>Entry 12: The worst was yet to come

>Prior to the tests, they had reminded me several times to create a series of questions based on what I’d taught and email them to Vicki.

The morning of the tests I gave her a slip of paper, four questions crudely scribbled, a pen in one hand, the other shifting between a cigarette and a cup of coffee.

The first tests marked my honeymoon period’s final gasp and my apathy’s first word. Beacon editorial guidelines prevent me from using it, but I trust you can fill in the _____ing blank. Use black ink.

I slunk in the room and joined the other teachers. We graded the students out of 100, based on how much they said and how they said it. The scores weren’t so bad, at least on my paper. Several got above 90. A couple scored 100. Those two weren’t shy.

Dividing the students into groups was a stupid idea because in these groups one or two became the outspoken ones and literally outspoke the others. Quiet students, those a little reserved or afraid to speak, had no chance to say anything. And their grades suffered for it.

Overall, they did fine, but there were problems. Aside from the aforementioned set-up, they had trouble producing new sentences on complex questions. That would normally be nothing to worry about, but remember, these students have been studying English for six years.

So what happened? Observe:

Me: How are you doing?

Student: Sleeping.

This perfectly illustrates how Chinese students learn English. Speaking? Nope. Learning it as a language, a fluid entity to be used? Nope. They do rote memorization. They learn patterns. I believe anyone who first learns a foreign language first does rote memorization and clings to certain patterns, but at some point in our education, we stop and begin actually use the language and learn from there.

They never stop at any point.

The pattern they see above is part of the question and the intonation. “____ are you doing”. They were taught “What are you doing?”, and they have never had a real oral English class. Plus, their Chinese teachers’ English is bad anyways, so having an oral class is a complete joke.

Hence, they cannot understand my question. Even when I explained, they still didn’t get it. I had to write both “How are you?” and “How are you doing?” on the board and underline the common denominator before they got it. But even then, I had my doubts.

Because when I tested the next batch of students, I asked them: “How are you doing?”

“This morning I wake up…”

Yes, the next batch of students. The honeymoon is over. Reality comes knocking and you have no choice but to answer.

They were Computer Science. Or Computer Engineering. Which one? The hell if I know. I asked them on the first day, “What is your major?”, and I got silence. I asked again. And again. I single out one student, crept close, and asked. Still silence. After repeating myself several times and speaking slowly, I finally asked,

“What are you studying?”

And they shouted, “Computers!”

“Okay. But what about computers?”

Silence. It was while before I got the different answers out of them. Not even the Chinese teachers knew what they hell their major was. If we are going to rank the students based on English language skills, then the Computer Students were the worst. No big deal though. They are that: students, and we are allegedly doing this intensive course so they can learn.

If we are going to rank them based on behavior, then they are the worst. Aside from openly yawning in class, sleeping, smarting off and saying pretty much everything short of “entertain us!”, two students left class one day.

That’s nothing new. Students leave. A lot never come back. I don’t blame them. But these kids left during the break, slept in an empty classroom, and returned.

So I asked them where they’d gone. They wouldn’t answer. So I got a Chinese teacher. Conversation in Mandarin ensued, and she informed me that they went to get their “lunch card” which they left at the cafeteria.

No. That’s a lie. I told her this and asked her what I can do.

“You can mark them down during the test.”

Ah…the test. So the worst was yet to come.