Teacher 2.0

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Friday, 28 February, 2014

Taipei, Taiwan

I’ve been working at my new school for just over a month now and I’ve already been hit with a few surprises.

After a few days, my boss had obviously determined that I had settled. Thus, she decided that the time had come to drop a few extra responsibilities on me – which apparently didn’t warrant mentioning in my interview.

Firstly, she informed me that all of the students do a performance for the parents each term –
“Ok, cool. So, will I need to help the students practice their lines in class time, or…”
“We will need you to write the plays.”
“You know, I’ve never…”
“Don’t worry, you can do it.”

She did assure me that I would have complete freedom when it came to the content though.

Initially, I was set on writing adaptations of ‘A Clockwork Orange’, ‘Trainspotting’ and the 1972 FA Cup Final. However, while the joke would have eventually been on them, that would require far too much of my free time to prepare.

Instead, I settled on three versions of the lovely bible story, ‘Noah’s Ark’. For anybody that doesn’t know, the basic synopsis is that Noah is the only good bloke left in the world and God made him build a boat. God then murdered everything except Noah and the animals on the boat.

I wrote ‘Noah’s Ark: The Mammal Edition’, ‘Noah’s Ark: The Reptiles Edition’ and ‘Noah’s Ark: The Amphibians Edition’. These scripts somehow managed to get a pass too.

Here is a short section from my third script:
Elephant 1 Crocodile 1 Frog 1: What an interesting adventure.
Elephant 2 Crocodile 2 Frog 2: Yeah, I can’t wait to meet the other animals. I hope they’re friendly.

As you can see very riveting stuff.

Her second revelation was that I would have a one-on-one class with Tina twice a week. Tina’s sister, Long-Haired Rita, became Short-Haired Rita a few days ago. This is because Tina decided to cut her locks when she was sleeping. She had her reasons though. She explained that she ‘wanted to have longer hair than Rita’. Ah, fair enough then.

I now wear a frigging swimming cap to each of our ‘sessions’ and keep all scissors pad locked in a drawer which is too high up for her to reach.

Basically, Tina is too disruptive to be in a regular class. She has also already been banned from three other schools, due to her outbursts. My boss is happy to palm her off to me twice a week though, because one-on-one classes bring in more coin. I imagine her parents are more than happy to pay for the break too.

So, Tina and I share the same four walls for two hours each week.

There is very little pressure regarding her progress from an educational stand point – both her parents and my boss have indicated that any improvements in her work would be considered a bonus. However, keeping this girl entertained and engaged for a full hour has proven to be one of the most difficult challenges I’ve ever faced.

She shouts in my face from time to time, scribbles ‘I hat teecher’ on the whiteboard and sits in a ball under her chair whenever I ask her to do any kind of writing task. It’s pretty easy to see why other schools didn’t want her around.

However, my recent formula seems to be working. Nobody ever checks the classroom when it’s Tina’s hour – I guess out of sight means out of mind – so, we now play what I like to call ‘educational football’.

It’s common knowledge that most youngsters don’t want to go in goal. Whenever we played football as kids, there would always be twenty-seven strikers, one defender and two goalkeepers.

We lay a table on its side and take shots with a ball pool ball – the goalkeeper is selected based on her ability to answer my English questions. If she gets the question wrong she goes in net, but if she’s correct I’m in goal. She’s definitely no Nigel Martyn though, I’ll tell you that much. I usually win about 46-5, but she really enjoys the game.

The job still requires us to wear slippers in the classroom as well, which hinders my finishing ability somewhat. So, forty-six goals per session is a pretty good average.

To be honest, it’s actually become quite a fun hour now that I’ve figured out I can just kick a ball about with the naughty kid.

Otherwise, things have gone pretty well.

Many kid’s behavioural traits can be very predictable. However, there are often students that will say the completely unexpected, and when something ludicrous comes out of their mouth, it can be quite hard to hold your composure.

I did a class on facial features with my six-year-old students yesterday. This required them to write a few simple sentences describing themselves – the main goal being for them to gain an understanding of when they should be using ‘is’ and ‘are’.

Unfortunately, the sentence ‘My eyes are small / big’ seemed to cause one student quite a bit of distress – he burst into tears in fact.

I asked him what was upsetting him, assuming that the boy was having problems getting to grips with the grammar rules. The issue, however, ran far deeper. He lifted up his head, which he had recently buried into his folded arms on the table, looked at me, and said, “I don’t know what to write, because I have one big eye and one small eye.”

He followed that up by pulling some batty-looking, angry pirate facial expression. Naturally, this tickled my funny bone a lot, because, well, that was probably the oddest thing I’ve ever seen a human do with pure sincerity and genuine concern. So, I was now laughing in this poor distraught boy’s face.

Once I was over the hilarity, I reassured him that his face doesn’t usually look like that.

He joyfully thanked me to a degree that suggested I was some sort of spiritual guru, whose wise words warranted him to travel over mountains and through deserts to find. He then smiled, wiped away his tears and wrote ‘my eyes are small’.

I guess a young child doesn’t filter quite so many of their thoughts. Therefore, they produce far more moments of innocent, vulnerable, weird and wonderful. The unexpected certainly requires a teacher to stay alert.

Younger students also come with an abundance of youthful curiousity. We cannot get through a page in story-time without –
“Why is one sheep so much smaller than the others?”
“Why is the farmer wearing a jacket on a sunny day?”
“Why does the wolf have its eyes closed?”

You’ll reply with any old crap to keep the lesson moving, but each answer is countered by a follow-up query. I don’t know how all you parents out there can deal with the endless questioning; it can feel like you’re on trial for murder at times.

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