Sorry, I’ll admit this is a long post about my favorite students and class that maybe no one will find interesting except for a few foreign teachers who have done something similar. I know it’s going to be a bit boring for my readers at large, but hey, it’s my blog and I like it. So there.
I’ve waxed poetic before about my favorite students, two classes of cute, cheery, amazing students that I have had the honor of teaching for the past 4 years. The first two years it was just kinda coincidence that I taught them, but then the next two years I insisted to my bosses that I must always teach them. It’s because of them that I am still at my school (I was going to move last year, but I wanted to be with them their senior year so I stayed.)
And its because of them that I taught my favorite class in all my 5 years in China. You see, almost every year I teach the senior students Newspaper Reading. Senior year in Chinese universities is very, very easy. They only have 2 classes (mine and an english class) and the school actively allows them to skip class to find a job or study for certificates. (2nd semester, seniors have no classes at all.)
So Newspaper Reading kinda sucks because the students are no longer motivated, many don’t come to class and really, newspapers? Kinda boring.
So this year, as I would be teaching my babies one last time, I wanted to make a class for them. A custom class just for them. One thing that bothers me about Chinese culture is the lack of maturing time. As a student you are expected to study all the time. Many students never have a job, never have a bf/gf, don’t know how to cook much food etc. Their parents insist they should focus on studies.
Then, the second they graduate suddenly they are supposed to have a partner they will marry soon, get a job they will work at forever, know how to run a house. It’s quite unfair. So, I wanted to help my darling students, and prepare them for life after graduation. How? By teaching a class called “Becky’s life lessons.”
Every week we discussed something important. Things like budgeting, how to lose weight the safe way, budget traveling, how to do CPR and the Heimlich and how to set, and keep, goals. I think I’m a pretty successful adult, follow my dreams, manage money well, feel confident in new places, but it took me a long time to get there. So I wanted to take the lessons I learned growing up, and try to help them.
And now that they are seniors we communicate openly. So I really went there. This was a no-holds-barred style class. We discussed things like the Japanese/Chinese conflict (A HUGE issue here, and not just the recent island dispute. It goes back much longer) and I didn’t shy away from being controversial. In fact, to get them to be critical thinkers I took the side of the Japanese to see what they would say.
We talked about how Japan not only has apologized for WW2 many, many times (they are told Japan has never apologized and fiercely believe it) but that China has never accepted it. (China keeps changing it’s criteria of what kind of apology it wants). And why might China refuse to accept an apology? “Maybe the government wants the people to be mad at Japan, for some reason. For patriotism, maybe,” one student said after a long conversation. It was amazing. I could see their brains working in ways they didn’t before. “I don’t care what your final conclusion is, if you agree with me or not. I just care that you actually thought about the issue, researched it, and came up with your own conclusion you can defend,” I told them. I got them to think in new ways, they got me to think in new ways. After class I was so jazzed.
Actually my Critical Thinking class was my favorite. We didn’t just talk about the Japanese, but also addressed some traditional beliefs that my students have been telling me for years. Things like, “Going to bed with wet hair will make you sick when your older.” (Or “will give you a headache,” I’ve also heard) They very seriously believe this.
So I asked them “Why.”
“Because the water gets absorbed into your scalp,” they said.
“Okay, then what?”
They paused. “It goes into your brain.”
“From your blood.”
“How does water, which enters your blood and travels through your body via your heart, end up hurting your brain.”Honestly, they all really struggled with it, because it is a very firmly healed belief but logically it doesn’t make sense. Some students said “I know it because it happens to me.””Well, if you think something is going to happen, then it usually does. It’s called a placebo affect. The same way people can get drunk on beer, even when they are secretly being given non-alchoholic beer.”
Some students refused to believe me, and I challenged them to find the scientific data, and the process of how wet hair gives you a headache and I would look at it. “Critical thinking is about doing research to find the answers.” I told them. I hadn’t found any, but maybe they could.
And we really went there in my last 2 weeks when we talked about sex. There is very little sex ed in China, and what there is mostly just covers body functions. You know, like periods and stuff.
But no-holds-barred, remember? We went there. I showed them pictures (drawings, not actual photos) of all the body parts, different sex positions and explained how everything worked. There was a lot of new vocabulary for them (they know things like butt, and dick, but don’t know words like anal, or intercourse) but needless to say they were riveted. I even did the old condom on a banana thing, showed them birth control pills and talked about masturbation and orgasms.
One girl asked to see the box of condoms and I left it on her desk. When class ended I discovered the condom were gone. It was okay, I figured if she wanted them, go for it.
The next week she came back and handed me back the box. “Here Becky, I took these last week.” I said it was okay. “No!” she said. “I kept them in a locked drawer all week and was so afraid someone would find them!” Yeah, that’s how nervous they are about sex here. (And my students are 21-23 years of age!)
It turns out what impressed most of the students wasn’t actually the sex part. (Although you should have seen their faces when I showed them a black and white line drawing of 69. Some of there faces were shocked/disgusted etc. It was so funny.) But it was the way we talked about it.
“You talked about it so freely, not embarrassed,” a student later told me. “It made us feel more relaxed, you weren’t shy at all.”
And that was the point. I wanted to address things maybe people don’t talk about but are important. I wanted to let them know that adults struggle with things just as much as students,and maybe burst the belief that adults know everything and have it all together.
And this class couldn’t have been done at any other time. To teach it properly I needed to understand things about China that it took me years to learn, and they needed to understand me. We had to build up a relationship to a point where we understood and trusted each other. And we all needed time to mature. They wouldn’t be able to have some of the conversations we had when they were freshman. It’s not the vocabulary, but the maturity of their thoughts that have grown over time. And I needed to grow up, to mature and figure some things out, and let some things go, before I could teach them.
I don’t know what affect this class will have on my students in the future (though I secretly hope that in 10 years a student will contact me and say they saved someones life by doing the Heimlich they learned in my class) but I do know that this class was meaningful. Not just in content, but in impact. And as a teacher I think that’s all you can ask for.