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Classroom Capers

Posted by on Aug 23, 10:59 AM
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Teaching is a challenging affair. It’s not easy, nor straightforward, nor simple, nor always enjoyable. And I was, without a doubt, the merest tyro: I had had virtually no experience prior to my enrollment at Veritas; and furthermore, I was weary from traveling for two long years prior to my arrival.

But despite its difficulties, trials, and exertions, it was a wholly positive experience.

The chief challenge, I would say, was the language barrier, as few of the children speak English well enough to comprehend more than the tone of a short sentence, usually through inference, I imagine, such as in the phrase: “Get off the desk this instant, or feel my wrath!” or “Stop hitting Brighton right now, you infernal imp!”

True, many who made a good effort were still rapidly improving when I left in May; and a few are fairly fluent. But they are the exceptions. There are several who are even in positive rebellion against the idea of learning English; and furthermore, I was slow to catch on in the beginning. Most of the 9-13 year-olds are practiced dissemblers, I fancy, and in my pedagogic infancy, I had other things on my mind.

It wasn’t until I began to ask more questions that required an answer even slightly more complex than “Yes,” or “No,” that the awful truth began to dawn on me. At first I was complacent about their attentive faces and quiet manners, but eventually realized that only a very small portion of my students got the gist; the others were completely lost.

They sometimes pretend to understand, because it’s easier, I suppose. But when they’re caught, an embarrassed smile or or confused, vacant look sometimes find expression in the phrase,

“What, brother?”

The smile, slightly guilty, is usually quite charming — it’s a challenge in itself to play the role of stern teacher with these merry monkeys. Other times, when the brain is making a genuine, if rare effort to grasp the idea, or boredom threatens complete domination, it finds expression in the more indignant, infinitely frustrated and impatient:

“Wha-a-a-a-a-t Brother?” that trails off into a whine or a low, despairing growl.

There are the “Little Monsters,” too: the youngest of the bunch, unruly and energetic. Their ringleader, Libya, is the only member of this small band that spoke tolerably good English. She often had to translate ideas into Tamil for the others, five altogether. Even so, it was a challenge to hold their interest, and it was only with infinite pains that I could prepare a lesson with enough merit and interest to keep them willingly inside the classroom.

With my experiences in India, I’ve gained a tremendous amount of respect for the teachers of my youth — for those dedicated souls who labor so much for little in the way of palpable gain, and whose reward is based largely in the satisfaction of their work. Sometimes their labors are downright heroic.

For some, it might come easily. Some, after all, are naturally gifted along those lines…

As for me, with a little coffee, I’ll continue to manage just fine.

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