>Entry 11: These Six Weeks

>What should I teach the English majors? What’s the curriculum? Let me quote an email verbatim:

“you can teach everything you like, the content is related to oral Enlish and American culture . That’s ok.”

Shortly after I began teaching the sophomore English majors on Friday afternoon, I got an email announcing the schedule and times for…for some classes. I didn’t know because they didn’t explain it. All they gave me was a schedule of 10 classes spread out over six week periods with some vague ideas, such as

“these six week’s topic is the same one: shopping.”


“these six week’s topic will be movie.”

I later made them explain to me what the hell I am doing and who the hell I am actually teaching. Of course, all descriptions I offer, I did not know upfront. All of this came later, in bits and pieces, and only after I asked.

Classes were held at the New Campus, which meant a twenty-minute bus ride there each morning and a twenty minute bus ride back each day at noon.

At the beginning, the intensive course was divided into ten classes. There were five laowai teachers and six Chinese teachers. We rotated to a different class each day. So on the first day, I taught Class 10, then on the second, class 1, etc.

This would occur for four weeks (not six), then we tested them, and then we got another batch of freshman non-English majors, and it would reoccur in regular four-week intervals until the end of the semester.

Our classrooms had computers, and we were supposed to teach from a Powerpoint. While this set-up did make it easy to craft a certain set of material and coast for awhile, it made it difficult to get to know the students names. Or recognize them for that matter.

I am writing this two days before the end of the semester, and I can only remember two students and their names. That’s all. The rest is a young Asian blur.

No curriculum. No way to reach the students. Few of them wanted to learn. The foreign teachers complained. Some of them smoked. I did, regularly for the first time in my life. And each and every day, I said ‘hello’, got little in response, and attempted to do something worthwhile for three, forty-five minute periods.

Three periods. Way too much. If you’re going to give us that much time, at least give us a curriculum to go by. Or something other than a vague topic, like “shopping” or “movies”. Other teachers had “advertising” and “love & marriage”.

How is a Powerpoint on shopping supposed to improve one’s English? It depends on the approach. Mine consisted of giving them store vocabulary, such as how to ask the clerk how to find an item, complete with pictures of store types and the corresponding names (Grocery Store, Superstore, Mom and Pop, etc.). I even crafted an entire dialogue on how to properly get gas in America, and for what?

For blank stares. For nothing, really. I showed them some pictures of stores in America. Wal-Mart, which is here in Wuhan, and I tried to spark a conversation about big business versus small business, but it did not go well. It didn’t even light.

Thank God my cigarette did. Though deadly, it does help.

Early on, one of the teachers quit. She was a tall, Australian girl. Chain-smoker (can you blame her? I can’t), she did not live near campus and took a taxi to the South Lake Campus before taking the bus to the New Campus to be, as one teacher put it, a “glorified babysitter”.

So she walked. I don’t blame her.

Following her departure, they reorganized. Their idea was for teachers to stay with their classes for the whole week. One guy complained; he preferred to rotate. Others embraced it. This eventually evolved into an alternating schedule each week.

One week we teach two classes, a different one each morning, Monday through Friday. The next week, we teach those two classes three days a week, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

They altered mine a bit more. Whenever I taught Friday afternoon, I stayed home Monday morning. And on those weeks, I taught Tuesday morning, substituting Tuesday for Monday.

A week or so after the schedule change, we tested the first batch of students. They split the teachers into two groups, a mixture of laowai and Chinese, and called the students in groups of four to discuss questions on one of the topics we went over.