First Day of Teaching, Monday

Building 2, where I teach. My classes are on the top floor.

Today was an exhausting day. I woke up at 4 am, unable to sleep any more. My sleep schedule is still turned around. I worked on my lesson plan for Listening and Speaking, apprehensive about the first day of class. At 5 am I made some ramen for breakfast.

I did my morning meditation, then left for school a little before 7. I knew I’d be a soggy mess by the time I got there, in spite of the early hour. I teach in Building 2, one of the newer buildings on campus, on the 7th floor. The classrooms weren’t unlocked yet, so I stood on the terrace at the top of the building, looking out over Chengdu in the misty haze toward the Telecom Tower, the tallest structure in western China. Dragonflies flew about in the steamy air.

The Telecom Tower is barely visible through the haze and smog.

To my great relief, the classrooms were air conditioned – that is, there was one small free-standing unit in the corner of each room, which lowered the temperature a few degrees. As the teacher, however, I had the privilege of standing right in front of the air conditioning when I got overheated, which was often.

I only have to plan one lesson per day, since I teach it four times, rotating to a different classroom each period. The students remain in the same room for all four periods, which are 45 minutes each, 8 am to 11:25. Their four classes are reading, writing, listening and speaking, and oral.

I have to admit that I outdid myself today: I was animated, informative, and most of all, I was a novelty. I was the first American teacher any of the students had ever had, and reactions ranged from delight and open-mouth amazement to sheer boredom. The classrooms are high-tech, with rows of computer/listening stations. The teacher programs his computer at the front to display the textbook on the students’ screens, with videos and interactive lessons. The technology was way beyond me, but I have a student assistant in each class to help. The class is more like a language lab than a classroom, with no flexibility; the computer stations have glass fronts, so I don’t have the sense of interaction with students that I would like. You also can’t move the chairs or seat students in a circle.

My 4th class of the day

After the first class, my teaching assistant Sue came running to me saying that Selina in the International office had to have my passport and three photos immediately; it was an emergency. I knew she needed them Monday, but my L.A. mentality translated that as “sometime” Monday, if possible. How she expected me to get them to her with classes from 8 to 11:30 was beyond me; however, I talked to Selina on Sue’s cell phone and got a scolding.

Among other things, I taught the students their first “American” word: whaddayawannado (as in “What do you want to do?) I told them to learn it and go amaze their friends. By the third class my voice was giving out, and I had to start making the students talk more. I sucked on “imported” Halls cough drops to try to save my throat.

I left my classes very happy, and one of my students walked with me as far as the dining hall. I’m still a bit mystified by Chinese students’ way of speaking. I could swear that some of their statements sound very stilted and memorized; one student exclaimed that “China is now a world country and we must cross all barriers and welcome foreigners of all countries.” I’ll check with other teachers to see if they have this same impression.

The sign means “Elevator for teachers only.” Students have to take the stairs.

I rushed back to my apartment to grab my passport and email Selina my photo to print out, for lack of anything better, then rushed to her office. I then went to the dining hall and had a rather delicious lunch. I seem to be unable to pick any food selection that doesn’t have bones in it. I’m also shocked by my consumption of rice, carbs, and sugar here. I’m slowly learning how to shop for food and to be more selective. I’ve learned that dairy products are virtually non-existent in China, so I must give up yogurt and cottage cheese.

I went home and zonked out under the air conditioner for an hour. At 2:30 it was time to meet Sue at the afternoon lecture, given by one of the foreign teachers. I’m not doing a lecture, since I didn’t supply a topic soon enough. Just as well, as auditoriums and microphones terrify me. The lecture was “Chinese and American College Students: Is There Really Any Difference?” I have no idea what the final answer was. During the lecture, Sue got another emergency phone call on her cell from Selina: my pictures weren’t acceptable. We must go to a passport photo place IMMEDIATELY.

Sue took me to a tiny photo shop where we squeezed through a narrow door into an airless studio. I was wearing a white T-shirt and sweating. However, I got 9 photos, so now I have spares. Back to Selina’s office with more pictures.

Now it was time for my first Chinese lesson from Sue. We went into an air-conditioned auditorium, and for the next hour she drilled me on pronunciation of Chinese syllables. I was tired and dazed from the day’s events and my voice was giving out. I finally had to beg her to stop. I think she was a little over-enthusiastic; she planned a 90-minute class each afternoon, so we could cover my entire elementary Chinese book in three weeks. I suggested a shorter class, which dampened her spirits. Where she finds the energy I have no idea. Some of the sounds were virtually impossible for me to make. I was drained.

The main administration building at UESTC

It was now 5:30, and I went back to the dining hall for an early dinner. More food with bones. I went to “my” campus store for four large bottles of water, since my 5-gallon supply at home was long gone. I came home and went to bed at 6, setting the alarm for 8 pm so I could plan the classes for the next day. I couldn’t force myself to get up, so I slept till 1 am. It’s now 2:00 on Tuesday morning, and here I am at the computer. I think I’ll just follow the textbook for tomorrow’s classes and go back to bed.


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