Alls well that ends well. I lived to tell my story. Here it is.
The first day of school is always trying. How do I look? Am I going to make a good impression? Are my clothes clean? Did I bring everything I will need? Am I going to miss the bus and be late? These thoughts and others flittered through my brain at an ever increasing speed. I won’t recount all the answers to all the questions but I will venture that it could have been worse.
The bus did not leave me behind. I actually found a seat (while others did stand for a bit due to the ‘there’s always room for one more’ policy). A local hippy (local as in from my neck of the Californian woods) was reencountered on the bus after random sightings here and there around Nanjing over the past three years. It turns out that our paths would cross again, probably every Friday on the bus. Getting there- half the battle- was a piece of cake.
As I meandered around the campus, I found my classroom already sequestered by a few early students. We didn’t exchange much in greetings and I awkwardly waited for the rest of the class to slowly stream in. Observing the wall and room schedule wasn’t the best way to pass the time but it sufficed. As the computer was locked in the cabinet, and as the monitor hadn’t yet arrived, I was forced to anxiously not prepare for the upcoming lesson. Eventually, everyone arrived, including the class monitor, and with a swift turn on the key and an opening of the cabinet, the class was on its way.
Writing classes are not usually this oral. In the spirit of interaction, our first class was a combination of people moving around, answering questions (a ‘quiz’ about yours truly) and learning about what we would learn in the weeks to come. The students were less timid than I expected and, that being so, it comes as a pleasant surprise. The second half of our class everyone except me wrote until the end of the period; my job would be to read them the following week.
The Guide to English Speaking Countries class also went well, though by this time, my voice was nearly extinguished. It followed the same pattern except that instead of writing, I had the students find, and group themselves into the countries we will study this semester. It went off without a hitch- and with more of a twist. Two students insisted that Africa was a place that spoke English, which I concur, though no country exists named Africa. We came to the arrangement that the two students would represent South Africa (which later joined the timid New Zealand group that uttered not a word). Time ran out before we completed our tasks but we did at least list on the blackboard some of our current knowledge for each of the countries represented.
The commute home was a flashback to Los Angeles, 2004. Traffic was a mess but at least I wasn’t driving. It took an hour and a half to get the 20km home. Considering it was Friday at 5pm we made good time. It wasn’t until Monday that I would have to do it all over again…
Monday wasn’t nearly as hectic as was Friday. Out of the three oral English classes I was to give, most people attended the first class. It wasn’t supposed to be like this, just a freak misunderstanding of the schedule. Half of two different classes were to come to the period but instead all of one class and half of another came. I hadn’t planned for this but we managed.
The second period which was after lunch- only three students showed up, the only students that had managed to follow directions. At first we agreed that they would come back and attend the third and final period since there were only three of them. It was fine by me… They left and I began recounting my Friday (see above) when they returned along with one of their friends who happened to be a Japanese major. I stopped writing (until today) and we had a chit-chat until the next class began. My students were quite pleasant and the Japanese major spoke more than my students who were English majors. We talked about all kinds of things one normally does during first encounters. I found out that they had transferred from a school out in the countryside, from a college predominantly attended by soldiers. The regimen was fairly strict as they had to abide by military customs (wearing uniforms, rising early, etc) and thus they were happy to be at our current school. A more pleasant and probably more productive session for those involved than would have been with a full classroom.
The last period of the day my students came- but late. Their previous class was located on a far away and distant part of the campus accessible by school shuttle bus. By the time they arrived, we were 20 minutes into the period already. We made a quick and animated substitute of the lesson plan, and in the end, I was quite pleased with the results. Credited much to my teaching style (or lack there of), two students passing in the hall joined in our class discussion and lesson (I have a tendency to be a little over the top, to act the ham, and break any kind of stiff tension that might exist. Perhaps I’m not taken serious, but for the most part, I like to encourage the students not to be timid about speaking or making mistakes. This involves jumping around, and involving passing students who gawk through the windows as they pass the hall. Non-conventional but it keeps everyone on their toes). Because of the strange occurrences on Monday I was less fatigued at the end of the day and also still in possession of my voice.
The first week is over and it was well as it ended well. I’m looking forward to the classes, conversations and writings to come.