The opportunity to teach: Mr. Gustavson

Thursday was a remarkable day as we taught three sections of students in the “local” part of the school, which is the traditional school filled with talented students who have earned their places in the school through rigorous entrance examinations.  Overall, we taught over 130 students.  The classrooms are set up with students in long rows facing back to front with seven rows of six or seven students each.  Teachers stand at a slightly raised platform in the front of the room with a desk that has a computer that controls the smart board that all classrooms have.  We began our lesson with Andrew giving some background and then playing Rodriguez’s “Inner City Blues” (from the documentary “Searching for Sugar Man”).  This song comes from the 1970s but seems cutting edge because it has just been discovered now by a large number of people because of the film.  Andrew asked the students to comment first on the tone of the music and then on the final lines in which the singer hears the sound of distant thunder.  From here, Andrew read Langston Hughes’s “Harlem” (“What happens to a dream deferred?”), another kind of “inner-city blues” with some striking connections to the Rodriguez song, and we commented especially on the final line of the poem, and how we respond to it and might understand it.  Next, we shifted gears and discussed Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” which Anne-Marie read first, followed by a student.   We wanted to give the students poems that were accessible in terms of language but opened up to sophisticated analysis.  I asked a series of questions that students answered primarily by citing lines from the poem.  Finally, we gave the students some guidelines and invited them to write a poem of some 8-16 lines.  After the bell rang, we invited students to stand and read their poems.  In the first class, six (!) students volunteered and the last one broke down in tears as he read his poem about his distress at being naughty with his grandmother and never asking for forgiveness before her death.  In both of the next two classes, three students volunteered to read, again after the bell, and another student had tears streaming down her face as she read.  All of these classes had a very high level of attention and mental participation, even if it was hard to involve many students in an actual discussion.  We walked away on a real high because we felt that we had had a chance to become involved in a meaningful way in the life of the school and perhaps touched some students.  For all of us, it was a memorable moment!

A bit later, at lunch, reporters from the newspaper of the international section interviewed Andrew, Anne-Marie, and me about our experiences at EFZ.  They were young, seventh-graders, I think, but they asked good questions.  Later, I helped a student with an English paper that she was planning to submit to an American university for admission, I believe, to a summer program.  Her analysis and style were excellent, but she needed some help with organization.   I felt like I was back at Peddie.  We devoted the afternoon to various activities at school and finished the day at our favorite restaurant down the street.

Friday, Andrew left early to collect materials in Shanghai for a project he has in mind to use with his students back at Peddie.  Meanwhile, Anne-Marie prepared a French lesson for an afternoon long block, and I listened to Chinese tapes.  This afternoon, Anne-Marie conducted the French class and occasionally used me as a companion for dialogues, but mostly she engaged the students in a remarkable way.  I had not seen Anne-Marie teach in years, so it was a thrill to see how well these students responded to her and the variety of approaches she used:  she connected not only through language but also through artistic renderings on the board, mime, and a Jo Dassin song, which she had to sing herself (admirably) because we could not download the song from the Internet.  The kids, again, were terrific and responded extremely well, even though their levels of knowledge of French were quite different.  Once again, it was a special feeling to walk into a classroom filled with students from a different culture and to live through a positive and engaging learning experience together.

This afternoon, Anne-Marie and I met Cindy Gao at Xintiandi and then went on an extended walk through the former French Concession, beginning with some areas that we had not yet seen.  This whole area is especially charming because there are very few high-rises in a city full of them.  There are many long alleyways off the city streets with apartments on both sides, and behind wrought-iron fences there are many beautiful homes with lovely gardens.  Plane trees line the streets, and they are lovely, even though they do not yet have leaves.  From the elegant stores of Huaihai Zhong Lu we moved into more modest streets lined by tiny shops selling a wide variety of things but especially (no surprise) food.  Toward the end, we wandered toward the area we had discovered with Dr. Qiu, and I was delighted to rediscover the commissariat where Anne-Marie’s grandfather was once Chief of Police.  From here, we took a taxi back to Xintiandi.  There, Cindy took charge of dinner and ordered a succulent repast with everything from marinated, fried smelt to several kinds of mushroom to pork trotter to hairy crab with rice cakes.  We then accompanied Cindy via subway to Century Avenue, and her father had the great kindness to accompany us home from there.  It was a special experience to visit Shanghai with one of my students.

Tomorrow, Harry Zhang’s father will take us to visit one of the canal towns outside of Shanghai.