The Journey series
In this week’s Mustard Seed I share some of the things I learned from my students.
I taught English to sixteen to eighteen year-old Iranian naval students. In their first level there was a lesson about food. The book posed the question, "Do you like rice?"
The response given was, "Yes, I do. I do like rice."
Ask anyone beyond that level whether they like rice and they'd respond, "Yes, I do. I do like rice."
Pressing for thoughtful responses rather than rote answers from their text. I said, "Come on. You eat rice three times a day, seven days a week. Do you really still like it?"
One term I taught a second level group. All the students were new to me except Mahmoud, who was in my previous first level class. I asked each in turn whether they like rice and, sure enough, each responded, "Yes, I do. I do like rice."
After asking all the other students, I asked Mahmoud, "How about you? Do you like rice?"
"No," he replied with a broad smile. "I hate it! I like girls."
That set the tone for the rest of the term. "See," I said, "the rest of you were reciting a lesson. Mahmoud answered the question."
I encouraged my students to review their lessons before coming to class paying particular attention to the vocabulary list. Rather than just read back and forth, I'd describe a scene appropriate for the day's lesson and assign roles. Teenage boys become very creative when encouraged. We had lots of fun and the boys learned much more than they otherwise would have.
My classes were very popular. Students from other classes would come to ask me questions during breaks. My students did well in their exams because they were interested in the classes. The school administrators decided that I would be a good teacher for the naughty students.
At the start of the next term a lieutenant came to my class. "These boys are all very bad," he said. "If any of them misbehave in class, send them to my office and I will beat them."
I also had a note with my attendance book saying one of the students must get seventy percent on his term exam or he would be kicked out of school. I looked at Rasoul's transcript – seventeen percent.
That lunch hour I asked the opinion of Rasoul's teacher from the previous term. He said Rasoul was respected in his home town because his father was the mayor. Here, he opined, Rasoul became class clown because he was too stupid to earn the respect he was used to.
As I assessed my class over the next few days I found most boys did respect Rasoul. Rasoul wasn't prepared for each day's vocabulary, but he picked the words up fairly quickly and participated well by midday. His low score on his quizzes didn't match his class activity. I reasoned Rasoul wasn't doing well because he couldn't read or write English. The course was conversational English but the text and exams were written.
I appointed Rasoul class president. I asked him to stay in during the next break to discuss his position. With the other boys away, I confronted Rasoul about his reading and writing. He confirmed my suspicions. We began private lessons during breaks.
Rasoul's attitude changed. He exercised his authority well. With tutoring, he scored sixty-seven percent on the final exam. I spoke to the academic director about Rasoul's progress but he insisted sixty-seven percent is not seventy percent. I pleaded Rasoul's case but the director suggested Rassoul probably cheated. I assured him that I had paid attention to Rasoul as I envidulated the exam and was sure he hadn't cheated. The director finally relented and allowed Rasoul to retake the exam with a different envidulator. Rasoul repeated his sixty-seven percent score. It still wasn't seventy percent. I stressed that Rasoul surpassed several of his classmates who were allowed to stay, yet he was still expelled and sent home in shame.
I survived my disappointment. I was assigned another class of bad boys. I preferred to think of them as more active students.
Next week: Murmurs.
Peter T Elliott