A few weeks ago I experienced both the absolute best class of my “career” and the flat-out worst.

Gearing up for Class 10 usually fills me with dread. It’s a different fear even than the one inspired by Class 9, where a girl last week pleadingly whimpered, “Speak Chinese, PLEASE!” with the only English she knew. When I go into Class 10, it’s with the knowledge that none of us are coming out alive. We are going to make each other miserable, and lifting the muscles of my face into a smile at the end of class will be comparable to forcing my weak arms through the most insane, lift-yourself-with-your-tongue Pilates routine on the market.

I walked into Class 10 that day with the blind optimism that propels me through most days on this job, but with the knowledge that my morale would  be shattered by the time I walked out.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the computer was broken. Powerpoint  was out of the question. My beloved Powerpoint, with helpful Chinese on the slides and pictures to keep the students interested when they have no idea what I’m saying. Sinking dread. I said a four letter word. Then I said a worse one. I looked out over that sea of sixty disinterested, too-cool-for-school faces and took a deep breath. I began lesson planning instantaneously in my head, taking out my notebook and jotting down a few quick ideas. I adapted the game for the end of class into a game of charades. During the lesson, I found myself improvising rapidly. Not having Powerpoint to rely on made me slow down, take more time with directions, and not try to accomplish as much as I might have otherwise done.

Somehow, unbelievably, the class was a huge success. I actually had volunteers. VOLUNTEERS. The students were engaged, they worked with/waited for me as I hurriedly made up the cards on the spot for the game, they laughed at the charades antics, and a troublemaker who doesn’t speak much actually hammed it up in English when it was his turn on the podium.

Since then, my lessons with Class 10 have been pretty great, not including last week, when I couldn’t get them to shut up to save my life. But at least I no longer dread Class 10 the way I did last semester.

Class 9 is my new weekly trial, instead. That particular week I had the worst class of my life when I made a girl cry. I wouldn’t let her sit down until she answered the question I’d posed, and then the bell rang, but I felt like I couldn’t back down and didn’t know how much face/authority I’d be risking if I DID back down, so I persevered, and then when I finally let the class go we were all visibly upset and dissatisfied. I went to the bathroom where I realized I’d left my name sheet in the classroom, so I returned in time to the see the girl–Cathy–crying between two of her friends, her head down on her desk. I felt so awful. I never would’ve known it had happened if I hadn’t left the name sheet, but I’m glad I did. At least I was able to touch her shoulder and tell her it didn’t matter (her friends just grinned at me and said “Don’t feel bad!”). But phew. It sucked.

So: euphoria and extreme depression within two days of each other. Back and forth. Back and forth. Forever.


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