The title of my blog post today has a dual purpose: first, it is a salute to all my teacher friends (and I am blessed to have many), and second, it is what my new students literally screamed today as they bounced into the room seconds before the bell. During first hour, I thought, whoa, Good-lookin’, lucky you fixed your hair today! But when my second class had exactly the same reaction, I realized that it’s probably something they say (or scream) to all of their foreign teachers. Still, I ate it up. If you’re not a Jonas brother, how often do you get to enter a room and hear fans shrieking your praises in 2 languages? Especially at school? Back at home, I could walk into a classroom on my hands, twirling flaming batons with my bare feet and playing Rachmaninoff on a kazoo, and even though some kids would be impressed, most of them would just go back to texting. Since this week is basically the first day of school times 5, I’m only hoping that the rest of my classes follow this precedent and make me feel like Michelle Obama.
So my first 2 classes went off without a hitch. I taught Senior 2s today, the US equivalent of high school juniors. Their English is very good and after a brief discussion of what they’ve already covered, I learned that they absolutely do not want to read any more Shakespeare or learn any more geography. They do, however, want to spend class time watching American TV shows and learning about celebrities. Sidebar: isn’t it reassuring and kind of sweet that teenagers are so…consistent in their interests (and their see-through manipulations), regardless of locale? Although to be fair, I also love American TV and am 100% guilty of knowing far more about Bethenny on Bravo than I care to admit (like, how to spell her name correctly). But a decent number of them want to learn about things like the American sense of humor and useful idioms. Just wait until I hit them with poetry! They are going to be overwhelmed with beautiful, insightful, thought-provoking language, and I can’t wait.
They’ve all chosen English names, which is a blessing and a curse. I have 425 students, and while their Chinese names are beyond challenging for me to pronounce, at least there’s some variety. In just 2 sections, I’ve already got English-name duplicates: a few Judys, a few Lynns, a couple Crystals. That said, some are more creative: Lynch, Veronique, Capo (he said I can pronounce it either Cape-oh or Cap-oh; it’s up to me), Lemon, Jully (Julie), Chiaky (pronounced the normal way, of course) and my favorite, Barry. I’ve always prided myself on my ability to learn the first and last names of my students in a day or so, but I’m going to cling to my seating charts for dear life this semester.
The biggest surprise on the day (aside from the anything-but-understated reception at the beginning of my classes) was learning that my Senior 2s all read The House on Mango Street last year, in Chinese. I made a passing reference to a metaphor from that novella and when I asked if anyone had read it, I was shocked as all hands hit the air. Then they told me that Sandra Cisneros actually visited the school last semester! I got to see her at Talking Volumes nearly 2 years ago, so we were able to talk about how much we love her but also how her speaking voice is… kinda weird. And after a month off from teaching, it felt really, really good to connect with students again. It was like running. In a place where even the smallest accomplishments fill me with satisfaction, being able to do something that I know how to do, something that translates, sure made me feel at home.
Tomorrow I’ve got a couple of Junior 2 classes, and it’s been a looooong time since I’ve taught 8th graders. I’m a bit nervous. I’ll also teach 7th graders later this week. They look like babies walking around campus, and I have to remind myself that Sunday night through Friday afternoon, they live at school. They share one big dorm room with 3 other kids. They get themselves to the cafeteria to eat regular meals, keep up with their homework, and practice good hygiene. I think I would have developed a complex if I’d gone to boarding school when I was 12. I probably would’ve forgotten to shower every day. These students are brave. And so are their parents, for that matter.
Maybe I’ll preempt the fanfare tomorrow and tell the kids I think they are all beautiful.