Sunday, June 17, 2007

Seating arrangements

On Wednesday, at the women's university, one of the teachers I'm 'team-teaching' with (we teach the same classes on alternate weeks) told me she wanted to switch classrooms this week because she wanted to show her students part of a movie, and while my room had a DVD player, hers didn't. (This was the loopy professor, who is my sort-of boss.) That was no problem, but because I'd left my tape player behind after the first class I had to go into her classroom to get it before our classes started. Our classrooms are next to each other.

When I went in I was greeted with a peculiar sight.

The seating arrangements in the classrooms at that place are horrible, with benches rather than individual desks, and there are three seats per bench, a bit too close together. There are six or seven rows of benches, three benches across, but only 18 - 20 students in these classes. My students generally sit two to a bench, scattered mostly around the front half or two thirds of the classroom.

But in the professor's classroom the students had crammed themselves three to a bench so that they could all fit into the back two rows. They had their bags piled on the desks in front of them, and looked as though they were prepared to have missiles thrown at them. All I could see were their faces. It was hot, and they looked enormously uncomfortable. It was the oddest classroom arrangement I've ever seen, with those rows and rows of empty seats in the big room, but the two back rows crammed full. The professor was not there yet.

I put my hand up to my eyes and squinted at the students. They seemed very far away.

"HELLOOOOO!" I called.

"BadAunt-sensei!" they shrieked, waving.

"What are you all doing back there?" I called. "You won't be able to see the movie!"

They giggled nervously. It was a tactless question, quite aside from the fact that they didn't have the English to answer it. I shouldn't have asked.

The professor wafted in busily.

"Hello everybody!" she said, smiling sweetly. (She never stops smiling sweetly.) Nobody responded, but she didn't seem to notice. I grabbed her by the collar and shook her until her teeth rattled and her eyes bulged.

"WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING TO MY STUDENTS?" I yelled. "THEY ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO SIT AT THE BACK OF THE ROOM LOOKING FRIGHTENED! THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO BE CHATTING AND RELAXED AND HAPPY AND ASKING YOU INAPPROPRIATE QUESTIONS AND TEASING YOU ABOUT YOUR HAIR!"

Actually, I didn't do any of that, but I wanted to.

What I really did was to exchange some wimpy small talk. Then I took the tape player and went back to my own class.

In my classroom the students were scattered around and chatting, all seated fairly near the front aside from a couple of sports girls who were in the back row having a nap. (This university is well-known for its tennis players, and they tend to arrive in class so wiped out from practice they can barely keep their eyes open.)

"Good morning!" I said.

"Good morning!" they answered (except for the sports girls, who continued to snooze). Then I slapped myself on the forehead and corrected myself.

"Oop! Sorry. Good AFTERNOON!" I said, and they chorused back,

"Good AFTERNOON!" and giggled.

(I always do this, and almost never on purpose.)

I looked at them, grinning. Up to this point I had felt that things hadn't been going too badly with these classes, but now I suddenly had the feeling that things were going ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANTLY, because my students were not frightened of me. But I must have stared too long, and looked a bit too stupidly happy, because the students started giggling and wanted to know what was so funny.

"I'm just pleased to see you," I informed them loftily, and mentally pulled myself together. I started the class.

It was true. They're not a fantastic class or anything like that, but I was happy that they were not all cowering at the back of the classroom looking terrified.

The whole thing worries me a bit, though. I have never seen students looking as uncomfortable and defensive as those students did in the other room. I KNOW that class. I have them every second week, and have had no problems with them. They're lovely. There are three particularly keen students who always squash themselves into the bench right in front of me and interrupt me with lots of (sometimes annoying) personal questions (which I parry with silly answers), and who like to investigate the papers I have on the podium, and try to read my notebook. (Good luck to them. Most of it even I can't read.) When they get too noisy or nosy I ask them to stop it, and they always do, AND apologize. They may overstep the boundaries now and again, but at least they do it respectfully, sort of.

But even those three brash young ladies had seated themselves at the back in the other class.

I don't suppose it is something I should be so proud of. That my students are not afraid of me is a fairly negative sort of accomplishment, although it is nice to discover that I am doing something right. I don't think students learn very much language when they regard their teacher as the enemy.

But what on earth has the loopy professor been DOING to them?

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Love your blog :)
The loopy professor sounds really . . loopy. How about asking your students what she inflicts upon them to make them so terrified? Or just taking a peek while she's teaching? I'm thinking that she might be schizophrenic or something . . .

Radioactive Jam said...

So... will you now burden yourself with trying to fix the unknown problem(s) possibly caused by another teacher?
:)

Kay said...

Delicious to be back in the blogosphere and ps is the first blog I read after the long long week without a computer (repairs)--LOVED the meme about "why do I blog"! I'm happy this morning.

Badaunt said...

Anon: I thought of asking them today, but didn't. Not because I didn't want to, but because we were busy. (Learning new words and so on.) But she IS loopy. She is famous for it. Nobody wants to work with her.

RaJ: No, I can't do anything anyway. But the students are fine with me anyway (I had them today, and they were all sitting at the front waiting for me when I went in), so it's not really a problem for me. I feel sorry for the students, of course, but I suspect most of the full-time professors are fairly awful at that place anyway. Sadly, the students are probably used to it.

Kay: Glad the computer is fixed! (I think you should do the 'why I blog' meme as well.)

Doris said...

Teaching styles are fascinating. You must love your job and your students obviously love working with you. Sure, it might be more of a laissez faire (sp?!) approach with you but in that sort of comfortable environment so much more is learned.

I don't think there is anything you can do about other teachers. There are always going to be different styles.