I don’t usually write about work. Oh there are plenty of stories, believe me, but I shy away from the mentioning of either names or any obviously identifying circumstances or specifics. I don’t want to cause offence – to inadvertently portray a place that is shared by others in any way that they might find disparaging or insulting. What I see there is almost certainly not what they see there, and it can be jarring to become privy to someone else’s version of your events, especially if unsolicited.
Particularly where there are children involved I could never be sure, were I to write about them in any kind of detail, that I wasn’t being exploitative in some way. Nor would I want to excite anyone to a level of curiousity about me or my opinions that I might find uncomfortable. I don’t know what my opinion is half the time; why would I want to field questions on it?
No, better not. The hours spent at it accrue though, to the point where ignoring it completely seems a little fake. The proverbial elephant in the classroom. It has been a major part of the experience this last year and a learning curve all of its own.
The fact is, teaching the children – particularly the younger ones – has been humbling; an impressive experience that I won’t be forgetting in a hurry.
Ah, you empathise, the privilege of feeding sponge-like young intellects!
The joy of sharing a beautiful language – a gateway to new expression for them!
The wonder of watching a face as it contorts in first-time understanding!
The satisfaction derived from the knowledge that somewhere, sometime, these now-little lives will blossom and flourish in ways that wouldn’t have been possible without me!
Eh, nope. None of the above.
It has been humbling because it is humbling, believe you me, to find oneself in a small room with fourteen nine year olds and to come to the grim realisation – slowly, tortuously (over the course of a year, say)- that they are in charge. I had been under the impression that it was meant to be me.
Spanish children are a particularly noisy lot. Some of them don’t seem to know what “not shouting” is.
“Please don’t shout”, I tell Carlos.
“Ok!”, he shouts back.
“Sit down Alfonso! Clara, number three please. No, what? Sorry I couldn’t hear you, what? Who is? Jose? Jose, why are you crying? Oh, well you shouldn’t swing on your chair. Is there blood? No? You’ll be fine. What? Who? David? David, why are you crying? No, no, Jose will be fine – look, he’s laughing now. Quiet everyone, please! Carlos! Stop shouting!”
It feels like being the subject of an experiment at times. Like I have been captured by some intelligence service and imprisoned in an echo chamber with fourteen noise generators. They want to see how far they can push me before I crack.
“Alfonso! Please sit down!”
“Right everybody. Books please. Week twelve. This is a…what? Yes, ok, quickly please. This is a list….yes Maria? Sure, yes, red or black? Fine, there you go. Ok, this is a listeni…Alfonso if I see you out of your chair one more time I am writing a note for your mother. Seriously. That’s it. Good. Ok, this is a listening excercise so you all have to be very…Diego, what are you doing? Didn’t I just tell Alfonso to sit down? What is? Why is your pen under Catalina’s chair? Well, quickly then we don’t have time for thi….good. Ok, you must listen carefully and be quiet because afterwa…Carlos!”
It’s not that they’re bad children. Only some of them are that. It’s just that they outnumber me, and they know it. They don’t see things the way I do. They don’t want to take turns talking. They don’t want to sit still. They don’t particularly want to learn English. At times I will sit back, when they are momentarily busy with an exercise say, and embrace my inability to influence them. I’ll entertain myself with conjecture about their futures. Business for that one. Medicine for her. Something involving shouting for him. IT for him, bless him. That one will never get a job. That one will have three. That one’s going to prison, and English won’t help him there.
Each hour the ages of my students increase and the noise levels abate. By seven o’clock I sometimes feel as though I am teaching English. It’s a very different proposition to find oneself in front of a well-mannered group of intelligent young people who have questions (on English!) and who will be keeping you on your toes, grammar-wise.
Today I ask them to debate, and the topic catches fire. They become animated and involved in quick-fire exchanges once the main points have been presented. There is real thought. There is humour. We would appear, if I’m not very much mistaken, to be having fun.
They have shifted up a cognitive gear – they are working in English, not on it, and I get to sit back a little – a near spectator – and watch as the language swoops and dips its way around the room like a swift, etching little swirls and flourishes around our heads and filling the air with its phosphorescent fonts. Inscribing itself on their minds.
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