Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Things I learned today

Now, everyone knows that teachers learn more from their students than their students learn from them. Students learn actual skills like math and reading and teachers learn "life lessons" like compassion, humility, and the wisdom of children. This must be considered a reward unto itself, because my school is paying me basically nothing. I don't think China has minimum wage laws.

(We met another foreign teacher coming into the school the other day who teaches at an affiliated institute for students seeking admission to foreign universities, and as soon as we introduced ourselves, he said, "Are you the guys making 4000 RMB a month? I am so sorry.")

(Also, did anyone see the rubber room article in last weeks New Yorker? I would like to say that we have an ultra powerful teacher's union here, but actually we just have Lisa, who took the TV from our apartment and never makes eye contact so when you talk to her you always feel like she's trying to discreetly examine a small but fascinating tumor growing on your neck.)

So, anyway, stuff from the first day and a half of class:

- On the first day, I had 6 students tell me I looked like Michael Phelps. But the new wrinkle is that my students say I look even more like Kaká, a Brazilian football player who I knew nothing about because I  do not follow Contests of Sport. At first, I thought they were telling me that I looked like shit, but then I realized that they are non-native English speakers and have probably never heard the Romance language slang word "caca."

I don't think I look like him, but I would buy that t-shirt if I saw it at urban outfitters for $24.99.

- My students don't realize that I speak Chinese, but I did share my Chinese name as part of a name game we played on the first day. The first two characters of my Chinese name (魏德忠) are sort of complicated, so every single class has broken into applause when I write it on the board. One girl breathlessly asked me after class how long I had practiced writing my name, as though I learned to write these three characters by drilling them over and over again without any idea of what they mean. Incidentally, this is true if you replace "these three characters" with "approximately 3,000 characters."

- After almost every class, girls will come up to my desk and just stare at me. When I ask if they have a question, they just sigh and walk away. They giggle when I smile at them. By this time next week I will have a Chinese bride, or several.

In summary, though: my kids are super cute, generally very well mannered, and, so far, a pleasure to teach. Also very smart. I've met 3 kids who speak German so far, and one of them wants to set up a German club with me, which would be great practice for while I'm here. I think I probably have time for that, because in China we have 3 hour lunches. Teach for America teachers: I am so sorry.