I've often expounded on the mirth, merriment and joy of teaching in China but I have never compiled a collection of such moments even though I've written individual articles about some of those times. Now seems a good time, just starting out my seventh year of leading classes, to reflect on some of the funnier (and more embarrassing) times in the classroom. I hope you will end up gasping for breath from laughing, like I did, and still do as I recall these most funny moments.
Getting to Class:
With the ink barely dry on my TESOL certificate, I set about finding my new job. In short order I was fortunate to be accepted at Wuchang Institute of Technology. I had only ever done on-the-job safety training in an industrial setting, with plenty of modern technology to aid in presenting material. Teaching an academic subject was going to be all new.
Teaching in China was going to be all new. Only having a blackboard and a supply of white and colored chalk was going to be all new, too. Not having any materials to teach from or any other teaching aids was definitely going to be a challenge. But by far, the biggest challenge was going to be finding my classroom.
Sure, directions to my first class looked simple: teaching building 2, 6th floor. It was easy enough to find building 2; it had a big, golden '2' on it. Already anxious over how things were going to be, I followed the tide of students up the stairs. 4th floor, 5th floor... and that's where the stairs ended! How to get to the 6th floor?
I went back downstairs to ask the security guard, sitting at the desk in the lobby, how to get to the 6th floor. Even though I used my best broken Chinese – I barely spoke a few words of Mandarin when I first got here, he could not understand what I was saying. I was ready to die of embarrassment: how can I lead a class when I can't even find the room? One of my students, going to class herself, volunteered to lead me to our room... up the stairs located in the BACK of the building!
A Day at the Zoo:
I was guest lecturing in another university. As usual there was no curriculum to follow and the stress of encountering a new group and what to do with them were crushing. The way around that is to get the students to talk. “What was your first experience with a foreigner?” I asked them.
One girl timidly raised her hand, offering up her story. “I was 10 years old. My father took me to the zoo...” and that's as far as she got, because I burst into laughter In my imagination, this girl and her father went to the zoo, only instead of animals, all manner of foreigners were in the cages! Some looked bored, some looked lonely, some prowled around their cages restlessly. A few slept, while eager Chinese tapped on the bars to elicit some reaction from the caged foreigners.
As my laughter grew, so did the image in my head. Outside each cage, signs advertising what type of foreigner was inside, where they come from, what they like to eat, and their normal way of life. A few lucky zoo visitors got to witness foreigner feeding time and some excitedly drew to the big tent, where the foreigners would put on a show (as in an animal zoo). In a special building, a foreigner nursery, where baby foreigners were being cared for.
Meanwhile, this poor, brave girl looked mortified. Obviously, she thought she had done or said something wrong. All of my explanations did nothing to relieve her of her worries, especially because I couldn't quit laughing long enough to explain why I was laughing so hard!
The Exploding Students:
I am often invited to judge speech competitions. The problem is that all of the instructions and judging tally sheets are in Chinese. Usually I ask another teacher/judge to tell me what criteria I am to judge but, this time, I was the only judge! Thus it came that Felix, one of my students and president of the English club, translated that vital information for me.
“You should judge on content, fluency, time and...” he paused to check his phone... “explosions”
What??? Students are supposed to explode? I don't want to judge that contest!
After much laughter from my imagined scenarios in which blood and gore spattered the ceiling while the audience clapped, he realized he had mistranslated 爆发力 – explosiveness.
What Did You Say?
Each team of students was to research their favorite movie, using English resources that we had explored in class, such as: IMDB, TMZ, Wikipedia and other sites. The teams were to put on a performance of their favorite movie by any means possible: song, dance, acting, PPT, pictures...
One super-confident group stole the show! Not because their performance was explosive but because of what happened.
This girl is a very competent speaker: not only comfortable with English, but so assertive that she can project her voice without the aid of a microphone. I didn't know that when I handed it to her. She stood at the podium, with her hands clasped behind her back (and the microphone in her hand), talking away...
when, suddenly, she passed gas! And, because of the microphone, the sound was amplified much louder than a bodily function should be!
The class erupted with laughter. Our speaker, till then confidently addressing her peers, sunk into a squat behind the podium. Not sure if she was laughing or crying back there; I was too busy doing my level best to not guffaw, all while thinking that I am so glad that such a misfortune has never happened to me!
It is an entertainer's worst fear: facing their audience while somehow being less than decently dressed. I didn't know I had ripped my pants while getting off my bike, but apparently I did it so spectacularly that it was all my class could focus on.
After class, my usual train of thought – 'this went well and that wasn't so good. Should improve...' was interrupted by a group who approached me timidly.
That's odd; they're normally effusive in their farewells.
They didn't come to thank me for a good lesson or otherwise wish me well; they wanted to tell me I was revealing more than I should. My turn to be red-faced!
And I hope your face is red from laughing so much!