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avant-garde_chauvintist wandering through the garden of ideals

The Look

CHINA | Monday, 15 October 2007 | Views [609]

Besides for bargaining, my mom taught me something else that has come in useful in China. Travis refers to it as The Look. I'm not sure that's an original name. I think The Look has been handed down from powerful females to the next generation of powerful females for a long time.

My classes often amaze me. It goes from amazement with their English ability, which, all things considered, is extremely good, to amazement with their complete inability to shut up during class. I reprimand them so much that I have trouble believing that my students are actually in university.

As a Westerner, I spent many a afternoon in a completely boring class in university that I may or may not have considered important to my future. But during these classes, I simply doodled in my book or let my mind wander to more interesting things I could be doing with my afternoon. One huge difference, however, is that I could understand everything the professor was saying. Eastern students find their lack of interest (or lack of understanding) in English as an excuse to speak Chinese. Lots of Chinese. While I'm trying to talk. I can't handle it.

So I've devised a plan. I'm going to teach them not only vocabulary and grammar, but how to behave in class. Or maybe how to behave in class with an American teacher. It goes something like this: I stand in front the class with a pleasant smile trying to relay the activity for the day. When they won't stop talking, I stop talking and let the other students shhh them and tell them in Chinese to shut up. (I didn't have to ask the "good" students to do this; they just do it.) When that doesn't work, I give them The Look. It scares them.

But I have a feeling the power of The Look is wearing off each time I do it. They've come to realize that it means shut up, but they kind of treat it like a game called "How long can we get her to stop talking while she waits for us to stop talking". It's an interesting power struggle. It goes back and forth every single class.

But regardless of how much power The Look has, I'm slowly making progress. The students are becoming aware of when it is appropriate to speak. And I've almost got them raising their hands to answer questions. Almost.

I kind of think of Chinese students in the way I think of Chinese public transportation riders -- completely unable to understand a civil way of participating in the experience. What I mean by that (in terms that seem much less culturally centrist) is that Chinese students don't realize that shouting all at once is not the appropriate way to answer a question. In fact, I had a student tell me that I should just let everyone answer at once.

All in all, I'm trying to slowly incorporate the teaching methods that I know to work for Western students into what I've learned of how Eastern students behave. In this way, I hope to help them learn some English language and Western customs.

Until we have a mutual understanding, I'll just keep treating them like I treated my orientation groups. And they'll just keep thinking of me as "that crazy American teacher".

Tags: Work

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