Stuff I Really Kind of Like About My Life in China: First Day of Class

February 16, 2012

This week was the first week of classes for the spring semester at the university where I teach.

As a teacher, I can’t think of anything better than the first day of class, really.

Well, besides, the last day of class.

And, you know, all those days I don’t have class.

But the first day of class is pretty up there in my book.

And this week’s first batch of classes certainly didn’t disappoint.

All my students sat dutifully in the seats I assigned them. (Seats at the front of the class because I am the type of teacher who doesn’t let anybody sit in the back. Yep, I’m mean like that.)

They all laughed along at my jokes and didn’t complain when I made them get into pairs again.

They pretended to care when I explained to them the qualities of a good topic sentence. Some of them even took notes. Or doodled on a piece of paper in a way that made me believe they were taking notes.

And when I kept them in class right up until the last possible minute, hardly anyone acted like I was doing it to purposely torture them.

As I was leaving class on Tuesday, one of my students gave me this miniature apple.

Or, at least, I thought it was an apple but it turned out to be some kind of preserved fruit thingie that tasted exactly like a sweet pickle. Maybe that’s just what students give teachers in China? Preserved fruit thingies that taste exactly like pickles.

Even the cool dude guys who smoke cigarettes in the hall and give themselves English names like Gin and Eleven were on their best behavior during the first day of class.

They showed up on time.

They didn’t fall asleep.

They only checked their cell phones when they thought I wasn’t looking.

And when I asked them why they didn’t bring their books with them to class or, say, any kind of writing utensil as it is, in fact, a writing class, they acted sincerely apologetic… and a little bit surprised. Like, “Huh? What? I could have sworn I brought the book with me. And what’s this pen thing you speak of? Hmm… now that you mention it, that does sound vaguely familiar.”

Aww, so well-behaved & willing to do my bidding. This won't last long.

As much as I love all the good behavior, I love the hopefulness that the first day of a new class brings even more.

Starting a new class is like starting a new relationship. Both my students and I are full of hopes for each other. Except, unlike with a new boyfriend, I really hope my students don’t call me up in the middle of the day to tell me they’re thinking about me. Because that would just make things awkward.

On the first day of class I handed out a questionnaire to my students. It asked them what they learned last semester and what they expected to learn this semester. It also asked them about their personal learning goals and if they had any suggestions for me.

Judging from their responses, my students are a hopeful bunch.

They are also something of a delusional bunch.

They all want to do well in class, but they’d like that to happen without having to do much work.

And they think we should play lots of games.

I don’t really know what kind of games they think they’re going to play in an academic writing class. There are really only so many games about essays you can play. And “Pin the Thesis Statement on the Introductory Paragraph” gets pretty old after the first few times you play it.

Of course, my students aren’t the only ones filled with lots of hope.

I have plenty of hopes for this semester myself.

I’m just hoping my hopes are not quite as delusional as theirs are.

I hope to manage my time a lot better and procrastinate a lot less. Like, if I could avoid having a panic-attack-induced crying fit because I waited until the last possible minute to grade the final assignments that would be great. It’s hard enough explaining all the red wine and chocolate stains on my students’ papers. I don’t want to explain why their papers are covered with my tears and notes to myself in the margins that go something like this, “Why do I do this to myself every time? EVERYFREAKINGTIME? Whyyyyyy?”

I’m hoping to keep work at work as much as possible and not talk about classes and students and all that other work stuff when I’m not at work. This isn’t so easy when you happen to live with everyone you work with. This also isn’t that easy when you happen to live in Wuxi, where there isn’t a whole heck of a lot to talk about.

I hope to stay positive and focus on the good things that happen in the class – rather than the little frustrating things.

Because as high as my students’ and my hopes are, I know frustrating stuff will happen. Like, soon.

The new class smell wears off pretty quickly, you know.

In fact, by Wednesday, I was already confiscating cell phones and marking students absent. Including, of course, Gin and Eleven… who I’m sure were just so busy looking for appropriate writing utensils that they forgot to come to class.

What’s your favorite time of year at work? You know, besides the time you don’t have to work. 
P.S. In keeping with the school theme of today’s post, I’m giving you homework! Your homework: head over to the Bloggies website and vote for my blog for the Best Asian Weblog if you haven’t done so already. (You can find instructions here.) Voting closes this Sunday, February 19th.

Of course, I won’t fail you if you don’t vote for me.

But, uh, I may call your parents.



I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On February 16, 2012 at 9:59 pm Steve said:

    I was thinking that this story didn’t sound quite right, but then I realized that I was always on my best behavior on the first day of school as well, and quite often sat up front. By the end of the first week though, I’d been assigned my rightful place in the back row where I couldn’t distract people. Further back if it was possible.
    Good luck with your new semester.
    Steve recently posted..Sicamous, Surprise, and Spring Training

  2. On February 17, 2012 at 12:34 am NFAH said:

    People who don”t teach for a living don’t often realize how thankless teaching is. I’m always happy if the majority of the students show up for class and less than 2% fall asleep during my (carefully- and thoughtfully-prepared) lecture.
    NFAH recently posted..Snowmageddon 2012: The aftermath

    • On February 17, 2012 at 4:57 am Sally said:

      It’s amazing how you change your priorities the longer you teach. When I first started teaching, I wanted all my students to love me. Now I just want them to tolerate me and learn a few things. That doesn’t seem too much to ask. But, first they need to show up to class…

  3. On February 17, 2012 at 2:39 am MaryAnne said:

    So very glad my teaching job that would have started on Tuesday fell through. I think a decade is officially my burn out limit. The thought of going back to a new crowd of Sevens and Lonelys and Taxis and their chronic inability to hold onto writing instruments or notebooks or textbooks makes me just want to sit down heavily in exhausted resignation. I’ve had some really lovely kids in my classes since we moved to China but the lack of motivation can be frustrating.

    That said, I still get emails and messages on Facebook from ex students and I get all teary-eyed and sentimental and wish I could bundle them all up in a classroom and just teach them one more time.

    I’d definitely go for a few rounds of “Pin the Thesis Statement on the Introductory Paragraph” for old time’s sake! Heh.
    MaryAnne recently posted..Notes on Scuba Diving in Thailand (and Elsewhere) for the Non-Amphibious

    • On February 17, 2012 at 4:54 am Sally said:

      Yeah, this semester I’m really trying to focus my energy on the students who are appreciative and hard-working and not spend too much time fretting over the Lonelys. (Well, I’ve never had a Lonely, but I did have an Alone.) It’s hard, though. Really hard. I’m constantly amazed at how one negative, demotivated student can suck all the positivity right out of me.

  4. On February 17, 2012 at 2:43 am Nicholas K said:

    Pin the thesis on the lead paragraph? I laughed. Great blog piece – and a great way to understand some of the joys (and pitfalls) of teaching in China.
    Nicholas K recently posted..Traditional Chinese Medicine – The Basis for Disease/Disorder (Part Three)

  5. On February 17, 2012 at 3:41 am DSW said:

    I’m in Hefei and we also started back this week. I personally hate the first week because our school springs it on us at last minute. One day you’re just lounging around and the next you’re being hauled into class and made to prepare an entire semester of classes, assessments, trips, etc etc etc.

    But I suppose it is nice to get back in the class on some level. The students are always a bit more enthusiastic. I didn’t get any apple-like things, but I did get some chocolate and they always bring something “from my hometown” that looks suspiciously similar to the things everyone else brings from their own hometowns…
    DSW recently posted..The Korean Look Travels Well in China

    • On February 17, 2012 at 4:40 am Sally said:

      It’s pretty much the same here. Last year, it was a big shock to show up in China on Saturday and be expected to teach on Monday — especially after not having taught for a year! This year things were a lot easier since I have the same class I taught last year. It’s nice to actually kind of almost know what I’m doing!

      • On February 18, 2012 at 3:06 am DSW said:

        Expect the unexpected: That’s key to getting by in China. Or rather, love the unexpected.

        I first got here at 6pm on a Wednesday and was teaching at 8am the next morning. Such is the chaos of life in China.

        Last semester we were told, “You finished January 11th!” and of course we knew we wouldn’t. But I still booked my flights from January 11th anyway. But about three weeks before, I taught one morning class and was walking to the second, when my boss said, “That’s it. We’re done. You can go home.” My students were actually sitting in class, waiting for me, with the bell about to ring thirty seconds later. But no. That was the end of the semester. In between first and second class, with no one but the boss knowing.

        Jeez. You have to thrive on this or else you’ll go mad.
        DSW recently posted..Hello Cape Baby, Goodbye Dog Farm

        • On February 18, 2012 at 6:17 am Sally said:

          Wow. That’s crazy. I thought it was a bit haphazard when we were told the week before our semester ended that our semester would be ending (I thought we had another week… we did not). But, yeah, at least we got a few days notice!

  6. On February 17, 2012 at 5:07 am Ross said:

    You’re lucky to have a favorite time(s) at work. I can’t think of a favorite time at work for me. Not that my work is bad or anything, just don’t have a favorite time. I’m not a teacher but I do like teaching others when I can (I get to teach at work a little and I have volunteer at the local schools a few times). I sometimes wish I were a high school science teacher or a collage physics professor. I am sure it is much better in my imagination that it is in real life.
    Ross recently posted..Heron Island – "No Worries, Love"

  7. On February 17, 2012 at 5:13 am Nomadic Chick said:

    Sure, she gets the kids who need lollipops and bibs – I get a snarky girl telling me that they are college level students and shouldn’t be playing these boring,stupid games. She almost made me cry (not really), but she COULD have.

    Does Gin actually drink gin though? I wonder.
    Nomadic Chick recently posted..Chicks Conquering the World: Revolution Apparel

    • On February 18, 2012 at 6:24 am Sally said:

      I asked Gin about his name and he said he picked it for 2 reasons. First, because there’s a Japanese anime character named Gin. Secondly, because (in his words) “Gin is a kind of wine, and I like wine.”

  8. On February 17, 2012 at 9:29 am Leah Travels said:

    The first day of school as a teacher is always fun, but it does rank behind not only the last day of school, but also the day we get out for Christmas, Thanksgving, spring break, Easter, and any other holiday I was happy to have. It’s nice to know that American kids aren’t the only ones who come to class unprepared and delusional. The first week back from summer break, I always tried to put my students’ delusion to rest. I put together a slide show of average SAT/ACT scores, GPA, acceptance/rejection percentage, and cost for a variety of US schools.

    “So, Johnny. You think you want to go to Harvard? I don’t think the 42 you got on your Macbeth test is gonna get you there. Remember the slide show?”

    Enough said.
    Leah Travels recently posted..Jesus Christ & Knocking #4 off My Bucket List

    • On February 18, 2012 at 6:23 am Sally said:

      Wow. You’re even tougher than me! At least I don’t crush any of their future hopes and dreams. I just crush their present hopes and dreams (like their dreams to sleep during class and text message their friends the whole time). 🙂

  9. On February 17, 2012 at 1:26 pm Eleven - The Unframed World said:

    more games, more happiness.

    i voted for you too.
    Eleven – The Unframed World recently posted..Photo Find: Inspiring Landscapes of Europe by Martin Rak

  10. On February 17, 2012 at 10:53 pm Katherina said:

    So, besides for the wonderful weekends I spend without having to check for possible e-mails from HK at 2am… my favorite time at work is about to start next monday: a Petroleum Week summarized in networking over champagne, wine and food!
    Or wait, does my favorite moment at work actually have to imply work itself?

    Although I’ve never worked as a teacher, I think I can understand that feeling of power you get by confiscating cell phones and asking for homework – It must be tough to find the right attitude (not to much of a mate… but not a b*tch either!).
    Katherina recently posted..Photo Essay: Hiking Valle del Frances, Torres del Paine (Chile)

  11. On February 18, 2012 at 1:07 am Andi of My Beautiful Adventures said:

    I’m sorry but the only comment I really want to say is awwwwwwwww!
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..7 Super Shots From Andi’s Travels

  12. On February 18, 2012 at 2:55 am choi kum fook said:

    Bonjour! Miss Sally!
    What did you mean “in those days,I don’t have a class”? Does it mean that you didn’t have a class to teach the students,or borrowing other teacher’s class to teach during last two semesters? There were quite a number,about 30 Chinese University students came to the farm as volunteer during Spring school holiday. They came from Peking,Shanghai,Canton,Chengtu etc except Wuxi. Some of them were smokers even the girls.! Anyway, they behaved quite OK in the farm. They usually spent most time in farm and few days in Malacca,and then a day in KL,then back to China.

    • On February 18, 2012 at 6:19 am Sally said:

      Oh, I just meant the days I don’t have to teach — those are my favorite!
      I would have liked to have been there when all the Chinese students were on the farm. I can’t imagine my students working on a farm. They complain every time I ask them to change seats. I can’t imagine them having enough energy to weed a rice paddy!

  13. On February 18, 2012 at 8:29 am choi kum fook said:

    Yes! You are right! Miss Sally! The students were enjoyed more relaxation than working in the farm.Due to the birth policy of China,usually those students are the only son or daughter in a family especially from urban area.Most of them were quite smart and also from well-to-do family,everyone brought the Ipad or Iphone and expensive camera along. They never have tough work experience before,so they just did some light indoor works instead of outdoor. I firmly predict that in next generation,China would be lack of man power or energetic worker and have to import from oversea country.Anyway,they enjoyed much in the farm and quite respect to me.

  14. On February 18, 2012 at 1:21 pm Alex said:

    I’m teaching 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 8th grade this semester, so the first day was a bit rough! There’s nothing like confiscating a pair of nunchucks before lunch to really get the day going right!

  15. On February 19, 2012 at 11:37 am Karen McCann said:

    A lovely blog post, Sally! Funny and really captures the spirit of the first day of school. If you ever get discouraged, go to where you’ll find the world’s sexiest men saying things like, “Hey, Girl, In your class, I am so highly motivated and on task, I would never take out my cell phone. Ever.” Obviously a fantasy. It’s the new teacher porn. Cheers, Karen

  16. On February 19, 2012 at 11:46 am Bula said:

    Ah, good ol’ “Pin the Thesis Statement on the Introductory Paragraph”. When I was teaching back home, I would try to whip my students into an excited frenzy about motifs and Elizabethan language. They didn’t look impressed. Ever. Or maybe it was gas. Hard to tell.
    Bula recently posted..Korean Porn: A World Like No Other

  17. On February 21, 2012 at 9:43 pm Ceri said:

    Loved this post so much. 🙂 Now that I’m working as an English Language teacher, I totally sympathise with everything you say. Haha. I’ve got to admit – My favourite day? The last day of the course when all my students are sitting in silence for two hours doing their exams! (And I get to sit there and do nothing but read blogs while they’re doing it. 😉 Yes, I’m talking about now!)
    Ceri recently posted..Return to Blogging (with a Vlog)

  18. On February 23, 2012 at 8:04 pm Priya said:

    Word games, Sally! Make them play word games! I’m sure that Gin and um, Eleven would greatly appreciate it!
    Priya recently posted..Needing to learn how to celebrate–ish (my) life.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge