07 January 2024

Last class at the Yangpu Bilingual High School

woodworking tables and chairs

         On January 4th I conducted the final woodworking class of senior middle school students at the YangPu Bilingual school. The school officially refers to this course as Design and Technology but I wasn't made aware of this distinction until I was given the student roster. 

The guardhouse of the closed campus

             I came into this job through Chen Yonggang who has learned to supply contract teaching to school administrators who understand that there is a need to provide their students with handicraft instruction but lack the institutional skills to do so internally. He provides the materials, the teachers, and the projects that the students complete. He mainly hires young women to teach students in primary schools. I agreed to teach the high school aged students since I knew that their English level would have allowed me to actually instruct. Somehow accepting this job compelled me to also teach a class at the primary school level. My reasons for why I didn't think this was a good idea were irrelevant since Chen Yonggang had already promised to the school that he could provide with a foreign teacher.


            As it happened, the school informed me while I was travelling in Hungary that they were not pleased with my classroom management with the primary school students and upset that my class and the one being taught simultaneously in the adjacent classroom were not synchronized. So I guess in the end, my reasons won out. This worked out for the best since I was teaching the primary school students four days a week for . As a result I only needed to commute once a week to Shanghai.

The primary school class schedule

            This seemed to have been the first time that Mr Chen has been contracted for a course at such an upper level and with a western instructor. He decided in advance that the students would make model of a Dougong timberframed structure. He even hired an extra man to develop the prototype that would then be copied by the students. I entered the classroom with this in the back of my mind and stressed to Mr Chen that I needed the model as quickly as possible to help motivate the students onto their main task.   

         To his credit, Mr Chen observed the first class that I taught during which I introduced the themes of timberframing, the research and life of the architect, Liang Sicheng, the tools associated with the trade, and the recent rebuilding of Notre Dame. I conduct this style of lesson in order to gauge the students' level of English. It was evident that there was a wide range of abilities. 

Critical part for the turningsaw project

        Mr Chen confessed to my wife that he was there in the classroom with me on the first day so as to be able to offer me some tips to help me out in the classroom; he, instead, confided in her that he was impressed by the amount of information that I was able to present in an organized manner and how well the students remained focused.  Yeah, it's called teaching.  

Dougong model
            The bulk of the coursework were projects that Mr Chen has developed for his own courses and for sales. One of the projects, for example, was the same folding stool that I have already written about. Other projects included both a bowsaw and a turningsaw, a try square, and chopsticks. In this classroom, the students are given metal vises to hold wood. I donated a few bench hooks from my own failed woodworking school and a few students recognized their utility but there weren't enough. With this in mind and the upcoming dougong model, I decided on teaching the students how to make the Underhill style bench hook. 
Still from Lie Nielsen film studios
        The construction of this bench hook offered the students an opportunity practice layout, crosscutting with their newly made bowsaws, and paring chisel techniques. I thought it was a great addition but Mr Chen wasn't convinced until I showed him the video. And then he was very concerned that I would be teaching the students how to use a chisel. He is as much concerned with the possibility that a student might cut himself as how parents would react when they learned that their investments were being put at risk.

Painter's palette


 contact milkpaint fumes










            I conducted a lesson on making milkpaint on the Thursday before Christmas. There was less enthusiasm for this lesson than I had gotten in the past. There was however a lot of enthusiasm for painting which many students were very talented in. I don't think any of the students understood that the plywood forms represented spherical tree ornaments. Most students treated the precut pattern pieces as a flat board upon which they painted Christmas scenes.

Abandoned decoration

Common photo pose










On the last day, I repeated the instructions as to how the interviews would be conducted and I put a list of names on the whiteboard to help facilitate the sequence. I sat in an adjoining room and waited nearly 15 minutes before I reentered the classroom to remind the class about the interviews. 

Adrian completed the bench hook!

Peter, volunteer bodyguard

Eric and his two saws

Vanessa and her projects

            I got a final opportunity to learn the students' names and get feedback about the course and projects. While I did manage to routinely interact with all the students during the previous months of Thursdays, I wasn't always able to speak with them in a meaningful manner. In the interviews, some students were clearly imitating what they had just learned from their exiting classmates what to expect, having quickly memorized and rattled off answers to questions I had not yet asked. In other instances, the students revealed just how little working vocabulary they acquired: "wood make this."






I finished this last lesson late and discovered that the teaching assistant had already moved onto her next class period. I sent a pic via the social media app, WeChat, to her and she thanked me. Class was over.  

Hammers and saws

painted tool arrangement

As I was leaving the building, I poked my head into the adjacent classroom where an art lesson was being conducted. I saw that the woodworking tools had been repurposed for another teacher's painting class.

Geese and sausage

Bacon and sycamore


The preserved meats one can see streetside in a major metropolis   

To all those who celebrate, Happy Epiphany!

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