Monday, 11 January 2010

Arrested Development

I don’t know if there is any research on this, but it is my experience that adults entering adult education after a few years away from learning often revert to an earlier stage of their mental development. The classroom, the desks, the whiteboard, the creature called a teacher, all these set up resonances in the brain from the last time they were surrounded by these things, and suddenly they are sixteen again, although they were over thirty when they entered the room. Sébastien, I have not forgotten you after six years, and now, via Blogger, God has delivered you into my hands.

I was doing a lesson on reported speech, that non-area of English grammar beloved of the kind of teacher in other countries who wants to show students that he didn’t get Cambridge Proficiency for nothing. Reported speech needs to be glossed over and goosed up if it is not to bore the pants off all concerned. It depresses grammatophobes and provides pedants with rich nit-pickings. Break a rule that the pedant has memorized, and you get the smart-arse piping up with ‘but my teacher have said me that…’

Shut the fuck up,’ you tell him kindly. ‘Yo teacher din’t know nothin ‘bout dis shit. And yes, that was a double negative. No reason in language or logic why you shouldn’t double a negative, despite what you might have heard. I could go into this, but as I see it, we’re doing reported bloody speech my way, or am I mistaken?’ This usually puts them in their place. You can take the caring and sharing thing too far.

Anyway, I had this communication game up my sleeve for some real practice of reported speech, involving summary and paraphrase of utterances, rather than slavish changing of tenses and pronouns. Sébastien was in his thirties and really rather tasty - the photo above is not at all unlike him. He was attractive only until he opened his mouth, though. He sat there with a face as long as a gasman’s Mac while I set up the game. Seeing he was sulking extravagantly, I took him aside, adopted my best bedside manner and started to explain to him the rationale for the activity. My bedside manner was belied by the fact that I was biting a small piece of wood at the time. (I wonder if this small piece of wood was actually provided for the purpose, as otherwise I could not christen it. It just sat there on top of the radiator)

'J'ai compris, mais j'ai pas envie'* he said, with that gallic pout + shrug that makes you (or me) want to work him over with a tennis racket strung with piano wire. You can’t let students go unchallenged - or unsoothed I suppose it should be really - if they behave this way, so later I asked him kindly ‘alors, mon brave, quel est ton problem, cock, pourquoi tu ne gets pas stuck in comme tout le monde, qui est-ce qui a rattled ton cage, huh?’

'Ma famille en France' he say me, 'ave a problem.'

Yep, and you want to make sure we all feel as pissed off as you do.

Later the class was in the computer lab to do research for presentations. Sébastien sat at a terminal which did not immediately respond, so he slapped the keyboard in a huff and got out his laptop, despite the large sign above his terminal saying:


I point to this, provoking more snorts and shrugs. He sits at the adjacent terminal, which does not respond within ten seconds, so he has another fit of snorts. He decides to go to the other lab downstairs. I ask why. 'Ça marche pas, ça marche pas!'* he huffs, indicating the computers, his intonation suggesting a long and exasperating list of things sent (by me) to try him. Anyway, eventually he gets going, but refuses to speak English to anyone, including the uncomprehending Korean girl next to him whom he addresses in French all the time. Perhaps he imagines this makes him seem even more attractive. It does not. Pour draguer les minettes, you need to be nice, mon cher. The girl humours him distractedly, as one being pestered by someone else's toddler.

At the end I announce that the presentations will be tomorrow and Sébastien crows 'toomorreau?!!? Demain on s'en va!* Ha ha!' Music to my fucking ears, cock, I thought. This bloke, remember, was thirty-two, not sixteen, and had chosen to come here but still refused to speak English, and puffed and snorted at every activity proposed.

Today there was Hassan, who is also thirty-two going on sixteen. He is new to me, just arrived in my group from another, whose members were no doubt glad to see the back of him. He is required to stay with us for longer than he wanted to, which understandably pissed him off, but a military man must take orders without question and preferably without staging a three-week long sulk. He spent all morning smirking scornfully at me and raising his eyebrows in sophisticated deprecation of the sheer waste of time I was putting him through. During a discussion, I was listening and noting errors in vocabulary and pronunciation for feedback after. Noticing this, Hassan, who is advanced in level, began to talk like some lower-intermediate weez zer haccent of Charles Aznavour. Goddammit, the lad came this close to getting my knee right in his bijoux de famille.

A Happy Ending

At the end of the morning session, the blokes told me they had permission to take the afternoon off to watch the footy. So I ran joyfully for the next train home.


* I understand, I just don't feel like it.
* That doesn't work.

* We're leaving tomorrow.


Bo said...

little fuckwits!!

vilges suola said...

Not so little...

Bo said...

No doubt....I wish I had something witty and amusing to add to this, but I don't. Teaching is often quite shit, and I have it nicer than you so you have my undying admiration. Courage, mon ami.

Nik_TheGreek said...

Sébastien semble être un gars très sympa. Pourrait-il être d'un relative de Hassan? Pourquoi est-il change son groupe de venir à toi?
Peut-être en etant 32 a un effet sur certains hommes...
As Bo said...

vilges suola said...

Ils etaient moches, tous les deux. C'est pas l'age, a mon avis, c'est le caractere de l'homme lui meme.

Poly skouriasmena, ta gallika mou...

Thanks for the wishes, messieurs.

Fionnchú said...

Hell yes: after book-learning Irish for years on my own, I entered a level 4 (of 5) immersion course in the spoken word, that differs markedly (as does English!) from its written form for the likes of foreigners like me. Half the class were native Irish, and even if they had not any Gaeilge in decades, it came back to them from their school memories soon and they had that to fall back on. We terrified, mostly Yank, strangers floundered much more, as we had no safety net of past lessons however dimly recalled, and I spent much of two weeks, being a visual learner that I finally figured out after forty-odd years, in a class calculated for auditory ones. I found nearly every minute painful. I also felt like I was 5 years old. And, as a teacher for 25 years, this was a lasting lesson in how adults can indeed regress.

vilges suola said...

I think teachers are probably the worst for regressing! I know I was a pain in the ass on the TEFL Diploma - I far prefer to manage a class that to sit in one as a pupil

The TEFL Tradesman said...

I find it's often good to be nice at first, when faced with unco-operative adults.

Say something like 'I noticed that you were not really participating (=behaving like a twat) today - can I do anything to help you?' And make some suggestions as to how they can at least look like they're enjoying themselves.

Then if it persists, come on all strong 'Frankly, Paco, I think you're being rather childish and you're making a spectacle of yourself, not to mention pissing off the other students'. They should get the hint then.

If not, just start ridiculing them in class, and them to piss off at the end. That often works too.

Actually, I do now remember a rather painful student from several years ago in my language school days. She was a fat ugly teenager from Morocco, and she seemed to enjoy trying to find fault with me (which wasn't that difficult).

I think she was some sort of Islamo-feminist, and she clearly considered me a raving Western imperialist misogynist.

I responded by asking her if she would like to teach the class, and then asking the class if they would rather be taught by a young and inexperienced girl from a small Moroccan town, or by me.

Fortunately the gang of three Korean housewives in the class chose me immediately, and so the rest of the class followed suit. I then showed them 'Trainspotting' in the afternoon lesson - just to give the upstart muslim chick a taste of REAL life!

vilges suola said...

That's the way to do it. 'Trainspotting' now; what a nice change from 'Fawlty Towers' that would make.


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