16 August, 2011

Before Forty Students

Frog's Lips


the silence
before forty students
laugh at once

10 comments:

Taylor said...

Love that gaiwan so much. Great photo too.

Hobbes said...

Thanks, Taylor. I like the image, because it reminds me of the quizzical expression on the students' faces as they try to decide whether they should be laughing or not. "Is he serious? Is this a joke?" The gaiwan captures some of the mute expression on their lips...


Toodlepip,

Hobbes

tT said...

Haha, lovely imagery (I can picture exactly what you're referring to).

Care to divulge the 'joke' or any example of what you might say that has produced this expression?

Hobbes said...

This was a revision class at the end of last term, hence the large number of students. I had booked a lecture theatre that fits around 30 students, not expecting a very large turnout, but it turned out to be much more popular than anticipated. Before long, students were sitting along the aisle, standing up against the wall, and three students were sitting pretty much under my feet, looking upwards at the board. So, it was a dense, hot atmosphere, filled with the electrical mixture of nervous energy and despair that students carry around with them before their Finals.

The class was entirely optional, and so I felt as if the students had "voted with their feet", and wanted to be there. Probably, they were after some hints for the exams (the questions for which I didn't write), probably they just wanted someone to save them. It wasn't an easy course (third-year biomedical engineering). Given that I suspected they actually wanted to be in the room with me, rather than being obliged to be there, we all relaxed, and the atmosphere was friendly and light.

The class whizzed on, into its second, then third hour. Students came and went around the fringes, but the core 90% stayed put, concentrating as hard as they could, remembering that their Final examination in this course would take place in four days. I stayed as long as the students had questions, and as long as they wanted to revise.

I worked through examples on the board, and answered student questions as we did so, scribbling and sketching intently, more just reminding them what they already know than actually teaching them new material (this being a revision class, after all).

I slip in quips and jokes to keep the texture of the class light, given its length, and given how much stress the students are under. Our undergraduates are a highly international bunch, and British students make up a minority these days. There are tons of Chinese, Pakistani, and European students, and some Americans. (This is great, by the way, because I believe that students mixing with peers from other countries is very healthy for their outlook. It's hard to be racist when all their friends are from other countries to their own.)

My delivery of jokes is rather "deadpan". I'm not sure how that term translates into American. The downside of the international mix is that British "deadpan" humour is hard to spot for students that are not British. If I want to guarantee quick laughs, I have to make clear that I am making a joke. I have to "telegraph" my intention, and make it obvious. This is not the way of British humour, however; we are typically very straight-faced and rather ironic with our sense of humour.

I think I made a joke about passing electrical current through patients while trying to measure their cardiac cycle, which is performed using a reference signal at a known frequency. If the frequency is too low, the patient gets an electric shock, and is ultimately electrocuted if the effect is too severe.

The line was something like "if we decrease the frequency below 20 kHz then the sounds of the patient's screams tend to annoy the clinician taking the measurement".

Pause. Students, tired and stressed, look at me with the expression indicated by the gaiwan. Cogs turn in the rusty machinery of their minds.

the silence
before forty students
laugh at once

Good times.

AdamMY said...

Ah I had a quite different picture, having taught two classes this past spring, and I will be teaching two more this upcoming fall. But I hesitate to call it teaching as it is more me leading the students through group work and pulling them together to recap the material 3 times a week. But I was in a smallish lecture hall that had stadium style seats, and a student asked for help, and leaning on the chair next to him, all of a sudden I let out a shout. Apparently for one of the classes in that room the seats already in there were not enough, so I had put a large portion of my weight onto a chair which I thought was nailed down, only to find out it was not. Needless to say, I tried to brush it off, but after the shock of their teacher exclaiming out in shock, the class gave a hearty laugh at my misfortune.

I will say there is quite a rush when in front of a class. While intimidating at first, after awhile it becomes almost second nature.

Hobbes said...

I think the secret is never to get too comfortable such one switches into "autopilot". :)

Anonymous said...

Hello again... nice picture! I am wondering if you have to prepare this gaiwan before using it? Mine wept a dark ink when i started to use it ..and it continues to do so.... wondering if the weeping is a form of laughing ....

Hobbes said...

Dear Anonymous,

Our gaiwan "wept" black ooze, too. However, it exudes outwards. Noticing the phenomenon, we brewed many "blank" infusions, using only hot water (no leaves), until the black ooze stopped coming. It took qutie a few runs, but it behaves pleasantly enough now. Let us know how you get on!


Toodlepip,

Hobbes

Anonymous said...

Thanks Hobbes...
My gaiwan is still going through the oozing after almost 7 soaks. I am just worried that the probability of some amount of that unknown stuff oozing inwards (and just slightly changing the color of the water) is non-zero. By the way i like the phrase " 'blank' infusions" .. very interesting use of words coming from a brit ... hahaha.

Hobbes said...

Hang in there! The oozing almost prevented us from using our gaiwan, but it does stop in the end. Patience!


All the best,

Hobbes