Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Reflection #4

I know this happens to teachers all the time, I just didn't anticipate it happening in my second week, and with such a fun lesson!

Many of my students responded in their surveys that they wanted to learn about the lives of American students. So I created a lesson where, the first half, they learn how real high-schoolers talk (minus the "like," which I am guilty of). Basically, saying things like "Hey" and "Hi" instead of "Hello," asking "What's up?" and not saying "Bye-bye." Let me tell you, nothing gets 70 17-year-olds to never say "bye-bye" again like telling them that in America, only babies say it. I don't know where they all learn this, but they do it, and I don't care, but I feel like it's my job to inform them that they sound like 2-year-olds. After I teach them different greetings and all that good stuff, they practice with each other, then I ask for brave volunteers to come up and have a conversation with me (with the Powerpoint slides still up for reference).

In the midst of all this, we do a ton of pronunciation work (changing "gir" to "girl," "wuk" to "work," for instance. Plus, they have a tendency to say "s" for "th," as in "How are sings wis you?"). They feel incredibly silly sticking their tongues out to get the proper "th" sound, and I think they think I'm screwing with them when I tell them people really do greet each other, "Hey, girl!" Overall, though, they love it. With the time leftover, I go over the high-school structure and give the highlights of each year. The girls, as you might imagine, love the idea of prom.

But today, my first class was just aggravating as all get out. Normally, in a class of 60-70, I'll have one sleeper and one kid who is reading. I generally let it slide, because they aren't distracting, and I'm not grading them on this. I'm an extra class. I won't get into a power struggle in a situation where I have no actual power. Today, though, at least 5 kids were asleep - full on, lying back in their chairs, mouths open, OUT. Part of me feels sorry for them - going to school for better than 12 hours a day must totally take it out of you, even if there are breaks for marching/running. The other part of me wants to shake them and point out what an opportunity it is for them that I'm there. Not me in particular; I fancy myself a good teacher, but it's not like I'm striding in telling them that they're so lucky to have me. It's the fact that they have a native speaker in what is pretty much the global language. I may not like the linguistic colonialism that puts English in the mouths of nearly every country on Earth, but it's a fact that English is a prestige language in China, and the presence of a native speaker is something very few Chinese students get.

Then there are the readers. Usually the kids with the comic books try to be discreet and hide the book behind a pile of school books on their desk. Today, though, I had several, and they were sprawled across their desks, completely not giving a crap. Then the rest of the class just sat there, staring at me. I'm used to this sort of thing from American kids on warm Friday afternoons, or the day before Christmas vacation starts, but so far (even with this same class) I hadn't gotten any such behavior from Chinese kids, and I hadn't anticipated that I would. I felt like someone had pumped them full of Benadryl before I got there to see what I would do.

There's usually one kid in each class who's a bit of a do-bee, but if there was one today, she was asleep. The do-bees get on my nerves quickly, but I'm always grateful for them. I wonder if I could pay my BFF Peter to join this class as well as the one he's actually taking with me.

The fact is, there will be classes like this. My second class today was great, and all the rest of the ones this week have gone really well. I'm going to guess it's not me, at least not this time. I'm not above taking responsibility for making my classes interesting, but sometimes you get a group of kids with a crappy attitude, even in Communist China, where I think they're required by law to be enthusiastic.

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