Friday May 15, 2009

Thought for the day: “Talking about Art is like dancing about architecture” – Steve Martin

The act of teaching is an art. Your intuition will tell you – if you listen – when to push, and when to slacken – when to praise, when to be silent – when to diverge, and when to stay on task.
At 9:09 as we walked thru the dark corridors of the school towards our classrooms, Robert asked me, “Are you feeling better?”

I’d told him in the bus I’d woken at 1:30 and how tired I was. Still heavy with fatigue I told him, No. I’m still really tired”, and I wondered if my tiredness would effect my teaching.

But did anyone ever devise a more wonderful way to begin your work day! Seventeen girls sitting in a small u-shape turned toward me as I came into the room; they smiled and clapped their hands and said/ Welcome-Welcome!” and for three hours I forgot my fatigue completely.

I smiled and thanked them and walked to the table by the window and took about a minute to set out my supplies. I went to the table in front of the room and said, “Good morning, class”. They stood and in unison replied Good Morning”. They sat down and we began our day.

I introduced myself. I asked them each to stand and say their names. I wrote one sentence at a time on the board and then read it aloud. If it was a long sentence we broke it into parts. We practiced the more difficult words. If the meaning of a word was unclear I pantomimed the word or drew quick simple sketches. Sometimes I asked Fisher the teacher to say the word in Chinese to save us time – in order that we didn’t lose momentum. I signed into California and U.S.A with maps and photos. I asked them to tell me their town. We did sentences “(name) lives in (town) which they recited aloud. All the time I kept in mind my wonderful French teacher Mrs. Chavdarian and all the various ways she conducted the drills and how she helped us all – brave and timid alike- to try.

She would call on me to recite and say with a radiant smaile “Vous ete un bon studiante, Robert”., and I would blush and be seated. Never once did she leave French and lapse into English.

Drills with pictures of Chinatown evolved easily into pictures of my daughters and their artwork – and photos of my cats. I asked them to guess Amber’s age from her photo and they were all amazed when I wrote her age on the board.

I wrote “I have two cats” on the board and asked “What is a cat?”. One girl went “mew-mew”. I pretended to not see her. I cupped my hand to my ear and said “I hear a cat,” and I looked down at their feet. When I came to the girl who’d mewed I feigned surprise. * My situation here is perfect. I cannot lapse into Chinese. “You! I said, “you are the cat!”. And for a few seconds l7 cats mewed. Only then did I show the pictures of my cats.

About half-way through the morning, we went to the workbook. I moved my stool into the top of the U so I sat within 6 to 8 feet of all of them. I made eye contact and smiled and moved quickly, trying not to act rushed. I remembered Mrs. Chavdarian and heaped praise on each person.

We first went over vocabulary and then read the dialogues and the paragraphs. Frequently I went to the board to write or sketch a diagram. I asked Fisher to explain what “good” meant because I said it after every response and I could tell they were pleased to know I was praising them

At the end of the morning we had 8 minutes. Fisher said, “They would like for you to teach them a song”. I said I couldn’t think of one but I would teach them a tongue-twister. “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. How many peppers did Peter Piper pick? A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked. If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, how many peppers did Peter Piper pick?” We did one line at a time in unison. Then I had them do it all and of course it collapsed into bedlam- as it is supposed to do – with laughter and applause.

I ended by thanking them for being such good students, said “Xie-Xie”, and “bye-bye” and thus ended on of my most gratifying teaching days.


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