Sunday, April 5, 2015

My New Student

So there I was, actually teaching something for a change, instead of lecturing or playing games that induce my students to speak. We were on the second half of our 90 minute class, after the prescribed 5 minute break when students can visit the restroom, stretch, get some water or check their phones. This being a spectacular day – sunshine and 70s, many simply wandered out of the still chilly classroom to catch some rays. After the 5 minute break, all but 2 returned. Most of my students being honest to a fault, I figured those 2 would soon return and offer a good explanation for their prolonged absence. They did not disappoint.

I've never had anyone walk out of my class and not return. That is another reason I believe in these kids.

Back to teaching. We're working on making our mouths move to make English sounds such as 'V' and 'TH' that don't exist in Chinese. With exaggerated movements I demonstrate how to make such sounds: tuck lower lip under upper teeth and blow out to form 'V'. The students giggled, saying it tickled their lip.

“Excellent!” I said. “That is exactly how it should feel!”

We moved on. Just as I was trying to persuade them to stick their tongues out of their mouths to make the “TH' sound properly, behind me the classroom door opened. As it is rather squeaky, being steel and having been exposed to the elements year 'round, every head including mine turned. There I was, with my tongue hanging out, mid-'TH', to greet whoever was at the door. Turns out, that presence also had his tongue hanging out.

And then, cries of wonderment and nervous laughter. Soon a disturbance toward the back of the room.

A small white dog had nosed the improperly shut door open and trotted in, brushy tail bouncing and flouncing with each step. Unerringly he steered toward the back of the room, to the row where the 2 tardy-from-break students were sitting. Nonplussed but no longer with tongue hanging out, I declared we should welcome our new student. More laughter. Now: could we please focus on learning English pronunciation?

And so the lesson progressed. I have to admit: my teaching appears to be far less engaging than the role play games we play. I don't think it is a reflection on me or my abilities, though. I've visited other classes led by other teachers and the students pretty much react the same way. Or, I should say: don't react. Either way I knew I had lost their attention and was already calculating on recapping this portion of the lesson in next week's session.

Amelia approached me after class. She is the class monitor and, to an extent, my assistant. She is  responsible for helping me keep track of students, clean up the classroom and erase the blackboard. Since I'm still on crutches, I really appreciate her help. Today she looked guilty and apologized for the dog coming into class. Silly child!

What is it with these kids wanting to assume responsibility for everything that goes wrong around me? When I fell and bashed my head open, Summer tried to wrest the blame, even as I knew I had no business being out and about feeling as dizzy as I was. And how many kids have tried to shoulder fault with my having to teach with a broken leg? How many have wanted to do for me, even wanting to petition our department to let me have time off to heal?

That is a part of traditional Chinese culture. Taking blame, especially taking blame away from a revered person is considered honorable. Absolving of blame is the next step in that dance, and that is what I did – or tried to do for Amelia.

“Sweetie, how is a dog coming in here your fault? You couldn't know a dog would...”

“Yes, it is my fault!” she insisted, and then went on to explain.

“When we went for our lunch we found this dog. He was so dirty so we took him to our dorm and washed him, and gave him some food. Now he came to find us!”

This poor child was nearly wailing, so mortified was she that her kindness to a stray animal has brought shame to her foreign teacher. I'm not sure how other teachers would have reacted but I was touched at her humaneness and moved to divest her of her perceived shame. Being as such sentiment is so firmly ingrained in the culture I felt all I could do is detract her from the incident.

Our neighborhood has strays running around everywhere. They meowl, growl and howl lustily when the mood is upon them, at any time of the day or night. Much as I care for animals I don't dare do anything for these ones because I do not have the facilities or, frankly the desire to take care of a horde of abandoned animals. Mostly I wish and hope for an animal protection society, such as those in other countries to intervene.

But here: one child with a kind heart shared her lunch and bathed this one admittedly beautiful dog. That animal has now latched on to her, going so far as to scent her out among the thousands of students in this walking around this college, and track her down to the very classroom and the seat she occupied in it. Furthermore, he was not to be deterred, by a partially closed door, the stifling air of academia or other students who tried to call it or pet it as it made its way to her. It stayed focused on the one person who most recently recognized it as a sentient being with needs.

High credit goes to Amelia who took this one furry being and transformed it from an unclaimed, dirty stray to a beautiful creature with a gleaming white pelt. But, let's not forget the dog himself. Having immediately abandoned the 'stray' mentality – if there is such a thing, in his doggy little mind he recognized her and meant to repay her kindness with lifelong devotion if allowed, even if it meant interrupting my class.

Not that I want dogs running pell-mell in my class but this one time...

It is so nice to have someone so fundamentally good standing right in front of you that you just have to reach out and touch him/her to see if s/he is real. Thus Amelia was the recipient of a heartfelt hug, and then I wiped her little tear of shame away. Smiling again, she wished me a happy rest of the week, and then she left the room, her little dog trotting behind her.    

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