"Excuse me, are you our new teacher?"
This question catches me off guard as I stand in the empty classroom. "What class?"
"Pre-intermediate 3 at 8:30."
"Then yes, I'm your teacher." I survey the two boys in the doorway. "I must admit, I didn't think I'd have any students today."
"Will we have a class?"
"Do you have textbooks?" The bookstore can't be open yet.
"The bookstore isn't open yet," one of the boys confirms. They promise to get their textbooks before our next class meeting.
Now if these boys were last term's kids, this would be the point when they would clear out like greased lightning. After all, they know that there's no class and they've got an excuse -- they have to go to the bookstore and wait for it to open. But the boys don't go anywhere.
"She's our new teacher," I hear one of them explain -- in English -- to another boy who has just arrived. The new boy looks at me with interest and no sooner have they all entered the classroom than a few more arrive.
"Where are you from?" one of the boys asks shyly.
"California --" I smile -- "I mean, America."
The boys trade happy, incredulous smiles as though they've just learned I'm Secretary of State. They want to know where my hometown is and how long I've been teaching here. I tell them, and they ask still more questions.
I can't get over this: we are actually having a conversation, in English. One of the boys has an amazing fund of knowledge and remembers that the earthquake which caused part of the Oakland Bay Bridge to collapse was in 1989, not 1988. He manages to correct me firmly but respectfully. The other boy is equally impressive, and obviously keen on learning as much as possible. They might as well be Secretary of State and Treasurer of Turkey; that's how unusual these two are, compared to the majority of the kids I taught last term.
"You already speak English," I say, trying not to look too gob-smacked.
"We try to," one of the boys says, "but our English isn't very good yet." He flushes and ducks his head. "We need to learn more."
Flipping heck, I've hit a gold mine here: I'm teaching kids who actually want to learn! Humble, polite kids too! When I tell my colleagues about my lucky strike, one of them tells me I've inherited a lot of his old students. "Best class I ever had," he confirms. "Nothing to do with me, either. Luck of the draw."
This is too good to be true. What will it be like, teaching kids who really want to learn? It's been so long that I can hardly begin to imagine this. Every morning I'll wake up, thinking of the fun I'm going to have in my classes. The communicative exercises we'll do, the songs we'll learn, the vocabulary we'll whiz right through. And -- if I'm honest -- the test scores these kids will get too! They'll be the stars of the department, kids like this! In no time, I'll go from being Mary, the teacher of dunces, to Mary, teacher of the kids with the highest marks! I feel one tiny glimmer of worry: with kids this good, what will I write about? Writing about a class of paragons isn't as much fun as writing about a class full of dunces... But I'm prepared to accept this.
My next three classes are not quite as impressive as that first group, but they are all far more studious and attentive than last term's students. In each class, I have a real minority of back-row smart alecks and a whopping majority of shining-faced front row swots who hang on my every word and carefully write down what I say. It's so unsettling at first that I almost find myself tongue-tied, just watching those spellbound faces and rapidly moving pencils.
In one class, half a dozen kids have not yet bought their books, so I give them time to do this. Now, in the last classes I taught, a trip to the bookstore would take a kid at least an hour. These students take fifteen minutes and come back to class. In another class, they tell me that the bookstore has run out of books. Because of this, I tell the kids they don't have to stay for the last hour if they don't want to -- and they choose to do so anyway. They actually ask me if I mind. No, I do not mind.
I teach them things and they learn. They even seem to like it!
I spend the next few days walking around like I'm a dream. Kids who want to learn, for a change. Kids who actually pay attention in class. This is just wonderful! It's too good to be true!
And so it is. "Have you heard?" a colleague murmurs this morning just as I pour myself a cup of coffee. "Our schedules are going to be scrapped."
I think she's joking until I see her face. It turns out the powers-that-be have decided to redo the schedules. We'll lose all our classes and get different ones.
Ah well, it looks like I'll have plenty to write about now. No cloud without a silver lining.
Wednesday, 18 February 2009
"Excuse me, are you our new teacher?"