Friday, May 11, 2007

Classroom equipment

(The first part of this post was written between nine and nine-thirty this morning.)

Well, here I am again on the 11th floor. Yesterday I got a memo from my lone student's faculty telling me they had decided to continue the class even though there is only one student. This morning I walked into an empty classroom.

This is both annoying and gratifying. On the one hand, after last week's tiny success I had all sorts of plans for this lad. On the other, a part of me was hoping that the class would be cancelled, because one-to-one classes are HARD with an unmotivated student. For that second scenario, of course the best outcome would be if the class was officially continued (i.e. I would still get paid) and the student stopped coming, which would allow me a free (paid) period on Friday mornings. The problem with this is that if he doesn't tell me he's not coming then I have to be here anyway, which scotches the idea of getting a little extra sleep on Friday mornings. I gave him my email address and asked him to let me know if he was going to be absent, and even told him exactly what to write, but didn't hear from him, so it looks like this might have been one of those mornings when he couldn't bring himself to leave the room, and was too embarrassed (or apathetic, or depressed, or scared) to tell me.

At least I get to write a blog entry. (Thank goodness for my little Palm and wireless keyboard.)

The most annoying thing about him being absent today is that I had anticipated the class being allowed to continue, and had prepared materials. My photocopies are ready, and I even brought chalk up here with me, which I usually forget. It is a bit deflating to bounce cheerfully into class and find you are being cheerful at nobody. It is so empty up here it echoes, as I discovered when I sneezed and made myself jump. It is true it was not a restrained sneeze. With nobody around I did not feel the need to be polite, but still, I did not expect it to sound quite so explosive, or to echo like that.

The chalk is bothering me, now that I have time to think about it. I don't know why, but at this university there is a chronic chalk problem. At the other places I work the classrooms are kept stocked with chalk, but at this one the teachers have to bring some from the office or hope that the last teacher didn't use it all up. What I find really puzzling is that every classroom seems to always have one or two pieces or blue or red chalk which, if you use it, is practically invisible, and a tiny stub of white which you hesitate to use because it causes you to scrape your fingernails on the board. I use this classroom one day a week, and in the second week, after I had found that there was no chalk in any of the classrooms on this floor the first week, I brought up with me half a box of chalk and put some in each of the rooms. The next week I didn't bring any, since even the most scribbly teachers could not use up that much chalk in a week, but to my astonishment and annoyance there was none again, except for the usual one tiny stub. ONE! Where did the rest of it go? And where did the several sticks of red chalk come from? Who even uses it?

These are the things that occupy my mind as I sit here for the requisite thirty minutes I have to wait in case the student is late, and checking the chalk ledge I see that again there is only a stub of chalk, despite my having gone all the way downstairs AND to another building to stock up again last week for my third period class, when I am back in this room. (I have no consecutive classes in the same room today, or even in the same building.)

Today I have supplied myself with a little box of chalk that is only for me, and which I will carry around with me, because I am sick of supplying other teachers with chalk which they then do not leave in the classroom. At least I suppose that is what is happening. The only scenario I can think of (because who would steal chalk except a teacher?) is that teachers who are using more than one classroom in a day see all that lovely chalk that I supply and remember that in their next classroom there probably won't be any, so help themselves so they don't have to walk all the way back over to the office to get more. The problem is worse in this building, probably because it is so far from the office.

So I will carry my little box of chalk with me all day, and keep it in my bag. I will leave only one new stick of chalk per chalkless classroom (because I am not COMPLETELY revenge-driven) and will still have enough for me. Then I will fill up my little box next week, when I go to the office to check my mailbox.


(Later, at home ...)

I ended up waiting for forty-five minutes, and my student did not come. A week is too long between classes. It gave him far too much time in which to contemplate the awfulness of the fact that he had accidentally voluntarily spoken to someone. A foreigner, no less. And in English.

Of course it could just be that he's caught a cold.

In my last, huge class (on the other campus) I decided to use some high tech (for here) classroom equipment. Last week I'd lugged a heavy old CD player up to the class so I could use some of the materials that came with the textbook. In such a large class I need to do a lot of listening practice, because when there are 44 students you can't do a lot of speaking practice except in chorus (although I do try, to chaotic effect usually), and if I supply all the 'native input' I end the day croaking like a frog. Last week when I returned the CD player, one of the office staff informed me that I did not need to carry that heavy old thing over to the classroom, because in the locked cabinet in the room there was some better equipment I could use instead. All I needed was the key.

So today I picked up the key. I have used the classroom equipment in the refurbished classrooms on the main campus and it works wonderfully, but hadn't known this particular building had any. I was delighted that I would not need to carry the CD player. It makes my shoulders ache.

In the classroom, once I had everybody settled down and had called the roll, I opened the cabinet, located the CD/DVD/VHS player (I can play DVDs and videos too! I thought excitedly, then realized there was no screen anywhere in the room), inserted the CD, and hit the play button. At first everything seemed to be working all right, but I wanted it to play the eighth track on the CD, and that is when my troubles started.

I could not get the CD to choose a track.

(In case you were wondering, I would normally check the equipment before making a idiot of myself, but today I was in a different classroom each period and someone else was using that room before me, so I couldn't.)

After five minutes of fruitless fumbling, I appealed to the class for help.

"Somebody good with machines, please help me!" I wailed, beating my head on the cabinet, and the very loud judo girl (whom I am sure you will hear more of in the weeks to come) volunteered, telling the class loudly and confidently that she was a GENIUS with machines.

She was, too, sort of. After a few false starts she located the remote control, which someone had hidden behind the machine in the cabinet, and eventually managed to get the CD to choose the eighth track. She bowed and accepted the applause of the rest of us, and sat down. I directed everybody's attention to the bit of dialog we would be hearing, told them what to listen for, and hit 'play.' The students bent obediently over their books and prepared to listen.

The machine then proceeded to make noises I have never heard from one of these machines before, and VERY LOUDLY. It played the track fast and in little bits, as if someone had taken to the sound with scissors and chopped it up angrily. I could catch the odd word, but nothing made sense. It played track eight over and over and over like this, while I hit the stop button and shouted at it to stop. It would not stop.

The Genius leaped out of her chair, grabbed the remote from me, and also hit the stop button. This did not work any better than when I did it. She hit a few more buttons, and some on the machine itself, and it kept going. The power button did not work, either. Eventually I bent down and pulled the plug from the wall. The horrible noise stopped, and we all cheered. We had beaten the machine!

Of course then I had to plug it in again to extract the CD, but that worked all right. The machine seems to be designed to accept and spit out CDs perfectly, but not to play them. I put the CD back into its case and locked the cabinet. Half an hour of class time had now gone and we'd accomplished nothing at all. I could not believe the students were still being so good and patient with me, and worried that it would not last.

I pretended to throw the key out the window, then faced the class and held up the textbook.

"REPEAT AFTER ME!" I shouted, and off we went. They love 'repeat after me.' It may be old-fashioned and low-tech, but they yelled enthusiastically at the top of their voices, loved it when I cringed at their pronunciation (and at the blast of sound that I'm fairly sure blew my hair back), and did very well with the corrections. We did a lot of that, then a little writing (from another page of the text) as a change of pace, then they practiced the dialog with each other noisily, mysteriously adding back all their original pronunciation mistakes. We ended up with a quick puzzle that would, I hoped, erase their memories of the farcical beginning of class.

Next week I will be lugging the heavy old CD player to the classroom GRATEFULLY.


Radioactive Jam said...

And some people think machines ought to be made sentient. Imagine if your highly uncooperative player truly had a mind of its own.

Lia said...

We used to have equipment problems in my classes all the time. And if you think judo girl is bad, imagine what it's like in a class full of engineering students. How many engineers does it take to change a lightbulb?

My sympathies. Sometimes, it does pay to do things the old-fashioned way.