Thursday, November 4, 2010

Hit My Stride

Some days, you wake up and everything works perfectly. Today is one of those days. Actually, this week has been one of those weeks.

I think I’ve finally hit my stride in the classroom.

I still have no resources, no guidance and no help but I think I’ve found a way to reach my kids and engage them, and keep them engaged. It was just a matter of time, really. That, and a few pretty severe anxiety dreams.

The first order of business was keeping a journal. I now have a journal for each of my 4 classes so that I can plan lessons, make notes and maintain some sort of continuity in what I’m doing with each group I teach. The second step was giving an honest assessment of my students in each class: not all Sophomores are on the same page and not all Freshmen need induction into the language. For example:

My Monday Sophomores are a very enthusiastic bunch. Some of them are quite the hams, enjoying acting and staging little skits. The assignment: reading body language. They were to plan a skit and act it out so that the rest of us could guess the outcome by reading their body language.

Chris is a wonderful actress! Her skit demonstrated not only how one can go from downtrodden to uplifted to righteous (all in 5 minutes or less, mind you), but also the importance of doing the right thing. Orange (I did not give her her English name; she came to class with it) always plays it so quiet and cool, but she really enjoys these games where she gets to demonstrate her superior intellect, something she should rightfully be proud of.

The key to all of these little games is that I can tie whatever appears to be nonsense I bring to the classroom to their future as businessmen and women. They are seeing that learning does not necessarily mean learning by rote; it can be fun and inventive and creative too. And they are so enjoying it! Especially now that they are over the shock of being assigned little games where they can put their personality into things. I hope I can continue to build this learning community with them, and carry it over into my other classes.

What a wonderful feeling to hit that groove and know you’re on the right path!

That student who turned up at my door: we have worked out a way to make the most of the tutoring sessions. Shelin has confided that her biggest difficulty is listening and understanding English; after a few sessions with her I had to disagree. Her biggest problem is self-confidence: her mother keeps telling her that she should not aspire to graduate school because her skills are so poor. If you start out with that kind of validation, how in the world can you aspire to anything good? No wonder this poor girl’s confidence was shaken!

Shelin is now conversing fluently in English. With a little bit of positive reinforcement that she well deserves because her English skills are anything but poor, she is now spouting English like a native! Well… that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but she is now most comfortable thinking and conversing in English and there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that she will do well on her test.

Unfortunately, she has passed word around to the rest of the student who are studying for that entrance exam, and now I have more students who are requesting individual tutoring. I have to draw a line somewhere; that somewhere is two extra students to tutor. I have learning of my own still to do.

Drawing that line between what I think the school wants me to do and what I am prepared to do is one of those things I had to learn. Fortunately the two are close: the school does not expect me to dedicate my life to teaching, and even taking on two students to tutor is more than expected. I’m really glad to hear that.

And what about getting around town? Here too I’m more comfortable. I have located retail outlets where I can shop more or less comfortably and I’m definitely more comfortable riding around town on the buses by myself. I’m starting to trust the little bit of Chinese I speak, and the more transactions I successfully negotiate on my own, the more confident I become.

Are you hearing the theme to the Mary Tyler Moore Show whispering in the background? “We’re going to make it after all!”

Do I belong in China? That’s still a question I do not have an answer for, being perfectly honest with myself (and with you).

I still can’t imagine myself being anywhere else. When I’m out and about and all I see are shiny black heads bobbing down the street (mounted of svelte, trim bodies, of course – they’re not just random little bobbing heads!) I do not feel strange at all. I try to recall what it feels like to drive a car, to hear only English everywhere I go, to see people of different complexions – in short: to be in America, and I can’t seem to. Maybe these few short months have I have completely acclimated to being here. But do I belong here? Only time will tell.

Time, and maybe going back to the States for a visit.

But for now, no more panic at being in charge of 4 classrooms. No more panic at finding food I’m comfortable eating. No more frustration at being hemmed into a life I didn’t envision when I was dreaming of living here.

I’ve hit my stride.

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