The school year ended last week. Two days from now, I will fly to the States to visit family and friends. Despite teaching some controversial topics in the year 12 uni prep class, I am still employed by the same foreign language high school’s international center. For new readers: I teach at a residential high school for elite Chinese students who will study abroad in English-speaking countries. Uni Prep, a new course, covered cultural and practical aspects to living in an English-speaking country. I taught the US-bound students. Another teacher taught the UK-bound students.
For the formal teaching observation, which took place in May, I taught a lesson about LGBTQIA: what the letters mean, the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation, and some etiquette regarding pronouns and slurs. I had students pair up to discuss gay rights. I made a PowerPoint, including a photo of Jin Xing*, a famous Chinese trans woman who is a dancer and TV show host. When I explained about asexual people, or aces, my boss called out, “Sheldon Cooper!” I told students that whatever their personal feelings about people of different sexual orientation and gender identity, they would definitely meet such people when they studied in the U.S. Some of their future classmates and professors will identify somewhere on the ever-increasing spectrum of sex and gender diversity. (I didn’t mention that, statistically speaking, at least a couple of students in that room would probably turn out to be gay, lesbian, bi, trans, or ace.)
The students cooperated, more so than they had during regular classes, when the realization that they had already gained admission to elite universities and nothing they did from now on short of burning down the school would affect their transcripts had a certain effect upon attendance. They paid attention, asked questions, and shared opinions. Nobody fell asleep. I didn’t have to confiscate any cell phones. The computer AND the projector screen worked. The only “misbehavior” that the boss noted was that the students spoke some Chinese to each other. Overall, the class was a success.
I hadn’t set out to teach a risky lesson for my observation. The class was almost over and the students needed this lesson before they went abroad. And okay, yes, I did want an interesting class.
On the final exam, I asked students what was the most surprising or shocking thing they learned about in class. Students mentioned this lesson and the unit on U.S. religions (for which I carefully obtained permission from the directors before teaching) more than any of the others. They said that they had never been taught about this subject before. They told me that no Chinese teacher would dare talk about homosexuality in class.
I received positive feedback from the boss. On the written form, he said, “The presenting of a potentially difficult topic was handled with much professionalism and candor.” At this point, the boss** has probably figured out that I’m not exactly straight, but he hasn’t asked and I haven’t told.
*Students said that her name means “Golden Star.”
** And students– though they are too polite to ask. They haven’t even asked such basics as “How old are you?”, “Are you married?”, and “What’s wrong with your leg?”