Many universities in China mandate teachers do Office Hours, a time in which the teacher must sit in the office and help any student that comes. My university actually doesn’t make the foreign teachers do that. In fact, no one even suggested to us, and yet, I do it anyway.

I know, some other foreign teachers probably think I’m nuts, doing more work for free. But I actually love my office hours and don’t want to give them up. It’s a time to see my students in a new, casual light, and a time just to talk to them not as student/teacher but as friends. (Also, as a foreigner I get a lot of requests to talk to people I don’t know who might have questions about America, or some English test. Instead of spending all my free time running around meeting strangers I just tell them, “come to my office hours!” It totally works.)

For the past year, my office hours always includes tea and cookies. I figure it is much nicer to talk when you have a snack and some delicious tea. And recently I have decided to do some more interesting things than just sitting in the office and talking. This semester my office hours have been much more active. Here are some pictures.

One day I brought in my cooker and pot, and we made some popcorn. In China, popcorn is sweet, like kettle corn, so the students weren't so impressed with "American-Style" popcorn (salty.) They wanted to add sugar.

On the first nice day of spring, we went outside and sat at the track, which is the “hangout” spot in the school.

We ate our cookies outside.

Then we played "Duck, Duck, Goose."

And just had a generally fun time.

I also try not to talk too much during office hours. I mean, it’s not class, and I’m not teaching anything. So I let them choose the topics and talk about what they want. This has led to some really interesting conversations, and one time a student led us through a psychological exercise she did in another class.

First the student told us to draw a picture of our favorite animal. Then, draw a picture of our self. Then, she told us to write one word that described our favorite animal. She told us that the word actually described our feelings about ourselves.

There is a local, a retired teacher, who has made learning English a priority in his life. He attends class and came to my office hour one time. During the class prior he asked me if I liked “social dancing,” and if i would “social dance,” with him sometime. I said yes, never really thinking it would happen, but then he showed up at office hours and we had our dance.

I never know who is coming, or how many people to expect. Sometimes just 4 or 5 come, while other times 18 people might show up. (Which is usually a little awkward as everyone gets shy with such a big group.)

But my most epic office hours was on the second nicest day of spring. I really wanted to fly kites, so after a few people came to my office we went outside and met some more students, and then students called their friends, and then a number of kites arrived, and then more students joined us, and by the end we must have had about 25-30 people flying kites, eating cookies and playing soccer. It was really fun and totally relaxing.

It all started because I wanted to fly a kite.

A few of the boys are budding entrepreneurs. They bought a large stock of kites to sell during the weekends. So we got to "test drive" some of their merchandise.

The weather wasn’t exactly good for flying kites, their wasn’t much wind, but that didn’t stop everyone from running themselves ragged trying to get their kites in the air. Also, all the strings kept getting tangled up. It was really funny.

So while technically I am doing extra work for no pay, it is something I am happy doing. After all, I didn’t come to China just to sit in my room and watch movies. I came here to be active, and spending time with my students outside of class is a part of that. And it’s one of the most fun and meaningful parts of being a teacher.

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