A day in the life

Recently some friends asked me to talk about what a normal day for me is like.  Here it is, in maybe more detail than you wanted to know.  Today is a pretty representative day of what “normal” is here. 

Roughly what my living room table looks like during the week.  I live my life in a web of words.
6:45 am — I wake up to my phone BLARING the opening notes of Hamilton.  Because, like a genius, I left the volume the entire way up.  It’s still completely dark outside.

7:00 am — My second, you actually need to think about getting up now alarm goes off.  I set a timer for five minutes and then I’ll get up.  However, I’m very awake, thanks to my pal Aaron Burr screaming at me first thing.  Once I get up, and begin stumbling around my apartment in a very WALL-E-esque fashion, I have about 20 minutes to get dressed and ready for classes and to eat breakfast (yogurt, which comes in a container with its own spoon.  For those of you familiar with Chinese yogurt, notice I said a spoon.  Yes, it’s delicious thick yogurt.)  I have a few extra minutes this morning, so I empty a few trashcans to take the full bags down with me.  My water tong (the big refillable container, like on Culligan water machines) is low, but there’s enough to wait until later in the day to do anything.

7:30 am — On days when Miriam and I both teach at the same time, we meet first in her apartment to spend a few minutes talking and thinking about the day.

7:45 am — Yay!  The sun is finally on its way up.  We head out of our building, I drop my garbage bags into the larger canister, and we head towards our teaching building.  A lot of other teachers are also pouring out of the apartments where we live and the road is full of people greeting each other.  One of the gate guards sees us and yells, “HELLO!”

7:52 am — I walk into my first classroom of the day, class 15.  Most of the students are in there, because they have to be in their classroom at 7:30, spending about 20 minutes practicing some English pronunciation drills.  I start pulling materials out of my bag, write the list of who’s presenting today on the chalkboard to ward off extraneous questions.  Class 15 is the “lowest” in their department — these students will only study for three years, and graduate with a teaching certificate rather than a bachelor’s degree.  Nonetheless, this class has some very motivated students and can be a lot of fun. 

8:00 am — A song plays over the loudspeakers in the building, indicating that it’s time for class to begin.  This song is more pleasant than the buzzing alert in other buildings, but it’s awkwardly long.  I greet the class, note that one student is absent, and take a seat in the back of the classroom to listen to the students who are giving their speeches today.  They’re graded on a simple rubric, and it’s easy to notice overall trends in this class: their speeches are far shorter than they were supposed to be, and most of the students need to work on making eye contact with their audience.  On the bright side, all of my students have proven can give speeches to a group in English without dying, so that’s a success.  When they finish, we move to a quick pronunciation drill and then to my favorite part of this week’s lesson: brainstorming.  Using word webs, I illustrate to students how to brainstorm other topics that they can discuss if their main topic is “the environment.”  They catch on quickly, which makes me very happy, because this sort of creativity and flexibility in thinking is essential to oral communication…. not to mention life.  They work with another topic, “birthdays” to brainstorm and then give impromptu speeches to their deskmates.  We move on to brainstorming a third topic, “the meaning of life,” and the song begins playing again.  It’s break time!

8:45 am — And during break, there is an unexpected development — a very abnormal bit of this normal day.  Libby, who sits in the front row, grabs me as soon as I say it’s time for break and begins telling me her opinion of the brainstorming exercise.  At first, I think she’s complaining or confused, but I realize after a minute that she is in fact giving me some of the most incredible affirmation I’ve ever received from a student.  “This is really hard,” she says, gesturing to the board with the notes from their last brainstorming.  “We’ve never been taught to do this, to think this way.  And it’s a really profound question…. Why couldn’t you be our teacher earlier?”  I’m stunned and deeply encouraged.  

8:55 am — Back for the second half of class; our topic is “aging,” so we discuss different attitudes and problems in the US and in China and wrap up with a discussion about pilot programs in a few countries where college students live in nursing homes.  At the end of class, I tell them about their homework for next week; there are groans which turn into laughter as I unsympathetically remind them that I haven’t assigned them homework (….aside from preparing for their speeches….) in a month.  They’ll live. 

9:40 am — 20 minute break between classes; plenty of time for me to head across the hallway to class 7!  This class is a joy almost every week; enthusiastic students who are just plain fun to teach because they are a little crazy and clearly like each other.  I set things up for this class, wander the hallways, send a couple text messages, talk to students about what second language they’re planning to start (registration happens this afternoon; they have five options and none of them want to study German!) and tease Miriam’s student Vicky who has wandered into my classroom.  

10:00 - 11:40 am — Basically, this is a repeat of the earlier class, although the students in this class are much more generally engaged, which makes my job easier.  By the end of class, all of us are starving.  I shut the computer down as quickly as possible and attempt to bolt downstairs to meet another teacher, Nancy….

11:45 am - 1:00 pm — Along with hordes of students, I get to the entrance of the building where Nancy is waiting to give me a ticket so that I can attend the speech competition.  Then I check the mail, since I’m there anyway, and as I walk out of the post office room, my phone buzzes.  It’s Penny (class 12), calling me so that we can meet up for lunch.  I head over and find her and two of her classmates (Woody and Gennifer) and we walk to Snack Street.  It’s turned into a surprisingly sunny day!  The first restaurant we think about hitting is quite crowded, so we walk a little further and find a table at the gan guo (dry pot) restaurant.  For an hour, we sit, talk, and eat.  It’s rewarding to see them get more comfortable with talking during the course of the meal as we discuss names, superpowers, places they’d like to travel, their college life, their thoughts about English, and a host of other subjects.  This is the first time we’ve eaten together, so they pay for lunch.  If we hang out more, I’ll get to pay for things, but cultural etiquette mandates that they treat their (foreign) teacher.  

1:00 - 2:20 pm — I get back to my apartment, get on the internet to check Facebook and my email (which involves connecting first to the school’s internet server, and then to a VPN so that I can bypass the Great Firewall…) and take a nap.  When my alarm goes off, I repack a bag for the office, get changed into jeans and a hoodie (YAY!), and finish off the water that I had.  There’s just time for a quick call to the water people before I head out for the office.  Fortunately, I now have the script for ordering water memorized.  “Ni hao, qing gei wo yi tong shui, dao shi wu dong, si dan yuan, wu ling yao.”  (Hi, I’d like one tong of water, building fifteen, fourth stairwell, apartment 501.)  I leave the empty tong outside my doorway with a ten kuai (~$1.50) bill stuffed in the opening.  A tong of drinking water will last me for about a week.  

2:30 - 5:00 pm — I arrive at the office, get the lights and heater turned out and sit down at my desk just in time for Jack and Beatrice to arrive.  They pull chairs over to my desk and for the next two and a half hours we talk about anything and everything — English grammar (specifically the article system), where they’re planning on traveling in the coming year (America for Jack, Thailand for Beatrice), how Christmas is not primarily an American holiday, various features of Greek, Spanish, Japanese, times we’ve been in the hospital…. and so on.  Also, now that Jack is going to America, he’s decided that he wants to have an American accent, and keeps referring to British accents as “that stupid British accent,” sending me and Miriam into fits of laughter.  We try convincing him that in fact, your accent is not a huge deal, but he’s not buying it.  Then we settle for trying to convince him that describing the accent of a huge portion of the English speaking world as “stupid” is not diplomatic.  I’m not sure how successful we were. 

5:00 - 6:35 pm — Miriam and I leave the office and walk along Snack Street, looking for dinner.  I decide to just make some food in my apartment but sneakily (accidentally) con Miriam into buying me a milk tea by ordering one before realizing that I didn’t pack my wallet…  When I get home (where a full water tong is waiting on the mat outside my door), I make dinner, do my study on the next chunk of Matthew, and work on writing this post for a bit.

6:35 - 9:50 pm — I meet up with Miriam and we walk over to the assembly hall where the final round of the speech competition will be held.  It’s a big deal, with twelve contestants from different departments.  Both of us have a student who’s made it to the final round and both of us know a couple of the others.  All twelve of them do an incredibly impressive job speaking to a vast audience in a second language.  There are some great moments, such as the completely epic video that they use to kick off the competition. I’m particularly happy that my student Davina is very ready to take on the impromptu speech section, because we’ve been working on that in class for a month or so, and she was nervous about it.  After taking some pictures, we’re done for the night and head home.

Davina is *incredibly* motivated and hard working.
10:00 pm — I’m home.  Time to finish writing this, chat with some friends and check if there’s anything new online for me to deal with.  Things I didn’t get done today: my lesson plan for next week, a work out (although according to my pedometer I’m over 11,000 steps today!), a reflection paper for January Wheaton classes, and washing the dishes.  Tomorrow promises to be a full day too, with dinner & study with Miriam and then English Corner in the evening.  As I sit here with a lovely warm water baby (electric hot water bottle) warming up my feet, I’m a little overwhelmed at the craziness of life but also so thankful for the fullness of it.
And there it is, folks.  I'm happy to answer questions -- because this is my normal, it's really difficult for me to think of what's worth mentioning!


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