Dec 13, 2006

Meet My Students

So, this post is one of the reasons that I have yet to divulge my the name of my company or real name on this blog, as I could probably get fired or at least reprimaned for describing my students like I'm about to, if my superiors ever found out about this little project of mine.. But, whatever. The veneer of anonymity should be enough to "cover my ass," as we say in the parlance of our times.
For the record, I really like most of my students. If you are the type of person who has "foreign language" as a hobby, then you're probably a smart, nerdy sort- my kind of people. So, my opinion for the most part of the people I teach English to is generally very positive. Seriously, they're good people, all smart and interesting and such, and it's a pleasure to teach them.
On that note, meet...

Snuffles is retarded.
I don't mean "retarded" in the way that people say, "Oh, that's so retarded," or in the way that kids say, "No, you're retarded!" No, I mean that he has an actual mental disorder. It took me a while to realize this. He is mercifully signed up for private lessons.
Confusingly enough, the teacher before me just talked up how brilliant this guy is. Snuffles was my predecessor's favorite student, for some reason. I eventually found out that they just spent the entire time each lesson talking about video games and baseball, and barely touched on the textbook. So, it was just hang-out time for them, not lesson time. The result of this, is that my predecessor has gave me a highly distorted view of this guy, and Snuffles had different expectations as to what would be in a lesson.
So, when I've attempted to actually teach him something, I've failed miserably. I can't get the man to talk. He stares off into space, and makes this weird breathing noise, hence his nom de blog, "Snuffles."
He has no job, does not go to school, is maybe thirty or so years old, and lives with his parents, who pay for his lessons. He enjoys video games and baseball, and not much else. I've had to edit lesson material for him, because the textbook has lots of prompts like "talk about your job or school" or "talk about your girlfriend or boyfriend" that are utterly meaningless to him.
One of the things that's ironic about this, is that his English is actually quite good. When he does talk, he sounds perfect, albeit with a stutter. He even avoids virtually all of the common mistakes that Japanese speakers generally make with English. So, his English isn't a problem, his behavior is. The man's a linguistic Rain Man, but I haven't been able to connect with him yet. I might just give in and try talking to him about video games and baseball for a lesson. I don't even have an ESL certification, which is hard enough. Lacking special ed training makes this especially daunting. In the meantime, I'm going to keep trying new things with Snuffles. Something has to work.

Team Hyper Destructo Squad
This is a group of three kids, all young boys. They enjoy hitting each other.
I've frequently had to pry them apart or peel them off the floor, or separate whatever given two are beating up on a given one at a given time. The weird paradoxical part, is that they all actually seem to like each other. They laugh, talk, and play together, and then, for no reason that I can discern, start beating each other up. I'm sure a child psychologist could tell me why this makes sense.
They also enoy throwing things at each other. Now, I've got lots of games in my kids classes that involve tossing balls, but these guys are not content to simply do an underhand pass to each other. No, each one stands up, points at another, and makes some shouting pronouncement before they toss a ball. I'm pretty sure that they're imagining themselves as anime characters charging up, and shouting the name of, various projectile attacks, and are probably imagining the background as filled with motion lines.

Superkid rocks. He's a really smart, bright guy whose parents have made sure that he grows up bilingual. I think he's maybe fifteen or so, but the kid is one of my most advanced, fluent students. He constantly doubts his English abilities, and has a definite accent, but he has a vocabulary that's probably larger than some native speakers. He does his homework! He takes notes! He has interesting opinions! Yay, Superkid!

Team Genius Beginner Types
I have one class that's two doctors and an engineer. Technically, they are all very low level students, but they're making enormous progress. For instance, when I tell them something, they write it down, and then do it right from then on. It's incredible! They actually say "I don't have any questions," rather than "nothing," a very common Japanese-to-English mistake that even some of my higher levels (and managers) still make. It's sort of incredible how fast they're going- they do not speak very much English, but are rapidly, rapidly adding to their repetoir. They, like Superkid, also rock.

Drunk and Violent
Everyone hates Drunk and Violent. I first mentioned her back in this post, where she told me all about how she does not like people from "Latin countries." I've never actually seen her drunk or violent, but apparently she's been both with some frequency in the past. At school functions she proclaimed various students to be her "enemies" and apparently enjoyed hitting my predecessor quite a bit. So far, I haven't had very many problems with her. I suspect it's because I sort of scare the shit out of her, being significantly less of a pushover than my predecessor. Here's hoping she stays a little off balance.

The Twin Whirlwinds of Death
Two more kids, a boy and a girl. This week, the first thing they did when they came to my room was dump the wastebasket onto the floor. It didn't even enter into my conciousness that someone, kid or no, would do that. I mean, it's a garbage can. Who on earth dumps over a garbage can onto the floor of a classroom? Apparently the Twin Whirlwinds of Death do.
Then they screamed a lot. After that, they got in a fight and then there was some more screaming. "Let's use our words," I said as I tried to calm them down, "remember words? Those are what we used before we turned into howler monkeys." This, of course, was lost on them. And I ended up junking all pretentions of actually teaching them, and just kept them distracted enough so that they didn't destroy the school/each other. They seem to enjoy jumping.

I'm constantly trying to get better at relating to my students. I'll be honest- I want them, all of them, to like me. Well, I could care less about Drunk and Violent, actually, but I really do want to like and be liked by the rest of them. I'm even including the kids here. A lot of it is probably just time, really, but I've found something else that has really helped. Being able to say a little bit of Japanese to my students after class has helped immensely. When they see that I'm trying to learn their language, just like they're trying to learn mind, it helps with establishing a link. It's a sort of linguistic/academic empathy thing, and it does wonders towards gaining their trust.


Kori the tomorrow lady said...

oh, but if you tell them you are learning Japanese you miss the wonderful moments when you understand what they said but they don't know it... and even better, the moment when you divulge that you have understood everything they said, and they rack their brains for what else they may have said in the last year that they said with out thinking you could understand.

on another note, I think you need to learn an English word that might help you with your kids classes

boundaries. it has three syllables, let's clap and say it together, very good now.
this is something that they cannot cross and you will stop class, bring in the manager and possibly kill them for (or make them think you will). your boundaries are probably different than mine. once you establish what they are and really mean it, life gets easier.

good luck. gambatte!

Sydney said...

Now I wish I'd made better strides breaking into the Masters in Teachering English as a Second Language clique at GU! Then I would have someone whose advice I/you could ask about such pedagogical issues. Unfortunately, it was an impenetrable clique the likes of which I've only ever read about prior to that experience. However, if you do have any questions, I would be happy to pass them along to people I know in the Lx Dept. If they don't know, they would at least be able to ask someone there who would know. : )

Eric said...

"Now, I've got lots of games in my kids classes that involve tossing balls" - ummm... What kind of teacher are you, Llama? Seriously, what's next, a little friendly salad-making for the kiddies?

Sydney said...

Seriously, Eric - who has ever used "tossing balls" as slang for anything? The other night the power went out and we were playing Star Wars Monopoly by candlelight and Aren was harassing me for paying him in ones and fives saying that he wasn't sure he wanted my waded up stripper bills. Pete suggested that maybe they were meth bills (I forget why). Somehow this lead to me saying something about meth-lined g-strings and then proclaiming, "You ain't never been high til you been cooter high!" Now "cooter high" is slang one can really get behind!

Anonymous said...

I love anonymity. You should write a book. I always ruin it with grammatical errors.