Sunday, January 16, 2005

Touched, moved and rocked

The meeting time yesterday was changed because the university was holding entrance examinations, and I guess they didn't want all these foreigners floating around the place laughing too loudly and scaring potential students. For this reason I intended to arrive early, so I could get a glimpse of the nervous examinees and see how they organized the whole thing, but in the end I didn't. I failed to wake up in time. In fact I was late for the meeting.

The meeting was a little disappointing because the Japanese head of department wasn't there and I was deprived of my primary source of amusement: watching him make dots in his notebook and cringe whenever anybody shouted. Now that I think of it that might be because our boss got a promotion last year. Perhaps they think he no longer needs supervision. Well, that's OK, because we're doing quite a good job of supervising him ourselves.

As predicted, the wine was good at the party afterwards, and the food not so, with the expected results. Consequently what I can remember of the meeting is confined to the notes I took, all five lines of them. The only interesting bit is where I wrote what the boss said when he was explaining the new curriculum (our third curriculum in seven years): Everybody will not be happy with the changes. I think he meant to say, Not everybody will be happy, but I'm not entirely sure.

I also learned that all first year students take two other English classes a week, with Japanese teachers. This was a huge surprise to me. I knew some were, but didn't know it was compulsory. If they're getting three classes of English a week, surely they should be showing a bit more improvement by the second semester? And in their second year? But no, some of them - second year students especially - seem to actually get worse. What on earth are they doing in those other classes?

We also learned the average TOEIC score of students overall after their first semester, which was horrifyingly low. But apparently the Grand Poohbar of the university wants to improve student TOEIC scores (which are used as a yardstick by companies recruiting from universities), and this is why we have yet another curriculum change. We are supposed to coordinate with the Japanese teachers from next year. Ooh, what an interesting can of worms that will open! I must admit I'm rather looking forward to it. I wonder if the university will finally notice that some of their teachers of 'English communication' (tenured, no less) can not communicate in English?

I have one first-year student who is really, really good, and has shown enormous improvement. Of course he is taking private lessons, besides the classes he is taking at university, and he studies hard. (In other words I don't have much to do with his improvement.) On Friday I collected the last batch of homework from his class, and he provided a sentence that I fell in love with on the spot. He was writing about a restaurant, and this is what he wrote:

Most of the foods is not expensive, so that it is the good place for people who are kind of a little bit poor like me and have trouble in making ends meet (which means that expenditure exceeds income) to go to.

I don't quite know why I like this sentence so much. Perhaps it is the mixed registers (kind of a little bit doesn't quite go with expenditure exceeds income), or the sheer complexity of the sentence, but also, I think it is the contrast that got to me. I'd just finished reading the other students' homework, which was mostly sentences like,

I can't do cook.
I like first food.
I going to restaurant once a month.
I like hum.

My star student used to stay behind after class to chat with me, and always had lots of questions. He was a delight. He added this message at the end of his homework,

Thank you for helping me improve my ability for speaking English. You did contribute a lot for me. I'll be sure to keep your advice in mind so as not to forget. I appreciate you for telling me a lot of stories and listening to what I said. Did you feel that your heart was touched, moved, rocked or whatever for hearing my messages? Anyway, I enjoyed this class very much. Thank you.

My heart is touched, moved and rocked. Every teacher needs one success story every academic year, and he is mine.