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Thursday, May 29, 2008

The HIV/AIDS Lesson

James has been coming to help me teach some make-up classes this week, finishing up a two-part lesson that began with me showing Philadelphia, and has concluded with a long, somewhat interactive lesson on HIV/AIDS that goes into gloriously redundant detail in ultra-simple English. I've even strategically placed some Chinese within the lesson, to explain more complex words like syndrome and virus (as opposed to bacteria) and condom.

The class has been going well, and I'm glad, because beyond being extremely practical in its goals, it's also something the students are familiar enough with that they don't feel completely unmoored from everything. Even the bored arms-crossed-head-down-in-abject-exhaustion students seem to be focusing, however drowsy-eyed, on what we're saying. It took a bit of planning and revision to make the lesson simple yet not shallow, a careful dance of information and simplification followed by re-emphasizing (sometimes again and again) later. But beyond just what we're reading in class, giving a lesson with someone else there is a welcome change.

I often feel like teaching here is kind of like being a stand-up comedian. (Well, it's kind of like a lot of things, but I'm in a good mood so I'll limit my comments to just the one.) I begin a lesson on Monday, and it's crude and clumsy, a freakish Quasimodo of ideas. By the end of the week, I've cut, trimmed, revised, and refined it down to a nucleus of effectiveness, if not learning. This can mean using groups on Tuesday after I thought solo work would do on Monday, to an extra page of examples and vocabulary after one class bombed, to telling the same stupid story or joke at the same moment to keep the class engaged and awake. And now with James in class, it's like a comic duo, playing off each other, setting each other up for questions and hitting cues like the Marx Brothers.

And there's a certain satisfaction that comes from hitting all the right notes in a lesson, from seeing heads nod in understanding, that quiet murmur of assent when students comprehend what we're talking about. That's been easier to achieve with this lesson, and I don't know if it's been James, the preparation, or what. Who knows, it could be his brief American Sign Language lessons at the end of each class? Or the one-two punch of the film and the lesson, the human face on the ideas and the disease? The students have really been responding to it well, and sometimes, I actually feel like a real teacher.

But I gotta say, there's another kind of satisfaction, and that only comes from ordering thirty people to say things like "condom" and "vaginal fluid" out loud, until you're satisfied.

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