Click to print Opens in new window A few weeks ago I finished my first academic year of teaching Oral English at a university in the Middle Kingdom. Even the work has been okay. After a bit of context setting, vocab work and guided discussion in the first hour, I sit them down and tell them to write 5 questions for a first date.
Because men are underrepresented in most of my classes, I have to even up the numbers and some of the women end up pretending to be male for the rest of the lesson. It seems to work well and students who barely say a word most of the time have surprised me, talking almost non-stop. A few even seem to have fun. As soon as you walk into a classroom here you start to notice a few things. One of the most obvious is that boys and girls sit apart.
This is university remember, not school. Their ages range from 18 to the mids. They seem to lack a huge amount of experience which their Western counterparts might take for granted. The boys will sit together, all clumped up in one corner at the back, while the girls will usually sit at the front, often with a row of empty desks separating the two groups. Quick class surveys can be a real issue. If they need to ask 10 people a set of questions and there are only 7 or 8 boys, getting some of them to walk up and speak to a girl can be painful.
I had one guy, usually a cheeky so-and-so who cracks jokes at my expense all lesson, nearly burst into tears when I tried to put him into a group with 3 young ladies for some homework. And I thought I was doing him a favour. When the girls had to find someone to sit with during the speed dating, they all raced to sit with another female, barging each other out of the way, rather than sit with a lad.
I always feel a bit uneasy talking about this kind of thing. They taught us about the Suffragettes at school and some of it stuck.
In one lesson I had someone tell me, in all seriousness, that a woman who drinks and smokes is of low moral character. The girls, on the other hand, wanted slightly more information. One wrote down the following 5 questions: Have you got a good job? Have you got a lot of money?
Have you got a house? Have you got a car? Do you like children?