Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Whole New Crop

With the new semester came a whole new crop of students. Victor speaks Oxford English because he is from South Africa. I speak American English. Thus it was decided that Victor and I should swap classes, in order to give the kids maximum exposure to the diversity of the English language. We’ve known about the swap since last semester, and I made it a point of informing my kids, much to their disappointment. And mine, too.

Originally I thought it was the height of cruelty of the school administrators, taking away the kids I had bonded with and replacing them with kids that Victor had tainted. Mind you, there is a measure of prejudice in my saying that Victor tainted the kids; I do not know how Victor does as a teacher. He may far outshine me. Or, he may have turned them off learning English forever. His attitude toward me so far, except for that one time of confessing his longing for his homeland, would certainly convince me I would not want anything to do with anything Victor. I wonder what the kids would think of our teaching styles: same or different? Better or worse?

I do have to confess that, just for a while, I wondered if Victor had persuaded the administrators to engineer the class swap because I had a gravy schedule and his was a bit more difficult to manage. Last semester I had class on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, with my Wednesday class load ending at noon. Thus I had nearly a five-day weekend, every week. He held class on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, giving him only Saturday, Sunday and Monday off. He had to be on campus by Tuesday night for his early Wednesday session. Clearly I had the better schedule. However, that suspicion became a moot point once we got our schedules for the new semester because all of the classes had changed.

My new schedule is again a river of gravy. I have only one early class: Tuesday morning, 8AM, in Teaching building 2; not only is it as close to my apartment as possible, but my classroom is on the first floor. My other classes are all on Thursday, and the earliest one is at 10AM. I simply could not ask for better.

When I greeted the kids for this new semester, many of them were shocked to find me leading their class, rather than Victor. It seems he had not informed any of his students of the swap and they were expecting him to teach. It was up to me to inform them of the Administration’s decision, and that’s when I learned how Victor was appreciated.

Here is the start to my standard speech to explain the swap: “Are you surprised that I am here? Hold on, let me go put on my Victor suit.” I then mimed putting on a costume. “There, I am now wearing my Victor suit: is that better?” Laughter from the kids and a responding smile from me. Then: “Victor is a good teacher, but…” invariably, before I could explain the administrative decision based on Victor’s and my language difference, someone, or several someones would pipe up “NO! He’s not!” I would feign shock and anger, but inside I was gleeful at this revelation.

Am I mean, or what?

I recall all the times Victor’s students needed help and he sent them to my apartment, even though he was home, and they knew he was home. All those times I had reached out to him and he had spurned my advances, even though they were only superficially friendly. I have yet to get friendly with him; he hasn’t given me the chance to be friends. The few times he has offered conciliatory gestures, such as offering to introduce me to people he knew in the Wuhan education arena or showing me around town, he has not followed through on them. His body language at English Corner and in general.

I guess I can’t blame some of the kids for saying he might not be the best teacher. But on the other hand, I don’t have to be so happy with the knowledge that I am well loved and have a good reputation and good standing with students and administrators alike, while his reputation… is what he made it. That’s neither charitable nor kind, to say nothing of unprofessional of me. And what does it say about my competitive nature that, to this day, surprises me with its fierceness?

To misquote Forrest Gump: “Victor is as Victor does”. He has earned what he has got, and so have I. And now, I have a whole new crop of kids to reach out to, to give a positive learning experience to, to empassion with English and with culture, to dazzle and wow, and to bond with. Some of them I know from last semester, when they would come by my class, just to see what I was teaching. That actually happens quite often. I get a lot of visiting students, either from Victor’s classes or from other departments, who are just interested in what’s going on. See what I mean about reputation? Some of the students I only know from English Corner and some I know to be refugees of Victor’s: when they sought his help and he sent them to me instead of helping them himself.

We’ve now had two sessions together; school started again last week. I can tell the kids are enjoying my ‘home made’ curriculum fashioned last semester, when I had nothing but my imagination to rely on to reach and teach the kids. I know I have their attention because no one is playing with their cell phone and plenty are making eye contact. Several are active participants and others have already volunteered topics that they would like to explore. While I can’t say that I am now a seasoned veteran of the classroom, I can say that I have more experience than I did last semester when, terrified, I faced group after eager group of kids and had no idea what to do with them.

I may not bond as fiercely with this group as I did with ‘my kids’, but there will be bonding and mutual learning. There will be laughter and there will be tears, and there will be a sharing of experiences. These kids and I will grow together because I still have so much to learn. And they have already shown me they are great teachers.

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