Thursday, March 5, 2009

Intermediate Chinese Classes

Intermediate Book One: Chinese Moral Tales

Intermediate Book Two: Chinese Customs and Traditions

If you want to read an interesting discussion of the differences and similarities between marriages in China and India, see the recent comments by me and Aghori after the 2/5/09 post "Student Life in Taiwan".

At the end of 1983, our class finally finished the second conversation book. Teacher Chin entered her favorite stage of the teaching process: the intermediate readers. The first reader of the series was called Chinese Moral Tales and the second one was called Chinese Customs and Traditions. Teacher Chin told us that she was going to begin teaching “on a plane.” She would be telling us the stories, backgrounds, and secondary meanings to all the vocabulary and idioms in our lessons, and she expected us to take good notes. She had been stringent in teaching us to read and write every word in the conversation books so that we would be able to take notes in Chinese from her speaking. She was quite proud that we had come this far, and she had high expectations for our class.

The first extra-textual proverb that she taught us that day was 一日為師, 終生為父. (If you are a teacher for a day, then you are a parent-figure for life.) She said that because she was our teacher, Chinese tradition obligated her to become a parent figure to us. She realized that we Westerners, especially the Americans and the French, did not value or desire parental input after we left home. But Teacher assured us that we were all still young and in need of a strong guiding hand to set us on the proper path in our adult life. Since we had chosen to learn Chinese, and because we had been brought by Fate to her classroom, she was now going to change us forever by introducing us to the concepts and thought processes inherent in the Chinese culture and language. She warned us that if we wanted to leave our Western prejudices intact, we needed to immediately transfer to another class section with a teacher who would skim the surface of the stories without imparting the deeper cultural heritage at the core of each text. In short, she promised to make us part Chinese as a result of her teaching.

The next day we had our usual quiz at the beginning of class. Instead of the expected test on the material from the text book, we had to write the extra-curricular proverb in characters with the correct bo, po, mo, fo symbols. After grading that half of the test, she had each of us give an oral summary of what she had told us the previous day about how true Chinese teachers differed from their counterparts in the Western tradition. I think we all flunked that test. None of us was prepared for how thoroughly she would test us on every story, every joke, and every word that came out of her mouth. We had foolishly thought she was just helping us practice our listening comprehension by telling us interesting anecdotes. We did not realize that in her more than twenty years of teaching those text books, she had all her lesson plans memorized. She knew exactly what she was going to say at every page of the book without looking at any notes. And her passion, her mission, in life was to impart a solid understanding and sense of the Chinese culture into all her intermediate students. She had been doing this for years, and she was the best in the school at that level of instruction.


murat11 said...

I love the first proverb. Interestingly, in the space of one hour this evening, I received emails from two former students, catching me up on their lives.

In my 20 years as a therapist, I used to joke that adolescence really ended about age 33. This jibes a bit with Teacher Chin's thoughts, and I was only half joking. In truth, I think we ocscillate in and out of serial childhoods throughout our lives: we circle round and round to the need of Teacher Chins in our lives.

I love, too, her passion, and her putting you all on notice about the journeys you were about to embark upon. There's an Alice in Wonderland quality to your journeys down the rabbit hole, urgent and compelling.

Teresa said...

Hi Murat,

She definitely was a major influence in my life, and she truly cared about us. I agree that we need teachers at every major stage in our lives.