"Tee-cha, I am here?"
Oh God, no, it's Tanol.
I get asked this question almost every day, after class. A cluster of students swarm around my desk; they have shown up late and want to make sure I have marked them down as present anyway. It's a headache trying to figure out who has a legitimate reason for being late and who was outside yakking with his buddies. But Tanol, who is also lazy and irresponsible, isn't just a headache, he's a 24-hour migraine. A few minutes around Tanol and I wonder why I ever went into teaching in the first place: I have trouble suffering fools.
I can't figure out what Tanol is doing in the pre-academic English program. He's slightly older than the majority, already in his early twenties, but otherwise there is nothing to mark him out as different. He looks bright enough, his face is pleasant, even handsome, and he doesn't suffer from any obvious infirmity. But Tanol's ordinary features belie a vacuity that is almost staggering. After repeating the program twice, he still cannot string together an English sentence for the life of him. I am told that he speaks Turkish just fine -- indeed, he speaks it non-stop throughout the very few classes he has managed to attend -- and he seems not to suffer from real learning difficulties. But when asked to do the simplest task in English, Tanol becomes overwhelmed: his brow furrows; his eyebrows knit; his lips pucker. "Whaaat?" he whispers. In Turkish.
The first time this happened, the rest of the class thought it was so funny they shrieked, hooted, and pounded on their desks, and it took me ages to get everyone settled. I repeated myself several times, growing angrier and angrier, but Tanol still pretended to be flummoxed -- or so I thought. It took me a good two minutes to realize that he wasn't pretending anything; he genuinely did not know what Please take your book out meant.
"I am here?" he whispers again, gesturing hopefully at the roll book. He missed the first forty-five minutes of class and sashayed in fifteen minutes late for the next session with no apology, so no way am I going to mark him present.
But try telling him that.
"No," I say, putting away my markers. "You were late." I tap my watch meaningfully.
His brow furrows. "But -- here now."
I put my yoga breathing to good use. Please let me keep my temper! "But you were fifteen minutes late." I pull a marker back out of my bag and scrawl it on the board. "Fifteen minutes. Yeah?"
He stares at me uncomprehendingly and I sigh and erase the board. Others are trying to push past him, demanding to know when their papers will be marked; one boy wants to know what the difference is between almost and mostly and another wants to know what to study for the final examination even though I've explained it in class half a dozen times. Tanol takes a step closer to me, his eyes pleading. Time for tough love. I steel myself not to crack and turn my back on him.
Last week, Tanol showed up in class late after missing two months' worth of school, with no explanation -- though an explanation is no easy thing to get from him. He then proceeded to sleep through inseparable phrasal verbs and I didn't even bother trying to wake him up. The next day, he came to class twenty-five minutes late without his textbook, notebook, or pen. We were right in the middle of a complicated exercise and Tanol's noisy entrance ruined the tenuous order I'd worked so hard to establish. My compassion fatigue strained to the limit, I lost it: I told him to go home.
"Why?" he asked, looking genuinely perplexed. Around Tanol, I always feel so mean.
"You are late, and you do not have your book."
Tanol pursed his lips and frowned.
I took a long, deep breath. "Look, even if you had your book, we only have twenty minutes of class left."
His jaw dropped and he tilted his head, a furrow deepening between his eyebrows.
"For pity's sake, somebody explain it to him," I hissed. Someone did, and Tanoy left with a face like thunder. Ten minutes later, he was back, huffing and puffing -- and clutching his book. I didn't have the heart to tell him to leave. He actually opened his book and tried to follow what we were doing for the last ten minutes of class, making me feel almost as sorry for him as I feel for his parents.
Today, though, Tanol is determined not to be marked absent. The thirty minutes of English he has endured must be counted. No sooner have I sat down in the teachers' room with a cup of coffee than there is Tanol with a friend. The friend speaks good English and it appears he is to be Tanol's interpreter. "Excuse me, teacher," he asks, "Tanol is absent today?"
"Yes," I reply, fighting the urge to scream.
"Because he missed the first session and he was very late to the second."
The friend smiles ingratiatingly. "But it is my fault." Tanol beams at him encouragingly.
I put down my coffee. "Your fault?"
"Yes. I -- kept him."
This is just too much for me -- I feel something inside me snapping. Boneheadedness is forgivable, laziness is probably inherited (if my own kids are anything to go by), but getting your friends to do your dirty work? No, no, no, no, no! My compassion tank has officially run dry.
I frown at his friend. "Did you shut him up in your room?"
"Knock him unconscious?"
He shakes his head.
"Fool him into thinking that it was a different day? Threaten him? Bribe him to stay with you?"
He's beginning to back away, but I cannot stop myself. "Did you enslave him? Did you chain him to his desk?"
He shakes his head again and shoots Tanol a look that clearly says You didn't warn me that I would be dealing with a madwoman.
"Because unless you did any of those things, it's not your fault," I say, standing up. "Tanol is a grown man. He can get to his English classes on time just like everyone else. Tell him that for me, okay?"
The friend nods and gulps. "Okay, okay. Just -- I wanted to know," he splutters, edging away from me. Tanol trails after him, still looking perplexed.
I finish my coffee and put my head down on the desk. Why did I ever become a teacher?
Sigh. I wonder if Tanol will come to class on Monday...
Saturday, 10 January 2009
"Tee-cha, I am here?"