When I learned last September that we'd be offering a foundation course in English for Art and Design, I thought, cool; we'll have a class of lively, enthusiastic and creative young people, athirst to express their passion for art in English. They'll be dying to do presentations. They'll learn a lot from us, and we from them. I was not scheduled to teach them until January, and had October to December with a Foundation in Business English group. They were only eighteen years old and could be very hard to motivate, but they were paragons of dedication and diligence in comparison with the Art and Design students.
'Students' was not the noun most often used by their teachers to designate these kids; a selection of shorter Anglo-Saxon terms was usually deemed more appropriate. With one exception, they were a bunch of sullen little princes and princesses who would roll up fifty minutes late, sit in lessons sulking and playing with their smart phones, respond to teachers' prompts with silence or monosyllables, and frequently disappear after lunch. The teacher who had to teach them most often was crossing off the days until he could finally get the hell out. Of course they were rebuked and threatened, and their Xmas test marked most severely, and I hoped that by the time it fell to me to teach them, socks might have been pulled up and places in the scheme of things understood and accepted.
The students are from Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan. I have them for four hours on Wednesdays. Last week it only took twenty minutes to get four out of six kids present. Joanne asks if she can leave early, as she has a portfolio to prepare for an interview. I say no, and so she goes into a sulk which she will nurse and nurture for the rest of the day. I announce that we shall be considering the illusion of depth, and launch into my powerpoint presentation, which I refuse to deliver as a lecture: it's going to be interactive if I have to resort to the rack and the screw.
I have loads of vocabulary and loads of paintings and drawings. The vocabulary is chosen to help the
My last slide, ladies and gentlemen, is a mural painting by Leonardo da Vinci. Perhaps you know of it?
'Jesus's Last Meal,' Kevin says.
Yup. Steak, french frarze, onion rings and a pint o' mint chocolate chip arse-cream 'fore they done fried His ass. 'The Last Supper' is what we call it, Kev - it sets up quite different vibrations.
They didn't know anything about the story of the last supper and the impending betrayal and crucifixion, but then again, why should they? They're from the other side of the earth, where they have myths of their own. I filled them in on a few details. Then after two hours filling their heads with vocabulary about one-point perspective, horizon lines, vanishing points, isometric and atmospheric perspective, I said 'tell me about this picture.'
'Jesus's face is the vanishing point.' Kevin drones.
Hallelujah! A reaction.
'Yes!' Well spotted, that boy, 'Why is his face the vanishing point?'
'Cuz it's in the middle.'
A new group of Algerian pilots and technicians arrived last week. Pretty low language level. In one lesson we were discussing leisure pursuits. 'I like riding whores', one told me. He didn't mean ladies of the evening, but gee-gees.