People are usually reasonably easy to read, aren’t they?
If they dislike you, disapprove of you or generally feel unable to tolerate you, they’ll give themselves away. It might be a comment or a gesture, but it will be there.
Similarly, if they like you, well, that’s normally pretty obvious too.
I have no idea how to deal with the teacher I am currently assisting, Lucia.
(I say ‘currently assisting’ – after today, I guess that is not technically true)
I spoke to Paulina last week and asked if I could help the English teachers with some of the older children.
She was more than happy to help.
I was assigned to Lucia, a woman in her fifties, who moves between classes teaching English to children ranging from seven to nine.
The first day was fine, well, more than fine, I really enjoyed it.
Lucia’s teaching is very formulaic. Each child has an A4 English exercise book, with all of the exercises and pictures printed inside.
She has a master copy of the book and essentially teaches a page a lesson.
Once a child has completed the day’s page, she signs it.
She complained to me that some of the children were further ahead than others – something to do with having been in different classes, I think.
But once we were in the first class, she pretty much handed me the book and asked me to teach the kids – clocks, simple verbs, days of the weeks, numbers one to 20.
It was brilliant. The kids (whom everyone had warned me about) were absolutely fine.
Occasionally, they’ll walk around or fail to pay attention, but, unlike the little ones, you either glare at them or say ‘Oi’ and they scuttle back to their seats.
They try and they participate. Some are quicker than others, but generally it was a pleasure – although I can see why teaching is so tough.
It’s like they all need one-to-one tuition, because they’re all at different stages.
Also, there was a frequent problem with kids forgetting their books – a problem I negotiated by writing the key words on the board and asking them to copy.
But Lucia, well, she’s just a little bit weird.
I tried to ask her if I was doing what she wanted and she just shrugged.
I tried to take a back seat in her lessons – they are her lessons after all – and, after five minutes, she’ll say: “Can you help me teach them this, please?”
And on it would go on. I had them chanting verbs, numbers, days of the week. I helped even the really dopey ones understand what on earth was going on.
Still, I couldn’t fail to notice that loads of the children seemed to think it was acceptable to do other, unrelated, work in her lessons – maths, science etc.
(I soon put a stop to that. I would just like to say, as an aside, I am the teacher I would have hated at school. I pick on the dreamers because I was a dreamer myself.
I have also confiscated a drawing pin, an illicit letter than turned out to be a crude drawing of a monkey – me? – and a superb origami aeroplane from a child who may or not be autistic. Certainly, no-one else gives a damn about what he does)
Lucia treats me with bored indifference.
But she is pretty quick to disappear and leave me on my own.
A few days later I had a chat with Paulina, ostensibly about something unrelated.
“We have a problem,” she said.
(“I know,” I thought, “That teacher hates me.”)
“Lucia wants to take a vacation next week,” she continued.
“She would like you to teach her classes, on your own.
“I said I would ask you. She thinks you are good, strong with them.”
Of course I agreed.
I felt vaguely hopeful, but things became even weirder after that conversation.
Lucia had some free periods the following morning and was doing her marking.
I had my head stuck in an unbelievably brilliant book about the Blair years, so was cheerily content to sit alongside her.
After an hour, she told me she would be back “in a minute”.
I’d just reached the death of Princess Diana and Blair’s subsequent masterstroke of a speech, so I just smiled and agreed.
I looked up from my book a bit later and realised an hour had passed. Another half an hour had disappeared before I figured I ought to look for her.
I found her teaching a class of nine-year-olds.
Weirdly, she had discussed that very class with me earlier that morning.
She had been having trouble with one of the pupils, I think he’s called Danny.
Anyway, he’s an 11-year-old Canadian, whose English is fluent and she told me he gets extremely bored in her classes and she doesn’t know what to do with him.
No shit. The other kids are all nine, for a start.
I couldn’t help but notice they went to him for help, rather than her.
Naturally, she abandoned me pretty quickly, so Danny helped me with some of the kids who were seriously struggling and the lesson passed smoothly.
(I would love to insert a rant in here. Half the kids have no idea what she is talking about. She wants them to fill their books, so teaches the lesson and then pretends not to notice when they all copy the exercises from one another. Hence she’ll sign off the ‘days of the week’ page for a child who has no idea what Monday is)
Danny stopped me on the way out of the class.
“There’s a reason I didn’t bring my English book today,” he said.
“Make sure you bring it next week,” I replied.
“It’s not fair, mine’s the heaviest bag. I try to bring all my books. We never know when we’re having English class,” he said.
“Well, you’re having it next week because I’m teaching it,” I said.
“Oh,” he replied.
“The last volunteer who said that only lasted one day.”
“I’m sure I’ll be fine,” I said, firmly.
He looked frustrated.
“We never know what is going on,” he burst out.
“We never know what she is trying to teach us, whether it’s grammar or what. She never explains anything, she just expects us to get on with it,” he hissed.
“Well, it’s difficult,” I replied diplomatically and changed the subject.
“Can I help you with anything?”
“My spelling. It’s got a lot worse since I’ve been here,” he fumed.
He has no idea what he’s letting himself in for.
(I later bumped into Danny at the beach. It transpired he’d been put down two grades because the Ecuadorian class system is beyond bureaucratic and he is slowly going out of his mind. He’s a really smart kid. He told me he read 48 books last year – all in English – and got full marks in every subject. This year, he plans to fail in everything because his scores were so good, he’ll pass anyway. I can’t say I blame him.)
After this chat I ran to catch up with Lucia, who was hurrying to the next class.
“I forgot my marker pen. Can you get it please?” she snapped.
I ran back to the classroom, but there was no marker.
I was sure I’d seen her put it in her bag.
By the time I was back outside she was nowhere to be seen.
There was only half an hour left of school so I gave up and walked home.
Well, if that was bad, this morning hit the absolute depths.
We went to class. We taught the simple verbs. It was all very orderly.
Lucia left slightly early to go outside and talk to an older woman.
When I appeared she introduced us. The woman was English.
Lucia turned to me.
“I want her to help me now,” she said.
“She’s a proper teacher.”
“I’m a school principal,” the woman interrupted, apologetically.
“No problem,” I said politely.
“Do you think the other English teacher would like some help?”
Now, I’m ashamed to say, I have a terrible temper.
The good thing about my temper is that it is generally only triggered by rudeness – extreme, personal rudeness – and that is not something I experience very often.
Maybe once or twice a year.
But when it happens, I cannot stop myself shaking with anger.
I haven’t made it to 27 without learning that when I’m on the verge of losing my temper, my only hope is to absent myself from the situation until I’ve cooled down.
It was only 9am but I walked out of the school anyway and fumed the entire walk home.
I went straight to mine and Pippa’s room and cleaned it from top to bottom.
Then I swept the stairs and the lounge and when I was feeling slightly less animated, I sat down at my computer and wrote a short story that had been in my head for days.
No-one will ever read it, but there’s nothing like playing with words and sentences to make the world seem at peace.
I didn’t move for nearly three hours.
So, yeah, I have a problem. And I think it’s a pretty serious one.
Tomorrow is Friday and part of me can’t even be bothered to go into school, except I really like the kids. They run up to me in the street, in the playground.
“Teacher,” they scream and run into my knees, hugging me tightly.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t adore them just a little bit.
But for once, I am utterly flummoxed.
I just have no idea how this is going to turn out.