This past week was bountiful in many ways. There were small things, such as the new Moka Express coffee maker, the hot chocolate experience, and the grilled peanut butter sandwich. Then, this evening there was the homemade split pea soup, simmered for hours on low heat in the rice cooker. On top of these things, though, I’ve been unusually happy. I’m not just saying that because I increased my antidepressant medication, although I’m sure that helped.
I’ve also spent most of the past two or three days on a blissful caffeine high. The Mexico Altura coffee was good, but the Ethiopia Yirgachaffe today sent me rocketing skyward. It’s strange, because after I brought it home last night after a frustrating day of teaching, opened it, and brewed some, it sucked. Royally. I don’t use the word suck lightly, but this stuff was bitter, sharp, loaded with caffeine, and acidic enough to give me stomach pains. Something changed overnight, for when I brewed it today (twice – morning and afternoon) and adjusted the ratio of water to coffee, it was divine. It was heady, aromatic, deep, rich, and left me feeling really, well, caffeinated. Go figure. These were coffees that weren’t exactly fresh; from what I could decipher from the date stamps, they were packaged sometime in August. I can only imagine what I’ll be like with truly exceptional coffee.
My newest mania has been educating myself about espresso. It’s been an eye-opening experience, and I made an eye-opening trip to a couple of great coffee-ware stores. Forget the expensive downtown shops and coffee boutiques, and head to the east side of Chengdu, past the 2nd Ring Road, to what I’ll call the restaurant supply and housewares district. In Chengdu, different products are sold in specific districts of the city: there’s the cell phone street, the light fixture district, the computer and camera district, the bicycle street, etc. Arranged in a depot-like design, with rows of stores facing each other across long, narrow cross-streets, the restaurant and housewares market can outfit your new restaurant, sell you a serving platter shaped like a Chinese bridge or a sailing ship, or indulge your coffee and tea-making fantasies. I ended up buying a cheap wooden tea/coffee tray, and some white ceramic, restaurant-style coffee and espresso cups and saucers. I passed on the coffee beans, since I don’t yet own a coffee grinder, but someday….
I had a moment of culture shock this week, while teaching a small class. I say “culture shock” because I can find no other way to think of the students’ behavior. In an email discussion list to which I subscribe, one teacher described disruptive or rude student behavior as a signal to him that his lesson was boring. Another teacher countered that we shouldn’t see everything that happens in class as a reflection of our teaching ability; some behaviors are simply personality traits or, through long and uncorrected practice, have become ingrained, and thus “acceptable.” Here is my laundry list:
coming to class late
eating food while I’m asking students to speak
leaving class to answer mobile phone calls
talking in Chinese when teacher is talking
disappearing during break
listening to MP4
doing other teacher’s homework
reading other books
Most of these things happened during one recent class. I got tired of saying “no eating,” “quiet please,” and “Who plugged their cell phone into the computer power strip and made the sound on my video clip stop working?” It was appalling. For the first time ever, I had to take a short “bathroom break” (cooling off period) from class.
Part of learning to be a teacher is learning how to demand what I – as opposed to my students – need in class: respect, quiet, attentiveness, participation, honest feedback, and civilized behavior. Anything less is unacceptable, so why do I still accept it? Maybe it sometimes seems like too much of an uphill battle.
The write stuff
Now that I’ve vented, I want to talk about writing for a moment. I’ve been stressing the importance of a good topic sentence, as a general introduction and a “teaser” to arouse the reader. A really, really good topic sentence can be damned difficult, and I’ve seen students struggle bravely to achieve one. Here, then, are what I consider some very individualistic, and unforgettable, topic sentences from some of my past students:
I think here are a lot of broken hearts in Casablanca and I know I have never been to Casablanca.
Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times was an old and silent movie.
If you choose to go outdoors I think it is necessary for you to buy a sleeping bag.
Since long, action-adventure is always an activity full of dispute.
There are many things for me to say about learning english.