Thursday, 16 April 2009

Getting Away With It

"Tee-cha, why you write children's?" Alper asks me, his brow furrowed.

I wheel around and look at the board where I have written the following sentence: The children's room is the smallest room in our house.

My mouth gapes open. "Why did I write it...?"

Alper makes a vague gesture with one hand. "Why you write--" He turns to the boy sitting next to him and mutters something in Turkish. After a moment of consultation, they look up at me "ah-pose-trph," Alper concludes, the wrinkle still between his eyebrows.

I look at the board again. "Apostrophe?" I ask, pointing to the offending punctuation mark.

He nods vigorously.

"Because the room belongs to the children, so you use an apostrophe after 'children' and before the S," I explain.

"No, tee-cha, mistake!" shouts Aysa. "Apostrophe always after S!"

Aysa is one of those students who make me bring Bufferin to class: she knows it all even if she doesn't. Oddly enough, learning time after time that she is wrong hasn't put a dent in her astonishing confidence. Aysa has corrected my spelling, my grammar, and my syntax, and bless her, she has never once been right. During the break, I'm happy to let her teach me Turkish pronunciation because this gives her a gratifying sense of her own superiority -- but I'm damned if I'm going to let her get away with this now.

"The S comes after the N in children's," I say sternly. "Children is already plural."

She doesn't believe me, but it is time for my break and boy, do I need it. When I get back fifteen minutes later, Aysa has her grammar book open to plurals and she looks suitably chagrined.

I don't rub it in, though. I'm above that.

But two days later, she's at it again. We're doing personal descriptions this week, and on the board I've written the following sentence: What is your boyfriend like?

Aysa is practically leaping out of her chair at this. "Tee-cha, not is, does!" she splutters, pointing an accusatory finger.

Uh oh -- have I made a mistake? It's not unheard of, after all. I study the board, but no: everything's fine. "Look, there's no mistake here, the question is--"

But Aysa is half out of her seat, scrabbling for her grammar book again. "Tee-cha, what do you like to do?" she calls triumphantly, tapping her book with one stubby finger. "Boyfriend he, so does," she concludes breathlessly. "No what IS boyfriend like, what DOES boyfriend like!" The look in her eye says it all: this time she's got me -- victory is hers!

Confused and exasperated, I go to look. What do you like to do in your free time? I read. Now I'm the one with a crease between my eyebrows.

Then I get it. The crease between my eyebrows turns into a tiny flashbulb just over my head.

Back at the board, I write the following: What is your boyfriend like? and What does your boyfriend like doing in his free time? I explain briefly that What is he like? and What does he like? mean different things entirely.

Aysa watches warily, her eyes distrustful. Even now, she suspects I'm trying to pull a fast one.

I don't rub it in, though. I'm above that.

Fast forward one week. I am teaching my last class on my longest teaching day. My feet hurt, my head is throbbing, and one teacher is off ill, so I've got two classes rolled into one, and worse still, I'm teaching a lesson I've had no chance to prepare for. It's standing room only, and the class is about as quiet as Grand Central Station during rush hour.

"BE QUIET!" I roar for the third time, but no one pays me any heed. So I scrawl it across the board in four-inch letters.

An instant hush fills the room. They're never this responsive! I can hardly believe my good luck.

Aysa stares at me, her mouth hanging open. "Tee-cha QUIT!" she practically shouts.



If she were on her feet, she'd be jumping up and down. The boy next to her is pointing to the board, so I turn around.

And I see what I've gone and written in my flustered haste: BE QUIT!

Now this tale could end here. Aysa could have had her Great Victory and I could have ended up with egg on my face. But the fates were with me.

"Open your books to page 58!" I splutter, after correcting the offending QUIT to QUIET.

There is a great rustling as fifty students open their books, and half the class smiles and nods. One boy laughs out loud and gives me an appreciative wink. And I read the instructions to the lesson I so hastily cobbled together: Find the mistake in the text . We're doing a unit on error correction.

Aysa casts me a baleful look. Her arch enemy, Mary the All Grammatical, has scored again.

My very first whopper of a mistake and I've completely and utterly gotten away with it.

I may not rub it in, but I'm damned if I'll ever tell.


Kim Ayres said...

Next lesson - English text speak...

Charles Gramlich said...

LOL, that is the greatest story. All's well that ends well!

That would be so perfect for reader's digest I think.

Christy said...

Ha! Now that is justice!

Anonymous said...

You are my hero.

Martha Flynn said...

wipe away tear

Angela said...


Oh you have the strength of a thousand weight lifters to put up with that girl!

Mary Witzl said...

Kim -- So help me, I think that's where all of them are learning their English -- or at the very least, their punctuation.

Charles -- From your mouth to God's ears! But the embarrassing truth is that I'm a Reader's Digest reject. My language teaching tales don't seem right for anyone other than my wonderful blog readers.

Christy -- It was absolutely poetic justice. I couldn't get over my good luck: the one time I was well and truly wrong and I still came up roses!

PN -- Thank you! Actually, you're sort of MY hero, so we're in a mutual admiration society.

Martha -- It means a lot to me that other people find this funny. I snickered all the way out of the classroom, but I thought it might just be me.

Angela -- I walk out of that class every single time clenching my jaw. I tell myself that teaching Aysa is doing wonders for my character.

Chris Eldin said...

You are da bestest teecha!

Laura Hedgecock said...

Good for you that you're teaching and investing in your students and still keeping your sense of humor. For that reason, I'll give you a joke that your "Children's room" reminded me of -- my neice's favorite joke when she was six.

What's the smallest room in the house? Mushroom.

Mary Witzl said...

Chris -- Jinx! We were just doing the superlative today! Two or three kids actually used 'bestest' and 'mostest' too.

Laura -- Thank you for commenting!

A sense of humor is just about the only thing that's getting me through teaching. This blog helps, too. Sometimes in class I look at the kids I'm teaching and remind myself that I have a blog. That always cheers me up.

Bish Denham said...

ROFL! And for my next trick...

Charlie said...

Your skill, blogwise, is the ability to reproduce their mangled English pronunciations—and your initial bewilderment when they yell or scream it. I become an active participant in attempting to figure out what the hell they're jumping up and down about, but luckily I don't have to find the answer.

You should be dubbed The Great Outsmarter.

kara said...

so who won?

grammar, that's who.

Kanani said...

Ha! Sounds like never a dull moment, Mary!

Merry Monteleone said...

That's awesome, Mary. I feel a little bad for Aysa, but then, I never liked the know-it-all when I was a kid, and I'm guessing I'd like them even less as a teacher.

adrienne said...

Ooh, you are quit the clever one ;)

Mary Witzl said...

Bish -- I'm fresh out of tricks, unfortunately. I hope I find some more soon or I'll never keep up with my young Turks.

Charlie -- Honestly, things like this happen to me about two dozen times any given day. Someone will interrupt me while I'm making my teaching point to ask me the meaning of a word they cannot pronounce. I swear, I spend half my time deflecting non sequiturs. I'm hard put to figure out who is the more frustrated, too.

Kara -- Yeah, but when grammar wins, I win -- THAT's what!

Kanani -- Believe me, Dull Minutes R Us. But nestled in there are some pretty wild and crazy experiences.

Merry -- Just writing this, I felt sorry for her too. Then I went into the classroom and sparred mightily with her and in no time at all I had compassion fatigue.

Adrienne -- Truth to tell, I was pretty proud of myself for this wholly inadvertent slip up. I'll probably never manage this again, but with a moment of glory that bright, who cares?

Robert the Skeptic said...

How about a spelling error that resulted from a "wardrobe malfunction". The Washington Nationals took the field this week with "Natinals" emblazoned on their uniforms. Wonder if they were made in China?

Pictures can be found here:

Mary Witzl said...

Robert -- Ooh -- somebody got away with it there, too! I've checked that out and I think I can see what happened: since the names are on the front rather than the back (or maybe in addition to?) the O got lost in the overlap. I just hope that at least some of those guys cringed to put on their shirts. I'd have refused, point blank.

Kappa no He said...

They should have little angels swoop down to give you awards for fast thinking like that.

Mary Witzl said...

Kappa -- I could use a couple of angels swooping down, to tell you the truth. Not all of my nightmare classes end that well...

Robin said...

Oh, man. I love the image of the kid lying in wait for you to make a mistake. I feel really sorry for her future husband.

Mary Witzl said...

Robin -- More than anything, I can't get over her confidence. Where did she get that, I wonder? When I was her age, teachers were God. Taking one on was sheer lunacy. She drives me wild, but part of me feels a little envious. I can't help wondering what it's like to have such sheer and audacious courage...