An easy time I had of it today. For three days out of five, I work with groups of enthusiastic, hard-working, self-starting students who pretty much teach themselves. Today was a particularly good day. We did a simulated business meeting in which a variety of proposals were to be put forward, defended, debated and voted on. The class carried the whole thing for four hours. Beyond setting up the activity and supplying the odd item of vocabulary when called upon, I was pretty much redundant all day. There is no greater complement a student can pay a teacher than this, that they no longer need his help. So long as he is still getting paid, that is.
It is not always such a piece of piss, of course. A colleague had a bad morning the other day, and after considering the usual excuses for displays of student dimwittedness, such as culture shock and unfamiliar task types and the strain of operating in a foreign language all day, she decided they were just stupid. I work on the principle that this conclusion is to be reached only when every other possibility has been considered and dismissed. There are students from China and the Arab world who arrive here so teacher-dependent that they scarcely know which way up to hold a pen without instruction, but they do eventually catch on. Sometimes though, you have to wonder if some people are just dumb as trees.
A while ago I had a group who were required to read a book in their own time and be prepared to come to class and discuss what they had read, giving a summary of the plot and recommending the book to the group or advising everyone not to waste their time on it. First up to the OHP is a Chinese lad who calls himself Kevin. He shuffles his papers, arranges his transparency, clears his throat and addresses us thus:
‘OK, so, ummm… How is very big one, and, ummm, litch. So, boy is be must to steer the how. Yeah.’
He doesn’t appear to register that in his listeners’ minds, in Arabic, Chinese, Spanish and English, the same question is being formulated: what the fuck is he on about?
Kev goes on. ‘So, boy is whiz Beer Psycho.’ Checks notes. ‘Yeah. Beer Psycho. Beer Psycho is lobba and danger man very.’
Gotcha! ‘Bill Sikes is a robber and a very dangerous man.’ Kev has been reading Oliver Twist. I am now able to construe his opening. ‘The house is a big one and very rich. The boy must steal (i.e., rob) the house.’ This is now clear to me but I am probably the only one in the room apart from Kevin who knows about Oliver Twist, and definitely the only one who can decode rampant Chinglish fast enough to follow Kev’s drift.
Let us not mock (too much, anyway) attempts to communicate in a foreign language. But let us wonder why it is that someone who is after all about to start a Master’s launched into an account of a book, utterly without preamble, at something like chapter twenty five and expected us to know what the hell he was trying to tell us. I have one excuse in reserve for him. Maybe he thought I was testing him on a book I knew well (I don't) and he was addressing only me. Why would he have been asked to do a presentation if that were the case? What was the point of everyone else being there? Why would I have spent ages telling everyone that they were presenting something as a basis for discussion, not as a test? Oh, I don’t bloody know. Maybe Kev was just not the sharpest tool in the shed, and that was all there was to it.