In many ways, I’ve found it hard to keep my mouth shut when faced with teachers whose methodology mimicks years of a dull, yawning, very dreary teacher-fronted approach known as a standard throughout China. Students sit obediently and silently in their seats while their instructors systematically work their way through the chapters in the book. Even our conversation class, which I feel should be free talking on designated subjects, is reading set dialogues out loud and repeating vocabulary after the teacher for pronunciation practice.
This was always my students’ complaints about their junior high and high school English classes: Horribly boring with little joy in the room.
Falling prey to this during my time as a student at Sichuan University has been challenging so finding at least one teacher, Mr. Chen, responsive to some of my suggestions was really making my language study time seem a bit more fruitful.
But 2 months ago, there I found a very distraught 30-year-old Chen sitting at a student desk and pouring over a stack of formally typed papers.
“I’m not going!” he defiantly spoke aloud in English as he saw me enter. “I will just refuse to go. I don’t want to leave. This is very unfair!”
Being almost 20 years his senior, we’ve taken on the relationship of colleagues more than a distant student-teacher so all was revealed within the next 5 minutes.
CHINESE LANGUAGE TEACHERS SENT ABROAD TO TEACH
Along with many other Chinese colleges and schools, Sichuan University has many partner educational institutions all over the world. Every year, teachers of the Chinese Language Department are chosen to teach Chinese overseas for 2 years or longer. America, Europe, Africa and India are just a few countries where past Sichuan University staff have taught.
Teachers usually sign up for such things and are told in the summer that they’ve been chosen. Teacher Chen had put his name in for an opportunity to teach in America last year but this never materialized. His name then went into the pile for India but after waiting all summer for the announcement, consistently asking his departmental dean about it yet hearing nothing, he assumed he wasn’t going.
Oh, think again!
CHEN SURPRISED BY HIS UPCOMING VENTURE
Mr. Chen’s marching orders came during the weekend and he was not too happy about it.
First, he was off to Shanghai in just a few days to attend a 1-month seminar course for all Chinese teachers going abroad to teach Chinese. After that, he’d return to finish out the semester before heading off to India after the Chinese New Year. He’d be starting up his language courses at a sister Indian university but for how long , he couldn’t say. 1 year? 2 years?
As all things in this country, there is never any exactness about such things. We foreigners and Chinese alike often say the only certainty to be had in China is that everything is uncertain.
Despite Chen’s fervent wish to get out of this, there really isn’t much to be done in such situations. My guess is Chen was chosen because he’s single, has excellent English (definitely needed in India, especially for teaching beginning Chinese courses), has 5 years of teaching experience and is a man. He told me he is the only teacher from the university to go thus he might be fairly lonely in his new position, being the only Chinese national around.
There were, of course, other candidates available but they were probably not single and were women. Sending a young female teacher on her own to a new, rather out-there, private college in India is never something a Chinese dean would do. America or Europe would be a different story but lately in India, there have been many reports of overseas’ women being targeted and raped. I can imagine this is a great concern to the university, exposing a member of staff to such dangers, thus caution in sending a strong, hardy male teacher rather than a female one.
Thus it was that after the October 1st holidays, my classmates and I lost our Comprehensive Chinese and writing teacher, Mr. Chen.
UPHILL STRUGGLE IN THE CLASSROOM
It wouldn’t have been quite so traumatic had it not been that Comprehensive Chinese is our core class. Unlike the other subjects (listening, writing, culture, conversation), this class meets every day. It combines all the skills into one and, in my estimate, is our most useful class.
We had great hopes that the replacement teacher would be just fine, maybe even better than Chen.
What a boost to our morale when Teacher Yuan arrived, a lively young woman who brought visual aids to class and in Day 2 entertained us with a silly language game which we all couldn’t get enough of. Even the Korean boys who sit behind me, mostly playing with their cellphones, perked up when a competition erupted on which side could get the most points. They were enthusiasticlly shouting out the answers like junior high school kids along with the rest of us.
But sad to say, Teacher Yuan had to leave us after 3 days due to what she said was “something else” of more importance.
After that, Teacher Li entered the picture, and we all suffered greatly for it.
The woman glued herself to a chair behind the podium and that’s where she stayed the majority of our lessons, droning rapidly on and on from the workbook about . . . we never were quite sure. I did manage to suggest that she write on the board from time to time and she took me up on this, much to our relief. In fact, her white board organizational skills were, indeed, quite exemplary. Still, about 70% of the time, it was Li sitting, talking, and us trying desperately to follow what she was saying.
It became so bad that a majority of the class just didn’t show up for her lessons, or straggled in 30 or 45 minutes late.
I did speak to her after class once and found out that this was the first time for her to teach at our level. She also was a linguistics major in school, not really into teacher education, which certainly explained her inability to create a decent lesson.
I honestly felt she had great promise if only someone would take her under their wing as a mentor, but it wasn’t my job to do so. Besides, Teacher Chen would be returning. We could endure Teacher Li until then.
So endure we did until last Friday came.
TEACHER CHEN RETURNS!
Yes, our beloved Teacher Chen has returned from Shanghai!
He and I had a lively conversation during the break of all the woes we’d had to put up with while he was gone. Nothing pleases a teacher more to hear how a replacement was awful and his or her return is greeted with such joyfulness.
Yes, we were definitely joyful on Friday, I can tell you that!
So tomorrow, we begin our morning classes on a high note as Chen takes over once more. With his presence at the head of the class once more, we are all really looking forward to this second half of the semester, I can definitely tell you that.
UNBLOCKED AND READY TO REPORT FROM CHENGDU
And, speaking of looking forward to the rest of the school year, looks like we can all look forward to more regular reports from Chengdu on my website.
Yes, I have managed to gain a new Chinese friend who yesterday quickly put the computer back to getting around all those blocked websites. How many tales to tell to catch you all up on life in the big city is uncountable but I’ll do my best to pick out the most interesting ones.
From Chengdu, here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your day and a safe, happy, upcoming Thanksgiving!