Monday, 12 April 2010

The Patience Of A Saint

"Teacher," Sevge asks me after class just as I'm packing up my things. "What is mean Cheeses ebb?"

All I can do is stare, open-mouthed. Sevge has a habit of hitting me with non sequiturs, usually right in the middle of a teaching point. Last week she wanted me to mark an exercise on the conditional when I was trying to explain past continuous and simple past to the class. The week before, she wanted me to explain the lyrics of a particular song just after I'd taken attendance. "Is it a kind of cheese?" I ask her now, stacking my books into a neat pile.

She shakes her head. "Cheeses ebb."

"Where did you find this expression?" I ask, unplugging the CD player.

She blinks. "Teacher, you say!"

Her classroom companion Onur nods. "You say every time," he agrees. "Cheez us webbed."

I wrack my brain for what this could mean. I have no memory whatsoever of any class discussion of dairy products. "Were we talking about cheese in class?"

They frown at me, then shake their heads.

I slide my CDs into my backpack and erase the white board, trying to buy time. I have no idea what they're talking about. It's been a trying day and a very difficult class. "When did I say it?"

Onur looks embarrassed. "You say when ask leave early. When Aziz go toilet three time. When Beyza come lessons late and sleeping."

"When Abdullah forget book," Sevge adds. "You say three times today!"

I shake my head and sidle toward the door. "Could you say it again?"

"Cheez uz webbed!" Onur repeats, wringing his hands and casting his eyes heavenward in a credible, if highly unflattering, imitation of yours truly.

I slap my forehead in sudden recognition. "Jesus wept!"

They both nod. "What is mean?"

I give up and put my books and CD player back down. "Well, you know Jesus, the Christian prophet, right?" They don't understand, so I draw a cross on my notebook and they both nod. I point to the ceiling. "Sometimes when I'm having a hard time in this class, I imagine Jesus is looking down at me and he's crying a little for me." They stare at me, clearly mystified and I don't blame them one bit. My cheeks are flaming at how ridiculous I sound.

"So I say Jesus wept," I conclude lamely. "Sort of the way you say Allah, allah when you can't understand something and you feel frustrated."

"Cheezes webbed like Allah, allah?" Sevge confirms just as Aycan and Abdullah come back into the class for Abdullah's book.

"Teacher, you say!" Abdullah comments, flinging his arms wide apart and rolling his eyes at the ceiling. "Cheezes webbed:What is mean?"

Thankfully, Onur and Sevge explain this time.

"Absolutely!" yells Aycan, whose voice only comes in top volume. "You always say!"

Onur and Sevge nod. "Absolutely. You say every time, teacher!"

"Cheezes webbed!" shrieks Abdullah in a worrying falsetto. "Absolutely!"

"Teacher, what is mean absolutely?" Sevge hisses. "How spell?"

"A-B-S-- I'll tell you tomorrow," I say, desperate for a cup of coffee and a sit down.

As I push open the door, I hear all four students parroting "Absolutely!" and "Jesus wept!" I had no idea I used these expressions so often.

"Sheet!" Abdullah calls joyfully over his shoulder as they leave the classroom just as my boss is strolling past. "You say sheet every time teacher!" The others echo their agreement.

Jesus wept.


Vijaya said...

Mary, you must send this in to Richard Lederer. He compiles misunderstandings with language. I believe he was a teacher first ... his books are laugh-out-loud funny.

Bish Denham said...

Oh sheet...ROFL!

Kim Ayres said...

It could have been worse - at least you weren't saying "cheeses riced"

Unknown said...

Saints Gregory and Bartholomew give you strength. You are the funniest woman on the planet.

Tabitha said...

ROTFLMAO!!! I love your stories, Mary. :)

Charles Gramlich said...

Lol. Love this.

AnneB said...

I will never hear the story of the raising of Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary, without thinking of another Mary and her disciples!

And Kim, I think the expression is Cheeses H. Riced.

e said...

Okay---you had me in stitches with this...still laughing!

Robert the Skeptic said...

It's a good thing I am not an English teacher... the students would be asking me why I mention my mother's use of forks so often.

Mary Witzl said...

Vijaya -- I'd better feed my stuff to him piece by piece or I'll overwhelm him. The things he could learn sitting in a corner of my classroom! But then, he's probably learned them already in his own classroom.

Bish -- I laughed too, but only after the fact.

Kim -- Last year, somebody asked me about "Go gimmeestryn," which I thought must be Turkish but turned out to be "God, give me strength." But yes -- it could have been SO much worse!

Blythe -- Aww, thank you! And my thanks to Saints Gregory and Bartholomew, too, though I suspect they think I'm a wimp.

Tabitha -- Thank you! You know I'm just procrastinating, but I'm trying to do it in style.

Charles -- You've been there too, haven't you? And from the looks of things, your patience is sorely tried too. Just remember: June! July! August!

AnneB -- Eek, I guess they ARE my disciples! I don't have to wonder who my Judas is either: he hasn't come to class in ages and he'd happily sell me off for a cigarette and a cup of coffee.

ee -- It makes my day that people find this funny. Thank you.

Robert -- I seldom swear, but I fear my students may have heard me refer to the odd 'fork' too.

Pat said...

Tee hee! I guessed:)

Anonymous said...

I had figured out the cheeses webbed...years of my own ESL students...but I literally LOLed (not just the stupid internet expression) at the sheet!
Oh they get us every time, don't they?

Charlie said...

Funny, funny, FUNNY story, Mary! I don't know how you do it, but your stories get better and better.

And AnneB: Cheeses H. Riced. LOL.

Mary Witzl said...

Pat -- Wish you'd been in my classroom, then: I didn't have a clue. But I'm easily addled in class.

Elizabeth -- You got it right away too? I feel so slow!

Yes, my students get me every time. "Cheeses ebbed" was a tough nut to crack, but any fool could have told what "Sheet" meant.

Charlie -- Thank you for that nice compliment!

My students keep churning it out, so I figure that trying to follow suit is the least I can do.

Anonymous said...

Hee hee. That was a great one. :)

Marcia said...

Mary -- LOL. You do a wonderful job with these kids' voices.

angryparsnip said...

Wahaahahahahahah !

"Oh sheet" I am still laughing over this story !

kara said...

sounds like someone needs to teach a course on decent cursing.

Mary Witzl said...

Gypsy -- They got me good, didn't they?

Marcia -- Thank you. Arguably, the little sheets do an even better job with mine.

AP -- I'm laughing now myself. At the time, I didn't find it quite so funny.

Kara -- I'll bet a class on effective, natural swearing in English would go down a treat. All I have to do is say something under my breath and they're all ears. Hmm...there's a good teaching idea.

A.T. Post said...

Just when I thought this tale couldn't get any better...

"Teacher! You say SHEET all the time!"

Oh boy. Jesus wept, all right.

Good story, as usual. You beat me to the punch. I've got something coming up in the next couple of days about dropping the F-bomb in front of my students (by ACCIDENT)...

Marian Perera said...

I volunteered to teach an ESL course once, and was explaining contractions to a Chinese student. I pronounced don't, won't, can't--

She interrupted me, looking shocked, and told me that she couldn't say that last word.

"Can't?" I said, puzzled.

"Yes, my husband tell me that is very rude word!"

Chris Eldin said...

Too funny, Mary!

Anne Spollen said...

Once when my mom, a super Catholic aunt and a super Catholic friend were in my car, my then three year old Christopher looked out the car window and said Ahhh hole really loudly.

It didn't take anyone very long to figure out he drove around with his mom a lot. Luckily, they all had a good sense of humor, so yeah, we get caught.


Great story, Mary, very readable.

Mary Witzl said...

Postman -- I'm not a very good swearer, but my students are adept at helping me find my boiling point. Sometimes those awful words just slip right out. When they do, the same kids who don't listen when I'm explaining the mechanics of past perfect are suddenly all ears -- and their powers of retention are generally awesome.

I'll look forward to reading your teaching tale!

Marian -- Last semester, one of my students tittered when I used the word 'fact' in class. He was sure I'd cracked and used a Bad Word.

I once had a Korean friend who studied philosophy. She got tired of Americans reacting with shock every time she told them she studied Kant. She finally gave up and said she studied German philosophers.

Chris -- I'm glad you think so!

AnneS -- In my family, parents, aunts and uncles had zero tolerance for swearing and next to no sense of humor about it. You lucked out! It's been my experience that Catholics aren't quite so straight-laced about swearing as Protestants are. But most of the Protestants I grew up around were pretty extreme.

Robin said...

That was simply hilarious! I love the unflattering imitation of you saying it! I intend to say, "Jesus wept" all day tomorrow in your honor.

laura said...

Jesus may have wept but I laughed like hell!!
This was just too funny!

Hope said...

Oh, this made me chuckle!

Mary Witzl said...

Robin -- There's nothing like hearing your words and accent lampooned by a great hulking teenage boy with an accent. I catch myself every time I say "Absolutely" now. And I'm constantly trying to keep my voice low.

Laura -- Thank you. One day, I'm hoping to find this hilarious myself!

Hope -- Thank you!

Anonymous said...
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The Dropout said...

What a classic misunderstanding! So very funny and beautifully written.
I was befuddled by a religious conversation in Vietnam once. I had no idea that Yay Sue (Jesu) was Jesus.

Unknown said...

Hi, from The Netherlands! Just came across your blog following a link Miss Footloose ("Life in the Expat Lane") published in her blog.
Charming story! In my previous life (back home in Argentina, before coming to NL) I was a TEFL myself and always loved (well, most of the time!) scenes like this one you describe. So funny!! :D

Mary Witzl said...

Dropout -- Thank you!

Aledys -- Thank you, fellow EFL teacher. These things are always funnier AFTER the fact, aren't they?

When I lived in the Netherlands (near s'Hertogenbosch), I worked with an Argentinian man who lived in the Netherlands. He got so homesick for Argentina he eventually went back, but he used to tell some wonderful stories.

Unknown said...

Well, that's a nice coincidence! I bet your colleague had some! stories to tell from back home... I've been in the NL for 8 years. Homesick? All the time, but when I go back there I feel homesick for the NL :D