Back to, that is. Ping Gang has been in a tizzy of activity for the past two weeks, but it’s finally settling down. As the foreign teacher with barely enough language skills to scrape by, I’ve been watching and wondering what all the commotion was about. The Senior 1’s this semester (Senior 1’s are first year high school students, 15-16 year olds) are deciding their majors. Ping Gang is fairly unique in this regard, in that students’ curriculum actually changes depending on what track they pick as second-semester freshmen. My students were deciding between the Arts or Sciences, with a few other more specialized tracks such as Drawing, Media, and Music. These decisions are easy for most of the students: their highest test scores and obvious talents indicate which track they should pick. Of course, that means that if you happen to love Chinese literature but have miserable scores in everything but Chemistry, you’re going to be a Science major. I asked and was told that it is possible for some students to change their minds/majors later on, but again I think that is influenced by changing test scores rather than student whim.
What this meant for me was that my “welcome back” lesson after six weeks of vacation was ineffective in terms of reorganizing classes, reviewing classroom rules, and setting up the objectives for the rest of the year, because the first week back was a similar schedule and the same classes as last semester…but the second week back I had about three hundred brand new students and a brand new schedule. No one bothered to tell me that I wouldn’t be teaching the same kids all year. Unfortunately it’s not even helpful when it comes to reusing lessons, because my classes are about half and half old students and new. My classes are also LARGER this semester: the average is 60 students, whereas before the average was about 57. Three students per class doesn’t seem like much of a difference, but, well, that’s thirty extra students and we’re at standing room only these days. Once again I’m endlessly grateful for Chinese high school students, who have so far proved themselves incapable of back-talking and being aggressive the way American high school students can be.
It has been fun to adjust to the new classroom dynamics this past week, though. I’ve been taking notes on the atmosphere and English ability of each classroom, because it’s so different from what it was before. For example, I’ve always had it in mind that Class 6 is a an unwilling, moderate-level, sometimes downright hostile class, but this week the class was friendly, mid-level, and more eager to try than usual. About half of my students used to have Michael as their foreign teacher, so I’m interested to see how I get on with them. I don’t know how Michael runs his classroom, but it’s likely very different from the way I run mine.
I’m glad I got to “keep” some of my old students. I’m entering this second semester feeling more comfortable with my classes. I have a solid relationship with many of them, I think. It’s impossible to know them all personally, but I’ve worked hard to make it so that when I walk into a classroom, we’re all happy that I’m there. It’s not every class, every week, but it’s many of them. That feels good. It took awhile to get there.
Remember how shocking it used to be to see your teachers at the grocery store or walking their dog on the sidewalk? How strange it was that they had real lives and didn’t eat, breathe, and sleep at the school? Well. A couple of my students saw me out getting dinner with Ben on Saturday night. I was mortified, since I was a bit hungover, not wearing particularly teacherly clothing and was, naturally, acting like a goof, but the two girls were thrilled. It took me a few minutes to recognize them (to be fair, I wasn’t really looking at them, I have six hundred students, and I wasn’t expecting to see my overworked kids from Longgang in Luohu for the weekend at a non-Chinese restaurant) but they were staring for so long that finally it sunk in, and I waved them over to our table. I realized I was, indeed, a teacher, when my mortification resolved itself into the thought that at least seeing me forced them to practice their English.
“This is my…” I faltered, gesturing across the table.
“BOYFRIEND?!” one of the girls squealed.
We chatted for a minute, and then they returned to their table, pulled out their phones, and immediately started texting the rest of the student body.
A note on the weather: we’re getting a brief second fall, evidenced by yellow leaves and temperatures in the seventies after the cold and rain of the past couple weeks. “Spring” promises to be so hot, humid, and rainy that I’ll want to wring my skin out after stepping outside. After I wash my clothes, I’m told they’ll rot from mildew before they have a chance to dry unless I use antibacterial soap.
Hopefully soon I will write a bit about my vacation in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, but I’ve got to say, I’m happy to be back at work here in China. Being more than halfway through the school year is staggering. Due to complications with extending our visas, CTLC renegotiated our contracts with the Shenzhen Education Bureau, so we’ll be done May 25th instead of June 15th. I’ll fly into DTW at 2pm EST on June 1st. See you then, lovers.