Sunday, May 29, 2005

In a Different Class

It’s usually the same student who wants to know every single rule of English grammar in the first ten minutes of the course; who quickly learns that ‘why?’ is an easy question to ask, and often impossible to answer, who will race ahead filling in answers in his work book whilst you’re trying to explain something difficult to the class, so that he is unaware of what’s happened and then slows everything down later in the lesson by needing to have it all explained to him.

It’s the same shite who’ll demand to go through his exam scripts with a fine tooth comb, challenging every answer you’ve marked incorrect. He’ll see you not so much as a class teacher, more as a personal tutor, who has no need of breaks, but would much rather spend valuable coffee time answering the questions he’s spent the lessons, not to say entire preceeding evening, dreaming up.

Another really irksome aspect of this little bollocks is that he'll always speak in the first person plural, as if talking for the whole class, whereas their body language and moans indicate that his fellows regard him with scorn, and his interventions with embarrasment and even anguish.

I could write at length about this bastard. He pops up in every city. He’s a member of every race and culture. He’s been in almost every class I’ve ever taught. I say ‘he’ because he’s always a bloke. Generally, he’ll be thirty-something and live with his parents. I think of him as Taught Under Real Duress, or T.U.R.D

A dilemma in teaching English as a foreign language is: when to correct a student who makes verbal mistakes? On the one hand, they need to be aware they’ve got something wrong, on the other hand constant interruptions to put them right will spoil the natural flow of speech and undermine confidence… And so, sometimes you correct the blighters, sometimes you don’t.

This is a beginner’s class. Nonetheless it’s really important to have them speaking as much as possible from the outset, reading aloud, forming and articulating simple sentences, and I sweat unseen buckets to get them to do so.

This morning, I’d given them a wee exercise involving family-member names and the possessive ‘s’. I asked Gassim to read out his answer to question four, but instead of saying ‘Tom is Sally’s husband’, bizarrely he said ‘Tom is Sally’s hospital’. This gave most of the class a chuckle. He tried to read it again, and said ‘hospital’ again. We moved on to another student and question five.

At the end of the lesson as I was heading for a well earned instant coffee, this class’s T.U.R.D revealed himself. ‘Teacher, you must make us say words’. I’m thinking, ‘What to fuck have I been doing for the last hour and a half?’ But I shake my head, encourage him to go on, smiling politely through gritted teeth. ‘For example, Gassim, he cannot speak. You not help him. Why?’

Will I never be free? If Gassim were getting an operation, T.U.R.D would show up and tell the surgeon where to make the incision.