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By the fifth time I had to climb up and down those three flights of stairs in my high school’s language building, I was pretty sweaty and pretty pissed. It made absolutely no sense to have the language media lab with the copy center and the main teacher offices at polar ends of the building. The air conditioning in the entire building had been broken since day one, coinciding perfectly with this summer’s annual heat wave. The white plaster walls in the classrooms were practically as sweaty as the bodies of the almost forty total students, who each day were forced to congregate as a whole group in the main classroom after lunch.

This past summer, I worked as an Assistant Instructor for a Chinese language program hosted by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) that ran a four-week session at my high school. Whenever I was asked in a conversation regarding what exactly I did as a teaching assistant, I always struggled to find a way to come up with a job description that would make sense to others while also accurately encapsulating the essence of the job. The first week, however, could pretty much be summed up simply by one word: paperwork. In the weeks preceding the program, each student was supposed to turn in approximately eight different forms concerning health issues, field trip permissions, and other official matters. It was my assigned task to contact all families and attempt to wrangle these various forms from them. Usually I communicated through email, and I always found it amusing when I received replies back that addressed me as “Ms. Agsten.” Little did the senders know that I was actually an 18-year-old intern and not one of the official Chinese teachers. (A parent even called me one night with a question because she thought I actually ran the program!) When the session finally began, the stack of papers I had to go through, organize, photocopy, and arrange in binders was enormous.

Based on the exorbitant amount of communication I had to do with the parents and students, I think “English Liaison” or “Parent Coordinator” would do justice to my role in the program. Then again, such titles wouldn’t cover the other odd jobs that I did throughout my time in the program. On a given day, my schedule was pretty much determined by what the head teacher needed to get done. It always astounded me how so many tasks could be crammed into one day. I always left work with tired feet, a few paper cuts, and a new appreciation for secretaries and Stairmaster champions alike. Some days would be filled with somewhat meaningless assignments, such as endless photocopying (hence the running up and down of the stairs) or computer database entry. Other days, I would have to create a PowerPoint about the Dunhuang caves to present to the students in preparation for a fieldtrip to Chinatown in New York City, or help run an afternoon cultural program involving kungfu or traditional Chinese dance.

For a full week, I even had to step in for the Level 4 teacher who decided to take an impromptu vacation. While that week was certainly more literal in terms of accurately acting as my job title suggested (an “Assistant Teacher”) I dreaded that week more than Paperwork Week. The kids in the class were fully aware that probably I knew less Chinese than some of the most advanced speakers, and thus they readily took advantage of that knowledge. To say that the class was out of control or wild isn’t necessarily how I would describe the situation, but I did overhear some of the kids discussing over lunch how my week “teaching” them was the most fun they had in the entire program.

In 2009, the summer before I entered high school, I participated in the program myself as a student. Four years later and a mere 28 days after I graduated, I was back on campus working on the teaching side of the program. It was a strange feeling standing at the board of my old Chinese classroom instead of sitting at a desk. Even stranger was seeing teachers again strolling around campus and interacting with them as an alumna of the school. Working for the Chinese program this summer acted as a transition period between high school and the next step in my educational career; it was like a full circle completing itself.

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