better tones, better stroke order, more complex structures, faster reading comprehension, more fluent speaking, no matter what it is. In particular, build high expectations by teaching in the target language more than you are comfortable with – I find this a good rule-of-thumb for new teachers. Remember: with the world in flux, this generation of Western Mandarin students will represent a paradigm shift in the not-too-distant future, so they need to be able to access the best level of proficiency they can reach, MEP or no MEP. We owe it to them to expect the very best they can achieve.