Chinese School After-Action Review

Chinese school is over for the semester. I’ve been teaching here for two years now, the longest time I’ve worked in one school. RACL is really a special place, I’m glad I could work here. I had the best class this semester, thanks to a perfect combination of students, parents and administration. Oh, and my awesomeness.

I had a couple of boys in my class who competed to answer the most questions, win games and generally succeed in class. In doing so, they made it cool to raise your hand, and cool to have the answer. This lifted a lot of the burden of encouraging class participation from me, and all but eliminated two of my unfavorite classroom events: the horrible dead silent stares following a question, and the hilarious hipness of not having a clue.  The downside was that I also had a class cheater, a boy who desperately wanted to compete with the others, and it was weird for me to create classroom games with anti-cheating mechanics.

I believe that anti-cheating measures and dire warnings about plaguerism set up an antagonistic relationship between teacher and student. I want students to feel comfortable asking me questions and relating what we’ve covered to their other interests.  How can you ask questions of someone who’s just told you they think you’re lying scum, that you’d be downloading a term paper right now if they hadn’t thwarted your sneaky plan with threats of CopyScape? 

On the first day of fall semester, I told the kids they if they needed to come in late, leave class early, or go to the bathroom during class, they didn’t need to ask permission. They should just do what they needed as quietly as possible and catch up what they missed from a classmate or on the class blog. Thanks to years of asking permission and requiring a hall pass for everything, they couldn’t believe it at first. I don’t know if this system would work in a bigger school (I probably wouldn’t be allowed to do that in public school), but it was a great policy for this group. Now I didn’t have to spend ten minutes listening to stories about why it really, really, really wasn’t their fault they were two minutes late, and we didn’t have to interrupt the flow of discussion to request and give permission get up for a tissue or go to the toilet.

I didn’t have any helicopter parents. This is one factor over which I have absolutely no control, so I’ll just be grateful it happened.

My classroom this semester shared a wall with an awesome teacher who saw (or, I guess, heard) my students cheering or laughing as a sign of a successful, active learning environment. Let’s just say that has not always been the case for me, and it’s been quite hard for me to turn a roomful of duds into active participants and then face criticism over my unruly students. No scolding about noise, or veiled remarks about uncontrolled students, from my classroom neighbor this term!

Some of this great semester is me and my teaching awesomeness. A last-minute room reassignment to a room without a whiteboard doesn’t mean a botched lesson. Six new late-adds can be added into my lesson plan.

Let’s talk about classroom nirvana. This is the state where I’m pitching my lesson difficulty right to hit the mainsteam kids without boring the highest achievers (easier to do here without a Charlie Gordon in class!), I’ve split up the chatterboxes, I know who’s listening without taking notes and who’s just staring off into space, I can recognise whispers and rustles without turning around, for that magical “James, leave Kimmy alone!” while I’m writing on the board.  It takes me a long time to become an education jedi, so I usually get to this state towards the end of the semester, and have two or three great lessons before the class ends and I have to start learning names all over again. I got to classroom nirvana about halfway through this semester, and just had a string of really good classes.

Blah blah blah, the kids learned a lot,  I could see their vocab improve and their understanding of  poetry deepen, and more blah blah blah. But most importantly, the kids were my evil minions.

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