Monday, September 3, 2012

And So It Begins...First Day of Class!

Today may be Labor Day in the U.S., but here in China (as well as most of the rest of the world), Labor Day is in May.  So, today is the day to start classes for the fall semester!

This fall, I am teaching four classes: three are Basic Writing in English, and one is Greek and Roman Mythology.  When I mention my schedule, everyone nods in agreement with the first three, and then does a double take when I throw in that last one.  The reason for that one is that, for many years, English majors have had reading classes, where they were assigned various books, articles, etc. to read and discuss in English.  While that's fine for studying English, their professors have come up with a better idea: why not have this 'reading' class on a particular subject?  That way, the students can get in their reading practice, but it won't just be a random jumble of unrelated things--they can actually learn something besides English from the course.  Thus, Greek and Roman Mythology was born.  I'm really excited about it; as an English major myself, I'm looking forward to the opportunity to teach literature.  I'm co-teaching this course with Zoe Chen, a Chinese professor here at this school.  She's doing the first three weeks--in fact, she's teaching the class right this moment--and then it will be my turn for several weeks, and then she will teach again at the end.

I thought I was quite prepared for writing classes--I taught the exact same thing in Jingzhou in 2010, writing for English majors at the Sophomore level.  However, we had some meetings with our Chinese colleagues on Friday.  At this university, the curriculum for basic writing is much more standardized.  When I was in Jingzhou, we were given a class and told to teach them without any sort
of plan being given to us; we were free to do whatever we wanted.  Here, we have a book, and a topic assigned for each week.  We are free to use whatever activities or teaching methods we would like, but we have set material to cover.  We will have faculty meetings every other week or so to share ideas and plan together.

My first gut feeling was annoyance that I wouldn't be free to teach whatever I felt like teaching, but then almost immediately I realized how much better this is for the students.  Part of why we were given little supervision or guidance before was because our class was a fluff class.  It didn't really count for much.  Here, we are teaching alongside the Chinese professors; we are teaching actual core classes of the major.  Student's experiences in my last school varied depending on the competence and experience of the teacher; here, we are sharing resources so that hopefully all students will get a similar quality of instruction.

One other interesting aspect of my writing courses: our Chinese co-teacher, Vera Song, is expecting a baby in December.  She'd really like to end the semester early--so, we're all ending the semester early.  These first four weeks, we're meeting twice a week with each class instead of the usual once a week, but then we will finish the course in week 13 (out of a normal 17-18 week semester).  In December, I'll only be teaching one class, the mythology course.
I'm also really excited that the writing course is a full-year course.  I will continue with the same students in the spring semester.  It will be nice to get to know them better, and to be able to teach a more in-depth course than if it were to be crammed into one semester.

 One final reason for excitement: this school has embraced technology,and there is power point available in every classroom!  Chalk boards scare me, so I am ecstatic to be able to type things for my students instead of getting covered in dust at the board.  Oh, and I have between 21-24 students in each class, which is great for a college course.  I have ninety students in total. 

Here's my schedule right now:

8:00  Greek and Roman Mythology (weeks 4-16)
2:00  English Writing, class 1106 (weeks 1-13)
4:00 English Writing, class 1104 (weeks 1-4) *After the four weeks are over, we will have our faculty m
eetings at this time slot*

10:00 English Writing, class 1106 (weeks 1-4)
2:30 English Writing, class 1103 (week 1-4)

8:00 English Writing, class 1104 (weeks 1-13)
10:00 English Writing, class 1103 (weeks 1-13)

So, after the first four weeks, I will only have classes on Monday and Thursday. Not bad, huh? 


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