Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The shirt

Another first day back at work today.

A couple of years ago I came across an article about teacher evaluations. I bookmarked it at the time, but just now tried and the link did not load for me. (You can try it for yourself, here.) However, I was able to see the cached version (thank goodness for Google) and find the phrase that impressed me so much when I first read it:

students arrive at opinions about teachers within seconds of being exposed to these teachers.

Armed with this information, last semester I decided that on the first days of all my classes I would wear bright colours and bounce into class being insanely cheerful, to see what would happen. I did not change my actual teaching. Of course my teaching always changes, but I made no substantial changes, just the usual adjustments I make in response to what each particular class needs. I wanted to see if my effort at changing the first impression would change the way the students responded to me and to language learning.

I am fairly sure that it did. Of course the students probably thought I was mentally unbalanced, but that didn't seem to matter. Or maybe it did matter. Maybe that was the point, but whatever the reason, the students seemed to enjoy classes more and participate more freely. I suspect that since for most people speaking a foreign language badly is an exercise in embarrassment, having a teacher who embarrasses herself so freely and apparently unconcernedly makes it easier for them to let down their own hair.

And I am convinced that the bright colours are at least partly responsible. My students paid more attention (perhaps because they couldn't avoid it) and were more cheerful.

I did not have even one negative comment on my evaluations last semester. There is always one, at least, but last semester there weren't any. Even my elective class of third year students, which I had hoped would shrink this semester (I have never given so many well-deserved Cs to a single class before) wrote nice things about my classes AFTER I told them their grades. Annoyingly, most of them have come back for another dose of my demented cheerfulness, too, I discovered on Friday. I'd been hoping for the 'no more than sixteen students, more often less than twelve' classes that all the other teachers who'd previously taught this course had assured me I'd get. "It's fun!" they told me. "You can actually teach because you only get motivated students who are quite good at English! And the classes are small!" Last semester I stupidly based my syllabus planning on this information, and was horrified to discover I had thirty-five students who could barely string two coherent words together but were determined to have a party. I suspect there must have been some kind of scheduling glitch.

Most of the students for the second semester course, which started Friday, turned out to be the same masochists back for another helping. I'd expected a new lot, since I know none of them need more language credits. (It's an EXTRA language class. They have to have done all the required ones to even enroll in it.) I overheard a couple of them talking about their grades on Friday as they were (supposedly) doing a written task I'd given them. (It totally eludes me how they can possibly think they are studying English when they are writing in English AT THE SAME TIME as they are chatting in Japanese. Why are they so surprised when I tell them that what they wrote makes no sense?)

"I only just scraped through," said one. "Giri-giri! Only 62%! I've never had such a low grade!"

"Me, too," said the other. "Except I only got 61."

"Dangerous, eh? Maybe we should have chosen a different class this semester."


(Pause for thought.)



They went back to mangling the English language.

Bollocks! I thought as I moved on. The grade thing didn't work! Maybe I should try wearing only black and never, ever smiling.

But I don't want to do that. The colourful demented thing is SO much more fun.

On Friday I was wearing a particularly bright and almost garish shirt I bought while I was in Malaysia. It is an interesting shirt. It looks like a respectable, nicely designed shirt, perfectly suitable for work, but at the same time it causes people to put on their sunglasses spontaneously without quite realizing why. The colours themselves are innocuous – purplish-blue and a sort of crimson red, and not particularly bright in isolation – but something about those particular shades in combination makes your eyeballs vibrate gently. I think that shirt leaves a psychedelic trail behind me when I walk.

When I first spotted the shirt in a store in Kuala Lumpur it struck me as a perfect first-day shirt, and I am pleased with the effect it has had so far. I wore it again today and my (new) students were, apparently, hypnotized into loosening up and getting playful with English while at the same time being perfectly obedient. Every time I spoke they shut up and paid attention to me, even the notoriously uncooperative I-can't-do-languages science majors. Some of them went a little cross-eyed, but at least they were paying careful attention. It's magic!

I'll be wearing it again tomorrow, and after that I'll send it off to the dry-cleaners. My new shirt is hand-washable, but it is hard to iron, and I'm afraid if I stare at it for as long as it takes to iron it properly I'll have a seizure.


Ian said...

I always expend 10% of my total energy putting in a wild and energetic greeting when I enter the room. Give them a big grin and a bit of a shock and the lessons go great from there.

Doesn't hurt that I am 188cm...

I have a 4gig SO903i, Read about it at jDonuts.