Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Back in the Saddle Again

I admit, even as excited as I have been about embarking on this new course (although not entirely new; looking back, the rest of my life was really leading up to this), I was still feeling a bit tentative about being back in a classroom, after that horrible hellish nightmare that was Emmanuel "Christian" School.  I needn't have felt gun shy; today was a wonderful beginning.

The bus arrived for teachers at 6:40, just as it will every day from here on.  Having gotten only four hours of sleep last night, I was a bit sleepy, but my nerves and excitement perked up my tired eyes.  One of the great things about living in community the way that we do is traveling to and from school together.  There are always friends to talk to, which greatly relieves a nervous mind.  When we got to school, we all scurried to our classrooms to get those remaining final details taken care of.  I was relieved to find that my last two posters for my main bulletin board had at some point printed out after I left yesterday (yesterday was a "bad China day" -- three hours of computer problems, upset stomach at lunch, a walk in the humidity that got much longer than planned after I got lost, heat exhaustion that caused me to almost faint, and a twisted knee).  I was able to get the thirteen-foot bulletin finished to my satisfaction.  I hate to brag, but it really is quite a cool board!  I entitled it "Coming Attractions"and then created movie posters about various topics that I'll be covering in my classes this year.

The students arrived at 8:00, fresh-faced and eager . . . yes, actually eager.  They wanted to be there!  High-schoolers who actually look forward to the start of the school-year!  It's another world here, I tell you.  We got them (just the high-schoolers -- the other grades had their own activities) arranged by grades in the auditorium, then did an orientation assembly, complete with firm reminders about dress code.  Nitta, our awesome high school principal, cheerfully informed the students that she has "beautiful" long skirts for girls who wear too short of shorts or skirts, and labcoats for those whose shirts are out of dress code. Additionally, she promised to acquire some "really attractive" shirts for any girls who come in wearing immodest tops.  We actually don't have as strict of a dress code as one might expect.  Kids are allowed to wear shorts (of an appropriate length) and jeans, and sneakers are perfectly all right.  No holes, no flip-flops, nothing immodest (low cut, too tight, or too short), no tank tops, no track suits or athletic wear, and all shirts must have a collar.  In other words, a perfectly reasonable dress code.

After the assembly, we dismissed the kids to their homerooms.  True to their word, my fellow teachers really did put together a fantastic homeroom class for me.  My ninth graders are a cheerful, obedient bunch, all with fun personalities.  There's not a bad egg in the bunch!  All but two of the kids are Asian, and I've got ten boys and five girls.  I had the kids introduce themselves, each telling their name, how long they've been in China, and the thing that they are most looking forward to this year.  Although all but two of my kids are not native English speakers, I was quite pleased with how well they speak.  Of course, there's a bit of that Korean knack for extra syllables, but overall, they pronounce words well and have good vocabularies.  After introductions, I informed the class that the best way to bond with new classmates is some good clean murder.  They blinked in surprise, then laughed when I explained that we were going to play Mafia (it's a really fun and easy game that goes over quite well with kids).  Unlike when I taught in the US, I only had to give directions once.  What a difference THAT makes!

After a fun game of Mafia, I did two more academic games, both of which the kids loved.  In the first game, a great one for English language-learners (without being dull for native speakers), I broke them up into three teams of five and put them in three columns.  The kids in the front row each got a whiteboard and marker.  I gave them a word, and they had to race to write a synonym.  The first one to hold up their board (with a correct answer) earned a point for their team.  They then passed the boards to the next players on their teams, and we went on from there.  After a few rounds, I made the game more interesting by requesting antonyms sometimes.  I was thrilled to see some really creative answers, rather than just simple short words.  For my second academic game, which the kids liked even better, I would say the name of a place, and then the players would scramble to write the name of a place starting with the last letter of the one that I gave.  I had another thrill of delight when I discovered how good these kids are at geography.  One boy further gladdened me by asking if they could use ancient place names.

At 10:00, we gave the students a snack and bathroom break, then sent juniors and seniors outside and freshmen and sophomores to the gym for games.  With the freshies and sophs, we played a really fun icebreaker game (to the joy of the students, teachers joined in, too):  We had one less seat than people, arranged in a circle; the person without a seat had to go to the middle and call out something, like "People who have long hair" or "People who like to eat kimchi" and then everyone that the statement applied to had to get up and rush to another seat.  Naturally, we all got hot and sweaty!  I was fanning myself with my hand when one of my ninth graders noticed; that sweet girl immediately started fanning me!  The game was hilarious to participate in and to watch.  I thought it was particularly clever when one girl called out "People who have lived in Africa", which only applied to our South African teacher, thus positively guaranteeing the girl a seat!  We sent the kids home at 11:30, and congratulated ourselves on a great first day.

Tomorrow, classes begin.  We will be doing block scheduling this year:  Four classes per day, in one and a half hour blocks.  'A' classes meet on Mondays and Wednesdays; 'B' classes meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  On Fridays, all classes meet for just 35 minutes each and we have an assembly.  This week, since we only have two days for classes, we're doing Friday's schedule on both days.  I can't wait to meet the rest of my kids!

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"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"