It’s funny, the odd and otherwise missed opportunities you get with students just being at the right place at the right time. Or even moments that could possibly seem negative are turned into the most precious of moments.
As a teacher you have your bright students, mediocre students, trying but failing students and then you have, well, the others. These are the ones that neither try nor care. Now, I don’t force English down my students’ throats. I get it. If someone came to America and said, “You must learn Chinese if you want to go anywhere in life”, I’d surely tell them to go suck it. So for my students who really want to learn English, awesome. I’m more than happy to help, and if they pay attention in class they’ll do great. But for those who couldn’t care less about learning English or maybe feel they just won’t ever need it, I respect that. I don’t agree, but whatever, it’s their life. For those students, I just want to make a connection. I want them to see that despite our language barrier, there are still a lot of similarities, and that I was in their shoes not but 7 or 8 years ago.
I remember it as clear as day. I remember how pointless I thought physics was, and how I just couldn’t find a relation between what I was passionate about, exercise, and chemistry. I do somewhat now, but there’s just some stuff you hate to learn, and for some of my girls, that’s English. Fortunately, there have been rare moments of a beautiful connections between me and not just any student, but the few particular students who seem to give me the hardest time in class. These moments are engrained in my brain and I love being reminded of them here and there, walking to and from class or sitting on the bus.
The knot game at English Corner.
One moment in particular, I had just finished English Corner (held every Friday at 6:15pm for free conversation) and was hanging out with some students who decided to show me their dorms. We had all bought bubble tea, and were chatting in the room. Well, each dorm room has up to 8 girls (crazy packed) with each one having their own little tent-like bunk beds, with sheets hanging from above for privacy. Well, in the midst of conversation, out pops one of my other student’s head. “Hello!”, she must’ve perked at the sound of her teacher’s voice. It was Nola, my most troublesome student. She was endlessly late to class, never did her homework, and had an attendance percentage of about 60%. She’s a smart girl, understands everything, but clearly doesn’t want to be at Hwa Nan. She’s probably one of the many forced to go to school here by parents. Anyways, she noticed we all had bubble tea and mentioned how hungry she was and wished she had the same. I had only taken a sip of mine being it was bought for me even though I didn’t really want it. I offered the rest to her, and she declined, but in following Chinese culture, I kept insisting her to take it, letting her know I was full from dinner and I really wanted her to have it. She finally accepted with a smile and humble nod of thanks. BAM, precious moment. There was a connection made that night with few words spoken. This was last semester, but I have her again this year. She’s never been late to class and has only missed once. PTL!
8 girls to a room, no A/C in the summer, no heater in the winter. I would've dropped out a long time ago. They all get colds at the same time, they all have horrendous mosquito bites in summer, and I'm sure their bodies are on the same "monthly cycle".
Another moment happened just the other day. Last week, as many of you saw (Hilarious Answers: Quiz 1), I gave my first test. Now, the way I catch cheaters is I simply watch during the test and make tiny notches next to names in the roll book. I don’t make a big scene, no scolding, no public humiliation. They don’t know they’ve been caught until they get their test back and it says ” Cheating = -10, No Curve”. After I gave back all the tests I made a list of people that needed to see me after class, the cheaters. They were all shamefully huddled around my desk with their eyes to the floor. I simply told them, “You are all very smart. I know you can do it by yourself. No more cheating. Understand?” And at the notice of my most lost-in-class student’s demeanor, I reached over and tilted her chin up, very cliche-like, with my finger, and said, “Don’t worry, I still like you. I just think you can do better.” BAM, connection made. I don’t now why I did such a cheesy mom-like sort of thing, but I did and everyone giggled and went encouraged about their day.
The key to teaching here is to be open, non-controlling and willing to meet these girls where they’re at. I have no idea what each of them deals with daily on the inside, the pressures from parents and society. I just know that I was placed in their life to show them a greater purpose and encourage them to dream big. English is such a tiny part of the story.