Student Situations: Early November 2016

Welcome back viewers, in the time before this became a Halloween party blog, I was an English teacher. My job was teaching 5th and 6th graders in a lovely primary school in Budapest. I had had self realizations, and I was working through all sorts of new experiences and difficulties presented by a life change and a change in professions. In the several months I had been teaching, I had struggled with my natural dislike of children. It was a struggle. I had to learn how to interact with my students as an authority figure, when previously my experience with being an authority figure had been telling waiters when to stop grating cheese on my spaghetti.

The fall break was the first time in three months that I had taken an extended break from being surrounded by children every day. More than that, the break had felt like such a long span of time. After all of the hijinks and havoc involved in our adventure I wasn’t sure how I was going to drag myself back to work the very next day. I had been struggling pre-holiday with numerous aspects of the job. I had fallen off rhythm. I had barely developed the rhythm in the first place. It wouldn’t be implausible to assume I was experiencing apprehension over coming back to school.

To my great surprise, everything ran smoothly. The students were attentive and my lesson plans flowed smoothly. Even those classes and students which had been troubling me lately found the strength within to be quiet and listen. I guess the students had spent enough time in their true forms as demons that they had expended their hostility. Ok, that was a little mean. Some of the students were vampires and they must have spent their vacation draining someone else of life energy. Things ran suspiciously well until some enterprising individuals resolved to introduce entropy into the system.

I would like to put this blog on hold for a moment to insert this disclaimer. I wish to be entirely clear that all the following events are “purely fictional”. I most certainly not referencing real life events that I lived through. Any resemblances to classes or students that I may or may not teach are entirely coincidental. Because children could be likened to a Biblical plague of locusts stripping bare the metaphorical landscape of its sanity reserves to perpetuate their hive, any accounts of children acting like predatory pack animals may remind readers of real life children. No students were murdered by me during the making of this blog.

With that out of the way, I have these two buddy boy chucklenuts whose main hobbies seem to be slapping each other and avoiding effort. As an English teacher the school specifically wishes for me to focus on two particular disciplines, speaking and writing. In order to better my students’ abilities, I quite often give writing assignments to the sounds of pained exclamations. To keep them on their toes I will inform them at random intervals that their writing efforts will be graded this time. On one such of these occasions, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Stupid decided that the best way to avoid doing anything was to turn in the exact same writing assignment, right down to the grammatical and spelling errors. It was an easy catch and I made sure to follow up on it by talking with their form teacher and respective parents. Then it was my happy privilege to give them the dreaded black 1 mark, equivalent to the American grade of F.

In the time at this school, I learned that most kids really care about their grades. Whenever they receive less than full marks for an assignment, there are tears, weeping, gnashing of teeth, the works. With this in the forefront of my mind, it was ultimately satisfying to fail the little cheatmongers on their assignments. I enjoyed it to the point that I had to contemplate my attitude towards students, especially the less than ideal ones. It is easy to express positivity towards the responsive pupils, but when one seems intent on testing patience that is an altogether more difficult story. Something told me that taking joy in their failure was likely not the mark of a great teacher. I decided I there should be a change of self.

This was a small event, but one that I had in mind when the next test of my authority was challenged.

How do I put this? A band of mewling jackals that somehow possessed the necessary paperwork to enroll in an English class mockingjayed me. What is mockingjaying? You ask about a verb that should not be. You see, the Hunger Games is a three part allegory for reality shows sucking. The teens love it because of its weird named relatable teen protagonists. At a certain point Catnip Evergreen uses a hand signal as a gesture of rebellion.

Back to my story, I had just finished informing the students that they would be writing during class time. A particular student, let’s call him “Dave” decided that he was going to lead the charge of this literary farce. Raising the first three fingers on his right hand touching the thumb and pinky together in a gesture of salute his four note whistle was meant to inspire the fires of resistance against the capital. The rest of the children took up the call too, hesitantly at first but soon finding the boldness deep in their hearts to stand up against the despotic regime. That last sentence was both figurative and literal because every student gained their feet and raised their hands high and defiantly. It was either the worlds shortest book report or I think they were attempting to throw me off my game.

I’m not sure what their overall goal for this little coup de ta was. I may be giving too much credit to these thirteen year olds by assuming hidden motives though. More than anything, I was impressed with the students for attempting to disrupt my class cleverly, and most importantly as a group. They had all forgotten their petty schoolroom dramas to come together. It was a touching moment of unity. All directed against me. Whatever their intent, I crushed their dreams by not getting angry about it. “You ‘Dave’ are no Katniss Everdeen.” I quipped with vicious sarcasm to my young songbird. “Now sit down.” Their rebel leader’s wings had been clipped. With no figurehead for their movement, the passion for the revolt waned. The rebellion relentlessly crushed beneath iron heel. Seats were taken and assignments returned to with not a command more.

It began to click in my head. Nothing disappoints or deflates a class of ne’er-do-wells faster or more efficiently than an even, rational response. Indifferent action in the face of their taunting and goading means that instead of being drawn into their game of reactionary anger, you flip their board of emotionally manipulative Monopoly and start playing checkers. Ah, their disappointment fuels me better than a three course meal.

I’m back in action and proceeding with the flow of time yet again. I’m also back to talking about school, ain’t that a blast. There’s plenty of interesting stuff yet to come, and I hope you, my readers decided to join me for the ride. I’m done for now, and in the spirit of hospitality, I wish you a good day, good night, and good reading.

 

 

Rejected Titles for today’s blog:

Yelling at children: Or this is how I feel my power

I’m Going to Kill my Feelings With Starch

DMX Rhymes in Dog Years

Teaching English: Or How I learned to start worrying and learned to hate children

Sixth Graders: Or How Did a Roving Pack of Hyenas Learn to Put on Clothing?

 

 

 

 

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Detour Continues 5 km

Welcome back to another junior round of writing as led by me Mr. Miscellaneist. A miniature manuscript if you will. You see, I’m currently on the come down right now. Hot off the heels of seven days of planes, trains, and blistered tootsies. I am not sure if it’s my aging sensibilities or the fact that awaiting me at the Lisbon airport with a big name card was my personal chauffeur, respiratory infection, but I have been blessedly exhausted by the adventure. Now I am at home recuperating my much wearied constitution. It was a grand Portuguese adventure that will rest long in memory, and the story will be told in greater detail sometime down the road.

I am gazing into the coming week of work wearily, and I realize that my attitude requires alteration away from the airy and aloft attentions to turn back towards the Monday morning mundanities. I contemplate there is little better means of readjusting to the routine than to return to my written records and recalled recitations. As may have become already apparent by my abuse of alliteration and this thesaurus thumping that I terrifyingly tread through, I haven’t really much by the way of actual content to entertain and amuse you today. Flexing my fingertips in flamboyant phonetic flourishes is fanciful foible of mine, an exhaustive exercise in exacting extra expertise unto exasperation. Concerned with a questionable cancellation of the continued chronicles upon this continent, I conceived and concocted a clever contrivance to continue creating content of questionable quality.

Beginning one humble hour before vacation’s end, minutes rush to meet midnight. The hour calls for slumber’s onerous harvest, heeding me halt the happenings of my hands. However, in my hopeful hubris I happily haggle and hash hundreds of haltingly heady harmonies and half rhymes in hopes of handing out a whole essay in one humble hour.

And it seems as though my time is through. Midnight is here and slumber calls me back into the responsibility. I did manage to scrape together some semblance of a post in that limited time. This one was a bit out of left field, an entire post without any substance but words for their own most verbose sake. I did garner some enjoyment in writing this exercise in vocabulary extension, and I hope that you derived some entertainment from it yourselves. Next week will be a return to form with me delving back into the narrative I began a month ago, thank you for sticking with me through this little detour. Blame the vacation for my madness. To those of you still reading, I thoroughly apologize, I know not what I do. I’m sure you wait for my next installment with bated breath, but in the meanwhile I wish you a good day, a good night, and good reading.

 

A Matter of Class

I yet live! Here I sit my constitution tested but unfettered. Such a bronchial malady was poor equipped to assault my immune system. This bacterial interloper determined to lay its challenge clear. Alas in the duel of multi-cellular organisms I had garnered the hand and attentions of the fickle mistress victory. My superiority was in the end unquestionable. I do however still retain a persistent cough. I suppose no victory is without its sacrifices. Overall though, this little brush with illness has actually been the exception over the rule. Of the four American English teachers at my school I was the last to succumb to the illness. In this imaginary contest of constitutions I declare myself the victor for no reason other than an inflated sense of self. Nevertheless, I have returned to work and my awaiting captive audience. Well look at that, I seem to have just given myself the opportune chance for a natural segue into today’s discussion. Then I succinctly ruined its seamless nature by making sure everyone knows that I am shifting subjects to……..

It was the day after our little medical misadventure, and I was going to be given a second take at first impressions. My girlfriend was still ill, voiceless, and on doctor ordered leave. This meant that I would be on my own attempting to do what I was meant to do the day before. Early mornings in a school are always a somewhat hectic time. My school is a primary school teaching grades 1st through 8th. There are scores of children running about, screaming whether through joy or displeasure is up to the whims of the day. Parents walk the younger children to their rooms or give them good luck kisses to begin the day. Teachers are meeting and discussing plans with one another. There I stood in the center of it with a list of room numbers and a schedule of which to visit. I march up to the first one and wait outside for the bell. Each grade is subdivided into groups of thirty two, and each of these has their own room where they stay for the majority of the days’ classes. Each teacher in turn comes to disperse knowledge to the little mob and then retreat back to the teacher’s room. The classrooms belong to the children as their base of action. It is a terrifying thing to enter into, in a way reminiscent of a Bond villain shark tank.

I was waiting for the minute hand to reach 8:00 on the nose, and I was also waiting with quickening pulse for my co-teachers. In the few days I had been at this school I was told that I would learn the job on the job, because there is no better teacher than experience. However, with a forty five minute class just seconds away and no plan in mind for how to fill the time I held a growing sense of dread. As time counted down, the cacophony from the halls returned to a calmer state. The noise retreated back into the classrooms where thirty two screeching banshees were still coming down from their summer highs. The clock ticked and my nerves of steel seemed to lose their metal. In moments of high stress, I have this habit of re-checking facts just in case I somehow misunderstood simple instructions. Keeping the outward facade of unreasonable confidence, I looked at each room number on my list, cross referencing the time. I walked up to the doors several times to make absolutely sure that the number on the door had not altered itself through some kind of terror alchemy. To add on to this lovely little tableau, lest it be forgotten, it was hotter than Mephistopheles’ Jacuzzi. It was on record as one of the hottest Augusts in Hungary. It was at least a solid ninety degrees Fahrenheit with an unpleasant humidity. Coupled with these unfortunate facts, I was rapidly learning that Hungary did not believe in air conditioning.

Prior to applying to this teaching position I had taken classes in teaching English as a second language. I had also as a prerequisite of this program racked up forty hours of classroom experience. Both of these experiences were entirely forgotten as I stood in front of the door like a nervous date. In terms of preparation, I had been given a textbook the day before; but as the subtitle of this blog will hint, I had found less useful outlets for my time than reading that. The time had come and the morning bell rang out its happy tune; adrenaline and sweat flowed in equal measures. I stood notebook in hand, my somewhat formal button up shirt and khakis being drenched with perspiration.  Luckily for me, my salvation arrived. My highly experienced, confident, and most importantly for me calm co-teacher rounded the corner. She greeted me as I was ushered through the portal to my very first class.

Thirty two fresh young faces turned to face me and bellow their greeting. The students and my co teacher had known each other for years which left me the only stranger in the room. As the biggest unknown, I was asked to tell a little of myself. I told them briefly about who I was and where I had come from, not entirely sure just how much of it the students would actually understand. Because I had never met any of the students until this juncture in time I had no factual grasp on the students English capabilities. I opened the floor for questions though and the students began asking me in English about jobs and hobbies that I had in the United States. I began to realize that their grasp of English was stronger than anticipated. With my little show and tell out of the way my co teacher managed to alleviate all of my fears. She informed me that for the first week of classes I would be required to do no teaching, but instead I would observe the teachers and students in their natural state. So I put on my best Jane Goodall face, and she went on to simply teach a class. Not one of memorable nature, just one out of many that populates the normal day of education.

The pattern of my first day was set. No longer a bumbling participant, I was free to get a feel for the task at hand, able to catch glimpses of each co-teacher’s methods. In my notes I analyzed the flow of each class. How much time was spent on this activity as opposed to this one? How were instructions given to the students, and did they understand the tasks? The dynamic was a good thing to see and it helped me to actually start devising a teaching style of my own. This opportunity also allowed me to take note of the students. I tried to see which children had problems, and which ones just were problems. I just observed the professionals at work.

At the end of the day I had met five full classrooms filled with my future students. So with the Hungarian names of near one hundred and sixty students rattling about in my brain, and a notebook full of hastily scrawled observations I rounded out my first day of “teaching”. The rest of my first week was pretty much the same. I would greet the students and then sit back and observe the interactions and means of imparting knowledge to the pupils. With actual classroom experience taking place I began to gain confidence. Actually understanding the moment to moment of a class was what I had been hoping for since before I had left the U.S.

Thus ends the story of my first week at school. The time passed by quickly as I was preoccupied with learning. Without the chance for observation I don’t have any idea of how I would have managed to do the job I had come to do. Which reminds me, tune in for next week’s installment when I may actually talk about my experiences teaching abroad. In the meanwhile, thank you to everyone for reading, and have a good morning, evening, noon, or night, signing off from Budapest.

 

 

English funtime notes:

The word assault is a word that I feel has one too many vowels for the unprepared. I completely and totally did not have a moment in which I was forced to rewrite that word six times in rapid succession. I also was in no way snickering as I continued to write the word ass over and over again.