Teaching 101

Google+ Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr +

Teaching 101

Paper, papier. Pen, crayon. Table, table. Chair, chaise. Black­board, tableau. Note­book, cah.…

I wish John would shut up. But you see, John is so enthu­si­as­tic about his French train­ing that he has to mum­ble vocab­u­lary on his way to class. For now, I’m try­ing to open the bloody class­room door. Stuck, as usual. Or… do I have the right set of keys?

Keys, clés.

John added a new word to his vocab­u­lary. He’s already pulling his elec­tronic trans­la­tor out of his brief­case to check the trans­la­tion. John is fifty-something. He’s an exec­u­tive. His employees dread his well-known out­bursts — he’s your basic worka­holic. The guy is a bit short-tempered, indeed. But here, John is Jean and he learns French. No choice: his posi­tion was recently changed to bilin­gual imperative.

The door finally opens and I let John in. The class won’t start before another 30 min­utes and I just have the time to eat my sand­wich. Another day at work. I pull a brown paper bag out of my bag and grab a news­pa­per. Hope­fully, John will get the mes­sage. I’m just com­ing from a three hours class at the City Hall and the last thing I want to do right now is small talk. This is my san­ity time. Before another three hours class.

Thirty min­utes later, peo­ple are gath­er­ing in the hall­way. If I don’t open the door wide, they won’t come in. Despite the fact that the room has a huge glass door and they can see me sit­ting at the far end of the big meet­ing table. I won­der how long they would wait but I don’t feel like exper­i­ment­ing today. I get up and go open the door.

Stu­dents come in, chat­ting. A cou­ple of them are still hooked up to their Black­berry and all of them place their cell­phone on the table in front of them.

Carla won’t come today, she’s sick. Mike will be thirty min­utes late. Greg won’t be here.

I some­times wish I could require a note from their par­ents. Unfor­tu­nately, it’s very unlikely my stu­dents will do it. After all, they are all between 30 and 60. I’m the baby of the class but they take me seri­ously. They’d bet­ter. I’m the teacher.

I let them chat for a cou­ple of min­utes while I pull out my fold­ers and my pens. I then raise my voice:

Ça va bien aujourd’hui ?

I carry about thirty pho­to­copies with me. Time to lighten my bag: I dis­trib­ute them and try to bribe my stu­dents in tak­ing the absen­tees’ copy. No way I’m bring­ing them back next week, only to find out more peo­ple didn’t show up.

Alright, time to cor­rect the assign­ments. I asked them to write a let­ter, let’s see what they came up with. I love cor­rect­ing papers. Armed with my slightly leak­ing red pen, I read aloud and scrib­ble notes in the mar­gins. I dis­sect. I explain. Clear­ing up a spe­cific gram­mar point makes me happy. It’s like untan­gling a knot. I can tell whether my stu­dents under­stand just by look­ing at them. So far so good—they even take notes today. Such atten­tive­ness isn’t com­mon: the class­room is a place for drama, a place to vent a bit, to for­get the hier­ar­chy. I often com­pare the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment to the “1984″ novel: some words don’t make any sense (“account­abil­ity”, “person-month”…) nor do some politics.

This is a writ­ing class. Stu­dents have a pretty good French level but they need to prac­tice their writ­ing because they all hold bilin­gual posi­tions. Each class, I give them assign­ment: usu­ally writ­ing a short let­ter, an email, min­utes of a meet­ing etc. Prob­lem is, when they print out their paper at the office, a few of them reported it was mis­tak­enly sent to trans­la­tion. Indeed, Eng­lish speak­ers are required to have any­thing they write trans­lated by the trans­la­tion bureau. No mat­ter how good their French is. What’s the point of this class, then? Well, in the­ory, they have to be able to write in French. But it will never happen. So, when they print out their assign­ment, my stu­dents have to specify it’s for their French classes, oth­er­wise, it’s cor­rected and trans­lated auto­mat­i­cally. Stu­pid pol­i­tics, I said…

One of the stu­dents looks like she’s on the verge of tears. This is typ­i­cally a case of “I failed the com­pe­ti­tion for a new posi­tion”. What adds to her mis­ery is the fact that mum­bling John was sit­ting at the panel—I’ll learn that at the end of the class. Ouch. There’s more drama in my class­room than in the OC.

Take the woman sit­ting at the far left. She’s obvi­ously preg­nant. Very preg­nant as a mat­ter of fact. But she didn’t men­tion it, prob­a­bly because she can’t: her man­ager is sit­ting in front of her and she didn’t offi­cially tell him. So we all have to pre­tend she’s not preg­nant. Office pol­icy: she will tell him when she’s sure she can take her mater­nity leave and mean­while, we avoid look­ing at her nice rounded belly.

By the end of the class, I have usu­ally fin­ished my big bot­tle of water and I have red ink all over my hands. I let them go ten min­utes ear­lier—so that they get a chance to linger a bit. I pro­vided three hours of free­dom. Teach­ing 101: stay away from office politics.



About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Um…what does Ça “va bien aujourd’hui” mean??? 😳

    That’s why I alwasy subbed for the young grades. I didn’t want to deal with any kind of soap opera drama with the high schoolers. :mrgreen:

  2. Great post Zhu! I love teaching too ^^ but I didn’t have all those troubled students xD Mine where around 20, 21 years old, I just had to deal with the boyfriends and girlfriends chatting during class 🙄

  3. I have immense regard for teachers. Esp teachers of Special Ed and Elementary. Ive subbed, volunteered, and taught a few classes at my kids’ school and I know the effort that goes into staying true to oneself.

    You know weirdly, I couldn’t read any comments yesterday form home. But then again, I’d rather see, comment and blog-hop from work 😉


  4. Hey Zhu,

    I must say I loved this post; it caught my attention…it was like reading an excellent book!
    It seems to me that the referred class is a very interesting: we have the super-diligent John, then the insecure pregnant lady, the class that knows that she’s pregnant but looks the other side, her best who probably knows that she’s expecting a baby but also pretends not to know…the teacher that watches all this as if watching a play…the characters coming out of a high-school play!

    To add any other word would ruin the taste of it…


  5. Hiya Teacher (Is it Oh..La?) I wish I pick up French when I was a teenager in addition to Japanese…..who knows you might just be my teacher huh?

    Being an adult learner, I will and would listen attentively and pay respect to my language teacher, afterall we are adults 🙂

    Thank you for sharing 101 day Zhu 🙂 I can and could imagine the students’ attitude ya!

  6. Great blog! I not only love the way your write, but also the template/artwork. Thank you for dropping in at my my blog the other day… Hope to get back to read some of your earlier posts.

  7. Lori : “Ça va bien aujourd’hui” just means “How are you today”” No, I didn’t swear at them 😉

    Aiglee : oh, yeah, young kids must be tough sometimes… and all the BF/ GF drama – I don’t think I could take it !

    Rads: I now respect teachers, trust me ! 😆 I regret my behavior in High School… must be karma !

    Trotter” but I get pay for it – makes a lot of difference 😉

    Max: thanks, it does look like a play – my life looks like a play sometimes anyway ! You have an eye for spotting these kind of things… I didn’t even notice it at first !

    Shionge: it’s cool you learned Japanese though, I guess it makes sense considering where you lie. I’d take you as a student : I’m sure you won’t be a problem !

    Shantanu : thank you very much for the praise. I like your blog too – I find your analysis very pertinent and smart. I’ll be back !

  8. So essentially you are an all out “class act” then, lol [sorry couldnt resist the pun, heh]

    It is interesting how people behave when bound by legislation and rigid office politics. I have to say that the teacher being the youngest in class is a nice surreal touch to the whole affair!

    Oh well, nothing that the uberawesomeness that is Zhu can’t handle I am sure:)

  9. I truly love the way you develope people into characters. It really helps the reader build an image of your class (although I dread to think what your characture of me would be if I was in your class….lol!). However, after working in HR for 14 years and having to counsel and discipline hundreds of adults, I agree that they are so much more complicated than children. I deeply admire teachers, they have the daunting task of shaping our future leaders.

    ……..I guess that means that we can blame teachers for the mess the world is in at the moment!!! LOL!!!! 😉

    Best wishes as always ~ Graham 😀

Leave A Reply