China, Educational System, University Teaching

The Teaching Situation

All freshmen at my university have to take a course called College English which is made up of 3 classes: Oral English (every other week for an hour and a half), Listening (the same), and Reading & Writing (hour and a half every week). So 3 hours of English class a week.

The majority of my classes are Oral English classes for freshmen. I teach 14 classes of Oral English over a two-week period. I will see these students only 9 times this semester. I also teach one Listening class and two Reading & Writing classes. The icing on the cake is the one Oral English class I teach to actual English majors.

I went from having 122 students at my school in Georgia to something like 20,000 students at the university. Students I actually teach from maybe 60 to about 600. It’s quite a change. Since I will see the majority of my students so infrequently I think it’s actually impossible to learn all of their names. I’m trying, but I think it’s a lost cause.

The students look and act remarkably like students everywhere else in the world. It’s the Bell Curve in action. A few good ones, lots of less-than-impressive ones, and a few that should be shot. Okay, very few in the last category. But some clear problem-students in every class.

Most of my speaking classes have 30+ students. A few have over 40. The Listening and Reading/Writing classes all have about 70. So in general all of my classes are quite large. And most of them meet only every other week. So there’s not a lot of contact time and they’re large classes. It’s really not an ideal teaching situation if you are serious about students learning English.

In dealing with large classes of the mostly spoken variety, I have quickly realized the importance of letting no student off the hook. Everyone will participate. Everyone will speak. If I call on you a smart-ass answer will not get you grace. Nor will just bowing your head and saying “sorry”. No, this is speaking class (in most cases). If you’re not going to participate then stay home. One class already got a lecture.

Playing the hard-ass is not my natural inclination in teaching. However, I had a moment when I realized that in my classes I am the Supreme Authority. Like a moment-of-truth scene in a fantasy novel, I saw that the power/sword/sacred object was mine and I must both take hold of said power and wield it. Failure to do so opens the door for others to usurp it. So I am now walking the knowledge of my supremeness. This is different because I wasn’t the S.A. in Georgia. Once I came to terms with this change in status, it’s really quite empowering. Just can’t let it get to my head.

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