Thursday, 28 May 2009

Pressing A Point

I'm only a few feet way from the vending machine when I hear footsteps behind me on the marble floor. Wheeling around, I see three of my students standing there with worried looks on their faces. "Hojam," the bravest one of them says very respectfully.


Ahmet clears his throat as the other two all but push him forward. Poor Ahmet: his English is no great shakes, but he's a lot more fluent than Alper or Ilker. He's obviously been voted the designated speaker here.

"Why Alper and Ilker didn't get extra points?" he asks breathlessly, cutting to the chase.

Extra points are given at the end of the term for excellent attendance, a real consideration at time when a few extra points can mean the difference between pass and fail. They ought to know this, too: I've been reciting it in their class like a mantra for the past two weeks. Alper and Ilker lick their lips, their eyes flicking from Ahmet to me.

"Because they missed a lot of classes." Duh.

They make a brief stab at protesting, but in the end they have the good grace to accept this: after all, I've got attendance sheets to back me up. But Ahmet isn't finished.

"Why they didn't get points for composition?"

Alper and Ilker narrow their eyes and move a little closer.

"Because they copied." Frowning, I turn to Alper and Ilker. "And I warned you many times that if you copied, I'd give you zero points."

"No, hojam! No copy, I swear!" puts in Ilker, his dark eyes flashing.

"Ilker, you copied. You wrote the same thing a lot of other people wrote -- the exact same words." I look longingly at the vending machine. The water cooler in the teachers' room is empty again, and it's hot. The boys don't see this: those elusive extra points are the only things on their minds at this moment and even if they knew how thirsty I am I doubt they'd care.

"No copy," Alper protests weakly, but his eyes are shifty and there's a look on his face somewhere between pain and amusement.

I take a deep breath: I'm going to play the religion card. "You boys go to mosque every Friday, don't you?" They'd better go: they've missed enough of my late Friday afternoon classes on this pretext.

Ahmet nods. "Yes."

I'm prepared to believe him. Not only does he appear to bathe regularly, he turns in his homework on time, pays attention in class, and obviously irons his cotton shirts. Ilker and Alper nod too, but they're a hair behind Ahmet and they won't quite meet my eye. They watch furtively as someone feeds coins into the vending machine and a can comes rattling out.

"So you know how important it is not to lie, right?"

They give me sullen looks: they see where this is going.

I'm beginning to hate myself a little, but I'm sick and tired of students niggling over the extra points they have not earned. I'm also over-the-top tired of the plagiarism issue -- and I'm thirsty -- so I press on. "Well, when it comes to students copying, it's impossible to fool teachers because we always know. We're a little like God." I point up to the ceiling and three pairs of eyes follow my finger. "So don't copy from now on, okay?"

They heave deep sighs and nod.

Finally, they leave me, shoulders slumped, heads down in defeat.

Feeling an ungodly thirst, I go to the vending machine, hoping there will be a can left.


Kim Ayres said...

God, Teachers and Mothers know all!

Bish Denham said...

Hey, you do what you gotta do.

Merry Monteleone said...

You're a better teacher than I would be... I'd have given them the points just to get to the vending machine :-)

Robin said...

These kids have, what we call in Yiddish, "chutzpah". Not the good kind. Yeesh.

Mary Witzl said...

Kim -- We do, don't we? And sometimes we tell...

Bish -- Yes, and I suppose they do what they gotta do too, which is skip classes, play around, and hope to get by somehow. Just wish they'd listen!

Merry -- Believe me, I was tempted. Two more minutes of whining and I might just have cracked.

Robin -- They sure do, and it drives me WILD! If only they'd use their chutzpah for good purposes, they'd rule the world. And pass foundation English.

Charles Gramlich said...

Point grubbing is such a slimy behavior.

Kim Ayres said...

Dad's know all too, but would rather not get involved...

Angela said...

Mary knows all...sees all. Muahahaaa!!

Mary Witzl said...

Charles -- It sure is. If they put half the energy they spend nitpicking and begging into their studies instead, they wouldn't need to grovel for points -- that's what irritates me the most.

Kim -- I don't know about that! Speaking personally, my father didn't know the half of what my mother knew. Thank God.

Angela -- It's sad: they think it's amazing I can tell the difference between Faulkner, say, and 'See Spot run'. I might as well be as omnipotent and omniscient as God.

Charlie said...

"The religion card" worked on me every single time, even if I was innocent. I think it was a Pavlovian reaction.

angryparsnip said...

I know your very tired of the attendance, the plagiarism and the lies... the heat too but I love reading your stories about your classroom. A pain for you but great reading for us !

Robert the Skeptic said...

I hope the can contained a cold beer. Even Gods deserve a good brew once in a while when their lambs drive them to temptation.

Anne Spollen said...

Count the days, Mary, count the days. Count them in English, then in Turkish, and remember there are not so many of them left. (You're not teaching summer school, are you?)

JR's Thumbprints said...

If you're ever in Sudan, don't let your students name a teddy bear Muhammad ... and never ever cave-in on awarding extra points (no matter what country you're in).

Mary Witzl said...

Charlie -- It used to work on me too (an innately over-developed sense of guilt, often exploited by the cunning and manipulative doesn't help). It doesn't work on me anymore, but at long as my students are cutting Friday classes under the guise of attending religious services, I'm damned if I won't use it on them. (And they are guilty...)

AP -- You only encourage me with comments like that, you know? In the midst of some thoroughly exasperating class, I'll think to myself that there are those who might enjoy hearing the story relayed. And that pretty much gets me through the hours, so thank you.

Robert -- Orange-ade. Believe me, if that machine had had beer in it, the lambs would have mown me down to get access.

AnneS --Bir, iki, üç, dört, beş -- ah, I feel better already! And no, I am not teaching summer school! And now, a moment of silent reflection for my friends who are...

JR -- Don't worry: I'm square on that one, and I've just stopped myself from saying, "Oink, oink" to a few of my more male chauvinistic boys. And what I said earlier about being tempted to give in? No way. Do it once and word gets around. And then they never let up.

Jane Powers said...

Hi Mary,it's nice to be reading you again. This was an interesting read for a couple of reasons. I mark ESOL papers and we are always told to keep a lookout for an copying. However they have very ambivalent attitude if we find any as it means extra work. It's a case of shooting the messenger.At leHi Mary,Nice to be reading you again. This was an interesting ast we don't have to meet the students. I don't envy you that and I am in awe of your persistence.
By co-incidence a friend of my brother is a TEFL teacher and wants to move to Scotland. I remember you were there and I wonder if you know of any places where she might find work. I hope you don't mind me asking
Contact me on
Please tell me what is happening with Katie and Beatrice. Are you sending the story out?
Keep in touch
Jane Powers

Mary Witzl said...

Hi Jane -- It is good to hear from you again!

You and I could trade marking stories! I actually enjoying marking ESOL papers, but my students' plagiarism drives me wild. They just don't see it as a bad thing, and they are amazed again and again when I catch them at it. My persistence isn't as awesome as it is misplaced, I'm beginning to think...

Katie and Beatrice have had quite a few make-overs and now wait to see if they will finally meet with favor. If they don't, then they'll have to wait a while longer.

Anne Spollen said...

Hi Mary -- I have no idea why my blog comments came in as askme; the same thing happened on Bish's blog.

Anyway, I really liked this post and came back to read it again and saw my comment under that name. I think my computer might be haunted.