Saturday, June 19, 2010

A few thoughts on teaching.

"How do I reaaaach these keeeeeeds?"

So, my semester is over. My students have taken their exams. I've submitted my grades. I am officially done teaching at Dalian University of Technology! So, how do I feel? Tired. I've traveled a lot in the last month, which was great, but also exhausting. However, it's given me some good distance in order to reflect on my role as a teacher here. I'm going to break down my thoughts into a few categories:

1. Disappointment with my department.
By luck of the draw, the other PiA teachers were placed in the English Majors department, and I was placed in the College English (non-majors) department. The benefit of my department is that it was a 12-week course, so I got lots of time off to travel. The drawbacks were:

a) I had to use a textbook
b) I couldn't create my own exams
c) I had limited control over their final grades
d) Since my students were non-majors, some were less enthusiastic about English

I was really frustrated by some of these things, and while the textbook wasn't horrible, it was completely inappropriate for their level. The chapters consisted of complicated and sometimes obtuse articles, and while some of my students could comprehend and synthesize the information, some of my other students looked at me like a deer in the headlights when I asked them questions like, "Hi, how are you?" These students weren't about to wax poetic on the American welfare system or the information superhighway.

2. Disappointment with my own teaching
I think I did a decent job as a teacher, but I have some really concrete disappointments with my curriculum, and I wish I could go back in time and do it over. Even though I think I'm moderately intelligent, I've realized I have a particularly slow learning curve and by the time I realized that it wasn't necessary to do the textbook in class (a colleague said to me, "Just assign it for homework!") it was already December. I didn't really know how to incorporate the textbook into the course and so every week was like a new experiment in trying to make the reading class interesting. The curriculum for my speaking class was equally incoherent - just a series of fun-but-unconnected activities, games, and projects every week. My lessons themselves were well-planned and well-executed, but they didn't add up to a larger picture in any way, and that made progress difficult to gauge.

The second semester I was a much better teacher. I tried to create some distinct units, which was mostly successful. One was a debate unit, which incorporated lots of related activities, like in-class impromptu debates, planned debates, games involving stating your opinion, and watching clips from the Denzel Washington movie "The Great Debaters." It wasn't a perfect unit - the people in the film talk way fast and I should have done much more pre-teaching on the South, Jim Crow laws, racism, etc. But overall, the unit was successful and some of the students really enjoyed arguing about topics ranging from school curfews to gay marriage.

In-class mini-debates

That being said, I still cringe when I think about mistakes I made and how I laid my first semester curriculum out so haphazardly.

3. A few things I'm proud of.
I do possess a few characteristics that make me a good teacher. I like public speaking. I speak very clearly and articulately (but sometimes too slowly), and I generally have a positive, cheerful demeanor that puts students at ease. I try to make everyone speak in class. I try to include things that I find interesting, because passion is very easy translatable. For instance, two successful lessons included a discussion and writing assignment on the Human Flesh Search Engine, which I find fascinating, and a lesson where I told them to be the teachers and teach me something about China.

4. I'll truly miss my students
While a few of my students didn't care about English and preferred to sleep in the back or play on their cell phones, the majority of my students were attentive, sweet, respectful, punctual, and enthusiastic. It was a pleasure getting to know some of them and I'm kicking myself now for not doing social things with them earlier in the year. I thought I had to be really professional and keep all these boundaries, but I realized too late that it's much more beneficial (in these circumstances) to be friends with one's students. It's a very different relationship than at a college in the States, and I wish I had taken advantage of it earlier. You live, you learn! The last day of class was really bittersweet for me - I rarely cry, but I teared up a bit in some of my classes. Many of the students bought me gifts, like calligraphy sets or teacups or Mao paperweights. One students even sang me a song: "You Are So Beautiful (To Me)." I was very touched.

Huang Xiaokang, Near, and Jennifer bought me
a traditional Chinese wall hanging and a puppet
(the character is from a famous Chinese book, "Journey to the West")

My biggest class (40 people)

Joy, Ang Qi, and David took me out to lunch on our last day

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Be back in a week!

I know I've been lacking in blog department - I promise I have lots of thoughts that I plan on divulging when I get back from my week-long trip to Xinjiang. No guarantees, but a quick Google image search turned up this photo:

I'll let you know if it's really that magnificent! I plan on eating a lot of chuar and experiencing Uighur culture. I'll return on June 15th.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The People Who Feed Me: Shanghai Dumplings

As I've mentioned, Jessica and I are lucky enough to have a great neighborhood of street food: fruit stands, lamb skewers, naan, vegetables-on-sticks, fried rice, baozi, etc. There's so much food that it's easy to overlook small treasures. Luckily, our friend Kailey pointed out this tiny Shanghai Dumpling stand. For 1 kuai, you can get three deliciously fried mini-dumplings. Not particularly healthy, but wonderfully tasty.