I have a great class at Chinese school this year. Some of it is just luck. I’ve been incredibly fortunate this year not to have a single parent corner me before or after class to tell me how I should completely restructure the class to best accommodate their precious snowflake’s unique learning style. I also don’t have a Charlie Gordon in the group, and I know both of these factors are just good luck.
But some of it is MY EXTREME AWESOMENESS, that is, my teaching experience has manifested in an ability to anticipate school disasters, and not let a last-minute room reassignment or a broken photocopier become a cause of panic.
This is a class of anxious honors students, who aren’t entirely sure what happens if you get a B but it probably involves hellfire and damnation. I remember being challenged by the uniquely Chinese classroom mix of students who’d memorized the dictionary definitions word-perfectly, and the students who wouldn’t tell me the time in case they got it wrong.
But now? I’m conducting an English-class orchestra, nudging each part of the class along until they reach the conclusion they wouldn’t have accepted from me.
Last week I gave the kids Frost’s The Road Not Taken. I did want them to reach the conclusion that Frost was onto something, and to think seriously about personal priorities and when to follow the herd, but I knew that the kids who answered that right off were just spitting out what they thought I thought they should think.
Like so many Chinese things, the direct path doesn’t get there. (I should admit that I found the copied groupthink responses on independence and personal priorities very amusing.) When I chose the reading, I figured that at least a few students would have done it in another English class and they would want to know whyyyyy they have do this poem that’s so boooooooooring. (And they say English isn’t a tonal language!) Also, poems are haaaard.
I asked them to respond, and asked why they thought they had to read this poem so many times. One of my students announced that the only reason we read this poem is because it’s by Robert Frost, and he’s considered such a great poet. (I docked myself two points, I’d expected his seatmate to be the one raising this objection.) And that he wants to choose his own path by NOT liking the poet that everyone else does!
I copied “Education doesn’t change life much. It just lifts trouble to a higher plane of regard.” from my index card onto the board. I asked then to respond to this quote, too. There was a discussion that involved some kids trying to guess if I wanted them to agree with it because I’d written it, or disagree because it seemed anti-school, and there was also a faint popping noise as a few heads exploded.
As if by an occult hand, one of my students announced he’d much rather read what this guy has to say than read the old yellow woods poem.
Then I asked my students to whip out their usually-forbidden phones and have a race to find the source of my quote. Robert Frost.