May 28, 2010

Melting pot

Imagine the scene: it's 38C (100F) outside. You're teaching for 2.5 hours but not in your normal room. Oh no. They've moved all classes to a campus 30 minutes away by bus, because  of a conference that's going on in your own building. The "other" campus looks nice but it is old. And therefore has no air-conditioning in the classroom you've been assigned. 

Students are gathering outside the room, waiting for another class to finish. An ambitious and initiative-taking student begins to phone the administration to look for a better room. I can't blame her. The situation is dire.

Not only is there no aircon, the room is tiny. You have to cram 42 students (plus yourself) in there. There aren't enough desks, and the students have to all scootch forward so that the student in front is less than 3 feet away from the board/screen, and the ones in the back can untangle the mess of desks that has been stacked there (presumably to make space for the other desks). 

You weren't able to get into your class on time because someone else was teaching in there and refused to finish his class on time. Then, he dawdled for another 5-10 minutes before realizing that all your students were jammed in the class and therefore class must be starting soon. "Doesn't your class start at 3.30?" "No, it starts at 3." (Unsaid: that's why I asked you to get out, you idiot). "Oh, I'm so sorry. I didn't realize!" (What, with 42 students under your armpits, you had no idea my class was due to start?).

Next, you find out that - of course - the cabinet to access the computer is locked. You send a student downstairs to security to find out how to get it opened. That way, you can at least somewhat control the class and get things started, vaguely on time. But the student comes back with word that only you can get the key; they refused to give it to him. So you totter down 3 flights  of stairs on your heels, in the heat, to get the key. (Why wasn't this organized ahead of time? They've only known about the conference for a year after all).

Eventually, I make it back to my class, after being held up for 5 minutes by the key people about how to work the cabinet. I already know. I use a similar system for every class. It's not difficult: open the door, start the computer, etc.

Finally, about 15-20 minutes late, we get to start class. Students are still straggling in because many of them had to rush from the main campus or other schools or their jobs downtown to this one. 

No one can really see the screen. The ones at the front are too close. And the screen is so low in the classroom that the ones at the back have to peek around their peers to see anything at all. I decide just to talk through the slides and sit among the students. I go through them quickly and focus on having a conversation to draw them in. 

But I can see that they are melting. Their faces are red, some sweaty. Their bodies are slumped in the seats. At least half of them look entirely irritated. And I agree with them entirely. I try not to show it. I'm supposed to be setting an example, after all.

I abandon the slides as quickly as I can and move on to a game I had planned for the day. The trick works. They forget where they are as the competitive spirit hits them. But half the class has to move out to the hallway or a nearby classroom to participate in the game. Confusion arises because not everyone is in the same room, and it's hard to get everyone's attention at once. I end up running around to each team, repeating my instructions multiple times.

In the end, we get there. I manage to get everyone back into the room, and clean up the left-overs of the game. I even manage to get them to sit down, facing the front, desks more or less back in the right place. We discuss the game. They seem more alert now.

I let them go early. Many of them breathe out grateful sighs, and I even hear a few "Thank you!"s. Yes. Thank the gods that's over. 

Next week it's supposed to cool down. I sincerely hope so because my request to change the room was met with a stony face. I guess all the profs are asking for room changes, and there is no space, since all of us were moved there. What a day.

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