I am a college professor; I am eighteen (if you don’t read this for a couple of days I will be nineteen). Somehow those two facts seem a little incomprehensible together. I stand in front of MEDICAL students, some of who have worked in the field and actually held lives in their hands, others who are the exact same age as me and are somehow scarier, and I teach them. Really I just try to get them to talk in English, if they get absolutely no new information from me, but talk in English, I’ve done my job. I really try to stay away from that sort of lame defeatist attitude; I attempt to make classes that I would enjoy learning, or at least activities that I would tolerate in class.
The thing is, any activity I use is automatically awesome, because they have NEVER done anything in class but listen to lectures and work through rote memorization. Student in-class participation is a teaching strategy from the far side of the moon.
This could be a huge blog post; I could try to explain the fact that the social culture of collectivism and the language plus the belief of parental authority are what actually make Chinese culture, especially the school system, so different from our own. And those are very interesting things and I would really like to elaborate on them, at a later point, because I’m an awful and slow typist.
In a normal class I begin with some sort of intro-story to introduce the topic of the day, the book that we were given to teach with is serviceable for the post grads, but the book for the freshman is really quite horrible, especially since they knew everything already. So in that class I use a book on cultural differences, and have to simplify a bit, but it’s a really good book.
After topic introduction I move to some sort of more active and stimulating activity, especially for the freshman, that class is from 12:40 to 2:10, which is Chinese naptime. They have been conditioned to nap then since kindergarten and some days they are pretty sleepy. Coming up with possibilities to shout out in class is hard for them; don’t get me wrong, me shouting out possibilities for a scenario is impossible in mandarin. So they’re way better than me, the thing is they know the words and how to say them. But only five or six in my class of twenty-odd students would be willing to put themselves individually out on a limb and answer and take individual credit or responsibility for their response, and they would be very hesitant to do so. This is a part of the difference I wasn’t going to talk about, students define themselves as part of a group, if I put them into groups to discuss the scenario and come up with responses to share with the class, they come up with them instantly. They know the answers but are only willing to say it with a group representative doing the talking and a group to share the pressure of the decision. Some of this is probably shyness, some students would never speak up simply out of nerves, but most of them have no trouble asking me weird questions during break or asking to take pictures with me. Its only when an answer is demanded that they seek the shelter of a group to share a consensus with.
This has really strayed from teaching. I enjoy teaching, it’s a little like a forensics competition every time. I get to adapt lesson plans on the fly and hold on to classroom authority though sheer bluffing, it makes you feel alive. It’s a little competitive, a little leadership, a little impromptu, and a little helpful service. Its actually fun.