An exercise in ad-libbing
It’s Tuesday, April 15th. I know this, because I still have the lesson plan saved in my folder. I’m glad it’s still there, so that I can look back and remember this moment later. This class was full of firsts for me.
It’s not the first class I’ve taught; it’s probably the tenth or so. However, at this school, there are levels, and it’s the first class I’ve taught at the lowest level. The students are 6 or 7 years old, the youngest I’ll see on a regular basis. It’s the first, and only class I’ve taught for this Chinese teacher. She has no idea what to expect from me.
At this level, students learn very basic things. Mostly, they learn commands. Sit well. Point to the door. That is a dog. In this lesson, the children will learn the word “can.” I can sing. I can run. I can write. The other two verbs they know are draw and read. I know that I want to mime the verbs and have students identify them; we call this Total Physical Response, or TPR.
While in class, I notice the kids are paying extra attention to me. I’m new. I’m special. They don’t know what to expect from me, either, but they’re eating up whatever I’ve got for them. So, I decide to try something new. I test out what they know. I paint an imaginary picture in the air. “Draw!” I open an imaginary book. “Read!” I lift off from the ground. “Jump!”
“What’s this?” I ask them, and fall backwards flat onto the ground.
“GAME OVER!” “TEACHER DIE!” “GAME OVER GAME OVER GAME OVER!”
Normally, Chinese teachers will let you know if students don’t know a word… teaching them things outside the curriculum is generally not a thing that happens. But, I think the teacher was so surprised by what I did, that she didn’t think to stop me, so I taught them the word “fall.” I got a couple of kids to mime it, and tried to move on.
The key word here is “tried.” Every time I stopped an activity and started to transition, I would hear a chorus of “TEACHER FALL! TEACHER FALL!” from the kids. I gave in to this one time during the middle of class, and one time at the end of class. When the bell rang, and I fell, I was immediately swarmed by a writhing mass of six year old bodies. The teacher had to help me up, and I left the room.
It was only after all of this that I remember something. Something that I thought would never forget, something I never forgot when I was observing other teachers. In our school, every classroom has a camera. Those cameras are connected to a series of TVs in a waiting room near the entrance to the school. All of the parents can see what their children are doing… if they want. Usually, parents are staring at their phones, or doing online shopping on one of the public access computers. If anyone was watching me that day, they didn’t say anything about it. Phew!