Opinion / Blog

No students for class

By Michael Murphy (blog.chinadaily.com.cn) Updated: 2016-09-19 11:31

No students for class

Students raising their hands in class. [File photo/Xinhua]

One thing that foreigners are not used to in China is how quickly and dramatically a schedule can change. In Western culture, change is extremely rare and the schedule is known for at least a year in advance and is very unlikely to ever change. Even when it does change, administrators will give you several weeks advance notice so that you can plan accordingly.

Another common event (besides quick and last minute changes) in China is that Chinese teachers are afraid to tell foreign teachers about any changes. They are afraid to tell them for two reasons. One reason is that foreign teachers get very upset with a lot of changes. We aren't used to it. We are used to strict organization and scheduling. Like I said, unless there is an impending and very threatening storm that will require students to take shelter, a fire or a teacher suddenly becomes seriously ill, our schedules don't change. The other reason is, because things change so often, quite dramatically and without more than a moment's notice in China, the Chinese teacher is afraid to tell the foreign teacher because either, (1) the change might not happen, or (2) there might be another change to the first change that they heard about.

Perhaps you have to be a foreigner to realize how hilarious it is, but when a foreign teacher shows up for class, fully prepared to teach and no students show up, well, it is truly shocking to us and can later be funny and quite unbelievable. In America, when I tell this story to others, it is hard for anyone to believe.

I teach eight classes a week in an international high school. All of our students will go to the US, Australia or Canada when they graduate. I teach TOEFL, oral English, US history, US geography, SAT preparation and academic writing.

One day, I had fully prepared to teach my class and had come to school. Because I don't teach full time there, I'm not required to have office hours. So, I show up to teach my class. Well, this day, I had an oral English class for my grade 2 high school (in the US we'd say “10th grade’) students. When I got to the building, the door was unlocked, so I went in and headed straight for my class. When I got to the classroom, the classroom was locked and the lights were out.

I couldn't imagine what had happened. Where were my students and why was the classroom locked? I went to the administration office and it also was locked with no lights on. In fact, as I started inspecting other classrooms, I discovered that there was no one in the building. I panicked. Was there some kind of national emergency? Did the school run out of money and close the classes? I couldn't imagine what had happened.

I started calling everyone I could think of who might be able to give me an answer and tell me what had happened. No one answered their cell phone.

I didn't have a key to get into the office even though I did have a desk there. I take my teaching very seriously. There is no way that I would miss a class so, I sat down in the hallway for several hours waiting to see if anyone would show up.

Finally, one of the school's security guards came to lock the building up for the day. He couldn't speak English and I spoke almost no Chinese. I finally remembered the words to ask. I said, "Xuesheng nali?" He started laughing, which confused me even more, but, at least it made me realize that nothing bad had happened.

It turned out that the administrators had decided that morning to take all of the students to a nearby museum for what we'd call a field trip. I'd sat there worrying about everyone for several hours. At least the story turned out well and I got a big laugh from it later.

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