Getting kicked when you're down.
Trip Start Aug 24, 2007
42Trip End Jul 04, 2008
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And with my newly found poverty status comes a bum deal. Today while I was in the middle of teaching, I received a text message from my teaching partner informing that I was to start teaching a new class starting Thursday. "What the hell?!" I thought to myself. Now, I know that it seems from my travel blog that I spend most of my days blissfully cavorting around China the Red, but really, most days are spent inside of my apartment trying to decipher my students' handwriting. There is no way I can teach an additional class. Especially not when I was only given three days' notice and was informed through a text message. Uh huh. No way.
The other day, I was writing an email to my friend Morgan who taught at Henan Daxue last year about how I was adjusting from my role as a student to suddenly becoming a teacher. When I stopped to think about it, what came to my mind surprised me. Most of the time when people think about teaching English, or at least this was true of me during last summer, I was afraid and insecure about my ability to teach the language. I wasn't sure if I could adequately define grammar or any sort of strange linguistic rule that riddles the English language. To my surprise, that part is the easiest. All of those years sitting through tortuous public school English classes are coming through in ways that I wasn't expecting. I'm literally having dreams where I re-enact parts of Mrs. Rude's Honors English 9 class or Ms. Ciangi's College English I class. The rules and explanations that are so embedded in my conscious that I don't even realize they are there are coming back to me in a vicious and forceful way. So in that sense of teaching, adjusting to my newfound teacher status has been surprisingly (and gratefully) smooth.
Yet, most of the time I feel like I'm struggling to cover up the fact to my students that I'm a novice teacher and that I have no idea what I'm doing. I'm also continually fighting an internal battle every time I grade papers because I need to remember that these students have the writing ability of 8th graders if they're lucky and they're aren't me. Putting away the nit-picky editing beast I've become is one hell of an effort.
But most of the parts that have been difficult to adjust to have been the completely bureaucratic and systematic problems that I suspect plague teachers the world over. It's also a part that I have been blissfully ignorant of for the past couple of years. The lack of resources is astounding. Classrooms are small and their set-up prevents any sort of meaningful discussion since all of the seats and desks are bolted to the floor. My class sizes are huge. My smallest class is 38 students. The rest of my classes average 45 to 50 students (with one writing class bumping up to 56 students), and as someone who is used to classes with only 15 people, that's a giant change. The teaching methods that define a good teacher to me are rendered completely useless and suicidal for me in these situations. I've had to re-compose an idea of what it means to be a good teacher from scratch and adjust my methods to reach out to students in such a large context. It hasn't been easy and I'm just now starting to sketch out a picture of how it all works. I've had to drop a lot of assignments that I know would be helpful to my students simply because I also know that to maintain my sanity in this crazy country, I cannot spend my whole time grading. Yet, most of my time is still spent stressing out about lesson planning, how to communicate effectively and efficiently to hundreds of students who can't always understand me, and grading a pile of papers that is ruthless and relentless in its quest to overtake my living room. And yeah, I'll put it out there - this experience has made me appreciate my experience at Beloit tenfold.
So yes, teaching is a constant struggle. Yet, I like it because I'm consistently being challenged in ways I wasn't expecting and my students make everything worth it. If they were awful, and trust me, some of them are, I would barely be making it to class. But sometimes, my relationships with my students aren't enough to see me through 50 hours of grading.
So this new class I'm supposedly teaching on Thursday? It's not going to happen. I'm firmly putting my foot down with the department. I feel bad because my angry communication has been with my teaching partner who is really sweet and is probably freaking out about what to do. After all, this is also her first year teaching at Henan Daxue. Still, most of the time I seriously wonder how invested the school is in the real education of these students. I've had several students come up to me and say that I'm too involved and that I don't need to correct their homework.
"Oh really? What do your other teachers do?" I ask, seriously curious.
"Oh, they just have us correct each other's work," they say.
"Yeah, but how can you learn if you don't even know what's correct?" I reply.
"Um..." is pretty much all they can come up with.
This "method" of teaching explains a lot about why my third-year students don't know what a thesis statement is, what makes up a paragraph, or even what makes a sentence a fragment.
This situation wouldn't be that bad if there was some sort of communication between the university and the three of us. Our line of communication often consists of our teaching partners informing us the day of events or requirements via a text message or a phone call. But this is just one more situation in a line of events where I've felt disrespected by the university, especially since I was informed via a text message!
Mostly, it makes me want to quit. I know this is the easy way out, but the thought of coming back and moving to Chicago is a really nice thought right now, especially to a kid who is experiencing some homesickness. I don't really know what's going to happen between myself and the English department. All I know though is that come 10 o'clock Thursday morning, I definitely won't be in room 312 in the Comprehensive Building.