Speaking tests round two

The time has come once again for speaking tests, an announcement that was met with audiable groans and the slamming of foreheads against desktops. And the boys weren’t alone in their grief.

At once the memories of vacant expressions and long silences broken only by the sound of another student enthusiastically relieving himself in the nearby toilet came flooding back to me. The only difference this time around is that rather than sweating out the torture in the steadily intensifying spring heat, I’m suffering it swaddled in multiple layers to combat the encroaching winter freeze.

But its not all bad. Yes you will have to repeat the same half a dozen questions at least 616626728 times. And in return you will receive a variation on the same half dozen or so answers, or simply a blank stare. But, it is worth it for these moments:

Me: What do you hope to do?
Stude: I hope to do a dung

Me: What do you hope to do?
Stude: I hope to find the confidence inside to talk to a girl. These days I freeze

Me: What do you plan to do tonight?
Stude: I plan to go home, wet my body, lie on my bed, looking at my phone (pronounced ‘pon’) and watching many videos

Me: What are you pretty good at?
Stude: I’m pretty good at breathing

Me: What are you pretty good at?
Stude: I’m pretty good at massageee. I show you teacher?

Me: What are you grateful for?
Me: I’m grateful for my mother, I’m grateful for my duck, I’m grateful for my friends
Me: Sorry…did you just say your duck?
Stude: Yes
Me: Er…right…well, why are you grateful for your duck?
Stude: She make me happy
Me:…that’s…good

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In praise of studes

School started back three weeks ago and on the first day I was something of a nervous wreck. Having not taught properly for almost a month I was convinced I’d lost the ability altogether, and I was less than confident about the returning students’ enthusiasm for the semester ahead.

I remember being fifteen and actually looking forward to going back to school. After six glorious weeks of freedom I felt recharged, and with the evidence of a new season all around me – the sparse trees, the reinstated knitwear, the dark, crisp mornings – by September I was ready for a fresh start, however short lived it might be.

Unfortunately my students don’t have the luxury of a generous break and a seasonal prompt. When they finished school in July it was hot and humid. For the entire duration of their holiday period – all three weeks of it – it was hot and humid. And wouldn’t you know it, when they started back at school in August it was hot and humid. This depressing lack of development in the weather was compounded by the fact that they had to attend two weeks worth of its-not-technically-mandatory-but-if-you-don’t-attend-just-consider-all-of-you-future-hopes-and-dreams-dashed extra-curricular classes and camps.

The solitary week that the kids had to call their own was one of the two hottest weeks in the year (the other being the week they started back at school) so most of them just stayed inside in their ACed apartments until they had to attend their evening and/or weekend academies.

Essentially its as if there never even was a holiday…

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Ignore your feelings students, there was a holiday

So I had resigned myself to my fate. As I walked to my first class, fan thumping up and down at my side like a demented death knell, I pictured the rows on rows of comatose students that would surely greet me.

Imagine my surprise when on my entrance I was met with a supersonic wave of ‘hello Teacher, long time no see’s from forty expectant, shiny faces. What followed was one of the most  enjoyable, productive classes I’ve had to date. And it set the trend for the rest of the week. Yes this initial zest for learning has now dissolved into a soup of lethargy and mild contempt but I accept that because at 15, even in spite of my generous holiday time and the cool weather, I was well over my ‘fresh start’ by the third week back too.

The fact that my students were able to summon the energy to be enthusiastic about learning a second language after virtually no holiday whatsoever, in challenging weather conditions, with no AC (!!!!!!!!!), is pretty inspiring to me. Yes they often give me good cause to grumble but its too easy to forget that these kids are expected to learn under some spectacularly challenging conditions all year round, and that sometimes they need to be cut a little slack.

So from now on whenever they’re being little horrors I will count to ten, take a deep, calming breath and cast my mind back to their best, first-week-selves – the students they could be on a more regular basis if numerous influences weren’t conspiring to make their educational career as difficult as possible.

With any luck the memory will deter me from launching one of them out of the window.