Green hated Halloween. Although she let me write in a non-book lesson for the week of Halloween, she mostly ignored my efforts. I simply figured that she was afraid of ghosts or something like that, but in fact, she really hated all holidays. In China, holidays are about spending money that you don't have and committing to family obligations. Being poor and tired means that the airs that you have to put on for family leave you exhausted. She left me alone to do my work and she hated that too. It was her school and she wanted to have an important role.
I would do a Halloween activity for my evening classes and then I would do a Halloween activity for my weekend morning classes. I enjoyed teaching about the holiday and giving the kids a chance to do a little art project, sing songs, and experience a little joy. I loved the lessons. They were some of my most joyful. I remember some years, leaving the building and seeing Green at her desk, not acknowledging me. The effort meant nothing to her. Only on the last couple of years at the end, did she buy materials and decorate the room. It was great but in all of those years from 2008 onward she was largely ignorant of the holiday traditions, popular activities, and decorations.
2009 was a pivotal year. I had realized that I had to make a record of my work. The schools didn't credit me for the impact I was having. In fact, there was resentment when you are a foreign teacher who was paid well, given a light schedule, and hugely popular with the students. Local teachers, understandably, hated you for being beautiful. With photography, I had a record of my work. With photography, I could collect memories from exhilarating moments that went unrecognized. The classroom laughter would end and I would exit the classroom and enter the gray, "what-are-you-so-fuck'n-happy-about world." My DSLR was great for capturing moments but it was not ideal for taking photos when I was in the middle of a busy classroom. It wasn't until 2012, when I bought an Ipad, that I could teach my lessons and record the activities at the same time.
I am not much of an artist and so I projected images on the screen and traced in pencil. The decorations were simple and took a long time to make. Some years I could recruit part time teachers to decorate. Other years I was on my own.
Over the weekends, I had 4 classes and day of students as young as 7 and as old as 14. I had to make activities that required as little preparation and possible but could entertain all of the students. One of my favorite activities involved dangling a ghost on a string and having a blind-folded student search for it with only English instructions as a guide. The class would shout, "go straight, turn left, hands up, go back. The sensory experience of being blindfolded was really interesting for the students. This activity worked for about 20 minutes with all levels.
Another one of my favorite activities was an art project. Students made a jack-o-lantern scene with colored tissue paper. I would buy sheets of colored tissue paper from the stationary store. The students had to tear and ball up pieces and paper and then glue it to a black piece of construction paper. This activity took up a lot of time. It was a well appreciated mental break from school work, and it added to the decorations on the walls.
In 2012, I had the class color bat cut-outs. I made these with a DIY stencil. I spend a few hours the day before tracing and drawing a haunted tree trunk, by enlarging it on the projector screen. When the students made their bats, they would tape them to the tree poster.
Teaching and learning don't stop during a Halloween class. There are instructions to follow and words to learn. The students got to understand the meaning of certain activities. And the teacher cannot help but to emphasized what Halloween means to them. For me, the holiday is not about hoarding candy and scaring the hell out of your neighbors. Halloween is a festival where you can showcase your creativity. I most look forward to seeing interesting costumes and make-up, door decorations, and imagining an alternative world where scary things lurk in the dark. The smell of frankincense and dead leaves remind us that the season is changing. the warm pumpkin of the carved Jack-O-Lanterns foreshadow the pumpkin pies to come. The smells take me back to my childhood.
I wanted the students to experience what it was like to wear Halloween costumes. It would be silly to wear a costume to class and receive curious glances from Chinese pedestrians. Most students have no idea where to buy materials for a Halloween costume. So I bought various capes and masks from the stationary stores and a department store shop.
I didn't have enough money to buy enough materials for every student. Through my thrift, I created an activity. The class had to work in teams of four or five. One student acted as the mannequin and the teammates had to use the materials to dress him or her up. It felt like a competition between two teams. They yelled and draped each other in colored fabric and had a ridiculously good time.
Green and I never saw eye to eye on most things. As a teacher, I wanted order. As a business person, she wants to students to have fun. Since she doesn't have a background in this holiday, it was especially frustrating when she wouldn't listen to my way of organizing things. On only a few occasions did she try to step in and add her input during an activity. I reminded her that the execution stage of a plan is not a time to add new details to a plan. She didn't like that very much and so when an activity was too big for me to handle on my own and her assistance was absolutely necessary, things got messy. I had years of experience and plenty of material to reuse from years past. I didn't need to re-invent Halloween year after year. But for someone who had an aversion towards holidays in the first place, their method for creating a festival party for children will be no holiday.
But the great thing about Halloween and the great thing about photos is that very little can really ruin my love for the students and the unique experience I can give to them.