That’s “cool teacher speak” for hanging out with my students (outside of class). Last year I was very careful not to blur the line between teacher and friend. I was hesitant to give out my phone number, thought twice before asking a student to lunch, and was very careful about not sharing too much about my personal life with students. I still have boundaries this year, but I’ve relaxed a lot, and I think it’s impacted my student-teacher relationships immensely. I’ve let down some barriers, which in turn has made me a lot more approachable.
For my English literature classes, I divided each class into literature circle groups of five to six students that worked together for the whole semester. Sometimes as they were discussing a book, they’d drift off into a debate in Chinese about whether Willy Wonka was a good or bad man…. or get completely off topic and talk about their plans for the weekend. In order to motivate them to stay on task and to speak in English as much as possible, I came up with a point system that rewarded desired behavior. The prize? An invitation to my house at the end of the semester for the group in each class with the most points. When I announced this in class, the kids went beserk. One girl asked if the whole class could come “because we all want to see your house.” Another asked if I would cook for them, because they somehow have this idea that I’m an amazing cook. I said that my apartment would be crowded with 15 people, so having 150 students over was not possible, but that I would gladly cook them something.
Fast forward to the end of the semester, and I had to make good on my promise. I dreaded the thought of having to cook (and then clean) for 15+ students, but knew that I had to keep my word. I tried to arrange a time when most students could come, but between them living in dorms an hour outside of Kunming, spending time with their families during the weekend, and having exams, it was hard to satisfy everyone. I ended up just picking a date and time that worked best for me and making it in the middle of the afternoon, so that I would just have to prepare some appetizers rather than a full meal. I also asked them to bring something to share with everyone, in true American potluck style.
This afternoon Jess and I played hostesses to eight giggly girls and one curious boy. The girls all arrived in pairs, bearing gifts of food, earrings and traditional Chinese New Year cutouts to hang on your door or windows. I was pleasantly surprised that not everyone came, which meant that we could huddle around the living room coffee table. I started off with an impromptu game of Bananagrams, which went remarkably well. They got pretty into it, and worked in pairs to try and use up their tiles. The teacher team (Jess and I) dominated, but then realized we were a little too good, and decided to contribute our talents to help the other groups. They really enjoyed screaming “Peel!”
We then munched the next hour away, with a snack smorgasbord featuring oranges, peanuts, chewy fruit candies, crackers, fruit jellies, tea flavored sunflower seeds (?), “egg biscuits,” and my favorite, some Yunnan specialties including spicy celery, spicy mushrooms, and even spicy strawberries! I contributed a cheesy spinach artichoke dip that went down surprisingly well, despite the fact that lots of Chinese people are generally not huge fans of cheese. This recipe had 8 oz of cream cheese and at least half a cup of fresh parmesan (Ok, I might have added a little extra because it tasted so good). One girl brought a bunch of milk teas from the store across the street, so we drank those along with water and orange juice (somehow the drink of choice at Chinese parties…). Conversation seemed to flow pretty well, and they seemed to be enjoying themselves. After sufficiently snacking, we moved on to a game of Apples to Apples. They were a little slow to catch on to it, but really enjoyed it when their “team” collected a green card. It was a good idea to play with teams of 2-3 players because it allowed them to figure out the meaning of the cards together.
After a few rounds of that, we migrated to the kitchen where Jess and I demonstrated how to make S’mores, a quintessential American classic. First we made one in the microwave, and I made it without the chocolate. Oops, it’s been a while! Then Jess had the idea to try and roast the marshmallows over a candle flame, which got them really excited. A few girls cowered away in fear, partially because the idea of roasting a marshmallow scared them, and partially because they were grossed out by how sweet it looked. A few brave souls made a S’more, and after finishing it, clenched their stomachs in pain from the sugar overload. Uh-oh. I decided that they weren’t going to ask for s’more S’mores, and casually suggested that we start playing Apples to Apples again. I hope they didn’t go home and tell their parents that I sugar poisoned them… Although, secretly, I’m glad that I shared a little bit of American campfire culture with them. The guy asked Jess and I to recreate roasting the marshmallow so that he could take some pictures. I guess even if the didn’t like the S’mores, they were thoroughly amused.
All in all, it was a fun afternoon and I’m really glad that they were able to see a little slice of my life at home. I remember thinking that my teachers growing up lived such mysterious lives. It was shocking if I ever bumped into them doing something normal, like shopping for groceries. Now they know that I live a pretty normal life, and think that I eat a lot of sugar.