"Before you can search for truth, you must be interested in finding it." -Miroslav Volf

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Enthusiastic Freshmen!

Semi-new pics in the post below.

This past week was marked by the beginning of classes for freshman. I now teach ten hours a week of Oral English to freshman (in addition to my four hours of word processing for sophomores…a full load is 14 hours).

These students are a joy. There are 29 students, all amazingly enthusiastic about being there and learning English. They have a lot of energy, which in turn energizes me and makes teaching them really easy. It’s been really rewarding to watch students improve and learn—even over a short time—and know that I’ve played a part in that. My teaching experience is really pretty limited, though I’ve long felt like a natural teacher. Having a setting in which to explore this “talent” and/or “desire” has been special.

Some recent memorable moments from class:

-Giving out names. English students here traditionally choose an English name to use for their current and future interaction with English speakers. I felt like a parent naming my children. I printed a list of the 100 most popular English names in the US from each decade back to the 70s, and students looked over the list and chose their name. A few of my favorites are Sophia, Ava, Grace, Fiona, and Devin (who changed his name from a name previously given to him, “Potato”…good change, I’d say).

-After exchanging with my students the names and pronunciation of our respective presidents, I offered a brief commentary on the value of people of differing values seeking understanding and common ground, something I suggested applies not only to Hu Jintao and Obama, but to them as students. Trying to seize those moments to preach peace, curiosity, and reconciliation when I can. :)

-Humor isn't always culturally transcendent. Or my students are adorably nerdy. Or both. I’ve quickly learned and accommodated accordingly to the fact that what makes students laugh is not my wit but my extravagance and silliness. The more animated I can be, the better rise I get out of people. A lot of humor does not translate across cultures (not to mention to students whose English is simple and undeveloped). With five minutes left before the end of class, I suggested two options to my students: leave early and began the next topic tomorrow, or stay an hour longer after class to work on new material. About half the class enthusiastically voted for an hour longer. With a puzzled look, I repeated the question several times to make sure they understood the options. They still preferred to stay longer. And they weren’t just sucking up; they said with genuineness that they love English and enjoy learning from me. I laughed, told them I was joking with them, and told them to go home. Heck…I didn’t want to stay another hour.

Some other various brief snapshots of life here:

-I have now jammed with the same group of musicians a couple times, both sessions in which they insisted on singing/playing “My Heart Will Go On” (Titanic), because it’s one of the few American songs they have memorized. Hmm. Trying not be imperialistic about my culture, values, etc….but I may have to “expand their territory” in regards to musical taste (apologies to Jabez).

-We really do have a unique place in the lives of students as foreign teachers. Some of the local teachers gave a confused laugh when I asked if they considered students their friends; the student-teacher separation is strong. But students trust their foreign teachers, knowing we will keep their words confidential (unlike local teachers, apparently); they also sense our warmth and kindness toward them, and a deep level of respect for them as peers. It’s a great gift we can offer them.

-We recently had a Luau party for the birthdays of Maria and Miriam (fellow U.S. teachers). It was a blast…we must have had about 50-70 students come—packed house! There was limbo, speeches, dancing…it really felt like a college party atmosphere…just with Fanta instead of alcohol.

I’ll stop there for now, as this post is getting lengthy, and save a fun story I have to tell for another post to come soon.

And one more thing: happy 27th birthday, my dearest Joann Renee.


Ron said...

They aren't the only freshmen in history to bring joy...

loved the Jabez aside.


Danny said...

Great to hear about your adventures there. It is a lot of fun working with English students in Kunming as well.