Last Friday afternoon, as Trisha and I were enjoying our usual trays of tofu (her), shrimp (me), some sort of green vegetable, and bowls of sticky rice, Bao sat down next to us with his own tray and in an offhanded way asked, “So remember those visiting teachers I mentioned?” (Hmm. Not really.) “They’ll be here next week. Can you teach them a class about American teaching practices?” (Hold up. What now?) “Next Tuesday. The class will be from 2pm until 4pm. And then you’ll do one the following Tuesday. Same teachers.” (Uhhhh…okay. Yes. Sure, Bao. Of course.)
Even if we weren’t getting paid to do this (which we are), I still would’ve agreed to it after my initial What-do-you-mean-Tuesday-this-Tuesday-that’s-only-3-days-away-are-you-crazy-man?! reaction. The school has been so good to us, and I am eager to return those kindnesses in any small way.
We were able to get a few details out of Bao: the teachers are from all over the province; they’re here on a 2 week professional development visit; they’re all junior and high school English teachers. Our presentation could take many forms, depending on what we wanted to do. We could tell them about a typical day, host a Q&A, model lessons, share best practices in America, whatever. It was up to us.
Being the neurotically gifted people we are, I’m impressed that we didn’t spend too much time nitpicking the plan for the lecture. We decided to share some of the practices and philosophies that guide instruction at Minnetonka and to provide a glimpse into students’ and teachers’ daily lives in the States. We did put together a short power point, but only because the visiting teachers speak Chinese natively; we figured putting what might be new terminology in writing would be helpful.
So yesterday, we made our way to an unfamiliar classroom in Building 1. In Room 1312, which turned out to be a conference room with seats for at least 100 people, we found 28 teachers sitting primly and expectantly at their tables with their heads turned towards the door. When we walked in, they greeted us with applause. Bless their expressive and welcoming hearts, but 2 more awkward Americans you probably couldn’t find: we smiled and blushed and instantly dove beneath the oversized desk under the pretense of booting up the computer; all we really did was whisper “OMG!” back and forth to each other. I had the sinking feeling that I really had no idea what I was talking about and even worse, I had no idea what they thought they were there to hear or learn. I definitely did not think what I had to share was worthy of the applause we’d already received.
It’s amazing how nervous I feel in front of a group of my peers; when you teach, you’re on all the time. I even find that I develop a sort of alter-ego/teacher persona so that I don’t have to think about being on all the time. But put me in front of other teachers, and I revert back to that quaking mess who couldn’t raise her hand in high school without a sharp spike in blood pressure. So I reached back for a strategy that served me well during my first year of teaching: faking it.
“Hell-O everyone!” I called, with a big fakey smile. “Thank you for coming!” (Pretty sure they had to be there.) I continued with a brief introduction about my teaching experience; Trisha followed with an intro of her own; and then I jumped into my 3 talking points: differentiated instruction, Understanding by Design/common assessments, and teaching writing. Trisha finished with formative and summative assessments and a description of our typical teaching day. We then broke the large group down into smaller groups of 14 and fielded questions for an hour. We could sense things were wrapping up when someone called out, “Tell us about your hometown!” and another teacher piped up, “Yeah! Do any famous people live there?” With maybe 10 minutes left and a much better idea of what to prepare for next Tuesday’s follow-up lecture, we dismissed our eager pupils.
Despite the last-minute nature of this presentation, I think we were both really satisfied with the way it went. The more I thought about what informs my teaching, the prouder I felt. I’d been a bit baffled that HFLS wanted us to present to Chinese teachers- we only have a combined 11 years of experience- but it was affirming to articulate the reasons why I do what I do and to realize that I incorporate my training, my experience, and my teacher-y intuition into all of my instruction and interactions with students. Minnetonka isn’t a perfect place, but it is pretty progressive in its initiatives and active in its support of professional development. Working there has challenged me to become a better teacher with every passing semester. I suggest each of you give yourself a little (or giant) pat on the back for the good work you do, and because I have a suspicion that you sometimes don’t give yourself enough credit, let’s pat each other on the back more often.
As it happened, I didn’t have too long to sit around and reflect on the afternoon’s session because I had a meeting downtown with the editor of Dushikuaibao’s English Page. DSKB is the Hangzhou daily newspaper (its English name is City Express), and Liz bought me a copy of it during my early days in Hangzhou. She showed me the English Page and pointed out the editor’s email address; she said, “If you ever want to write something, just email this woman!” This will probably sound weird since I write copiously long entries for this blog, but I actually didn’t have any inspiration for a long time to write anything for the paper. Everything seemed too specific to my experience here, and I was waiting for something a little more universal to strike me. And one day a few weeks ago, it finally did (thanks to a Radiolab program about cities- yes, I will continue to plug this innovative and informative and entertaining show). Once I had a working draft of an article, I emailed the editor- her name is Karen- and she set up a Tuesday night meeting with me.
We met at this Korean bakery called Paris (yep). Karen is maybe in her 30s with an adorable black bob and she called me “a lovely person” in British-flavored English at least 8 times. I liked her immediately, and not just because she told me she liked my article or because she offered to take me shopping.
She brought me some copies of recent English Pages, a feature which runs every Friday. We read through them together, and then she casually told me that barring a surplus of advertisements, they’d run my article in Friday’s issue. This Friday. If that was okay with me. And could they use my real name? (YESTHATISWONDERFULTHANKYOUSOMUCHIAMSOHONORED!) And then even more casually, she asked if I’d be willing to submit a weekly article for the column called “Foreigners Writing about Hangzhou.” I almost fell off my chair. In my stunned silence, she told me that I’d get paid and probably become famous (I swear she really said that). I think I laughed, because she earnestly nodded her head and said, “Dushikuaibao is the most popular newspaper in this province. We have over one million readers. We will print your picture, and people will recognize you!” The room got a little spinny at that point.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I know that this is largely happening because DSKB has a need for a foreign columnist, and I am probably the only person this excited to do it. The “right time, right place”-ness of this doesn’t escape me, but the opportunity feels incredible. It’s a dream come true for me. I mean, here’s this woman who’s in charge of an entire page in a popular newspaper, and she’s quoting phrases from my article from memory. And she bought me a milk tea. And she wants to pay me to keep writing about the city I already write about because I love it so much. No wonder my mom’s initial response was, “That’s wonderful! Make sure to tell her they can’t keep you!” (I love you, Mom. ☺)
If my article is printed on Friday (and you know I’ll be at the newsstands by 3am to find out), I’ll take a picture and post it. If not, you can look forward to an upcoming post about Richard’s radio show, because that’s happening on Sunday (it got pushed back 2 weeks ago). I’m sad to tell you that the talent portion and dating game have been cut (boo-hoo), and the host decided to go with a much more laidback Q&A session for me and Trisha. However, I’m sure it will be a memorable experience, as it seems I will have to come up with answers to questions like “What famous people live in your home town?”
Back in February, when Bao took me and Trisha to get our Foreign Expert licenses (you know, the passport-y thing with the picture of me that’s indistinguishable from a serial killer’s mug shot), I giggled a bit at the title. But clearly, whoever mandated those licenses knew more than I did. With live audiences, the printed word, and a radio performance under my belt, it’ll only be a matter of time before I conquer television. I hear FOX has an opening…