I have been cantankerous lately. I think it's a combination of a) not knowing 100% what I will do this summer, b) the weather --lots of rain, everyday, c) feeling fat because I can't run outside on the track (see b), and d) feeling like I haven't done enough for my students this year.
My students haven't noticed my bad mood because my usual teacher self is always cheery so when I am not cheery I only appear calm on the outside. But internally I have felt a mess. I have been in a rut, and I was starting to worry I would never get out of it.
Luckily for me two students pulled me out today.
I went to the Senior 1 office tonight to finish giving oral tests to some of my students. When I was finished, a boy and girl student poked their heads in.
"Do you need to take the test?" I asked, slightly annoyed because I had just put away the test materials.
"No," said the girl. "We want to talk."
Still sunk in my grouchiness, my immediate reaction would have been no -- except that I really liked these kids. They were the few of my 800-plus students whose name I actually knew. The girl was Duan Si Si and the boy Li Jia Lun.
Their English was great and I could tell they tried hard at making it better. They always took advantage of the few minutes before and after class to ask me questions. They cared about what I said, hung on my words. They wanted me to like them too. In the past, they even apologized for their classmates when they could tell I thought the class didn't go well.
So I told them to sit down and we talked. First they asked when I would leave, and when I told them in one week, both their faces fell.
Duan Si Si turned to Li Jia Lun and asked him to write down a word in English. She looked at the word, then turned to me and said, "Thank you for representing our class. Even though oral English is one class a week, you do a lot." Li Jia Lun nodded in agreement.
I smiled and put my hand to my heart, what I do when I am touched and at a lost for words. Then I quickly changed the subject so I wouldn't start crying. Maybe she thought I was brushing off her comment, but in fact what Duan Si Si said made me feel like a new person. Her one comment had reminded me of why I came to China.
We talked for about 45 minutes, mostly about school life and their dreams. They both want to be translators. They both want to study abroad. They wanted advice from me. I told them something generic, like to continue studying English everyday, and encouraged them generally. But the simplicity of my statement -- "If you try very hard, you can do it." -- had a greater effect than I thought it would.
Duan Si Si's entire face lit up. "Really? You think so?"
I nodded enthusiastically, and I really meant it too. Here she was, young, confident, smart and good at English. I believed that in 15 years she could make her dream come true.
Halfway through our conversation, the students' head teacher, Mr. Lee, sat down and asked his students to translate for him.
"My students are very lucky to have a foreign teacher," Mr. Lee started by saying. "When I was in high school, I didn't have a foreign teacher."
He went on to say how terrible he was at English as a high school student. Despite his poor grades, he became close to the English teacher. The young woman had taken a liking to Mr. Lee when he devised a way for her to quickly grade tests -- put the tests in a pile and use a nail to poke holes through the correct multiple choice answers.
His English never improved, but he always had his science subjects. Chemistry, biology, physics. He was great. But he became turned off to science because of his head teacher, a bumbling, passionless physics teacher who had no control over the class and inserted "uh" in every sentence.
"My classmates and I made a game of counting how many times he would say 'uh' in one class," Mr. Lee said.
When, as a senior 3, he had to choose between majoring in science or the humanities, Mr. Lee chose humanities. He is now a Chinese teacher.
Mr. Lee vowed never to be a Mr. Uh.
"In a man's life," Duan Si Si translated for Mr. Lee. "If you are a good teacher, it will leave you with a good emotion."
I couldn't agree more.