Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Conflicting instructions (France)

Serge and Jeanette were going into Mirande to get some work gear for Serge, so I tagged along for the ride, the sightseeing and the people-watching.  It also happened to be Market Day, so we went over to have a look.

Walking along the pavement in front of Serge, I found it littered with dogs' droppings, so I asked him to step off the pavement and walk along the little street, which he obediently did.

Then, along came a car, crawling patiently behind him, which he couldn't hear as he didn't have his hearing aid on.  Since he was blocking the way, Jeanette then ordered him back onto the pavement.  

Poor man shook his head and said, "C'est compliqué!"

(France 2012)

Monday, 27 February 2012

Pandemonium in the classroom (Singapore)

One of the classes I was given to teach as a 19-year-old temporary teacher was a mixed class of 14-year-olds, and the subject was PE (Physical Education).  The weather in Singapore means that sports activities generally take place early in the morning or late in the afternoon, so this class’s PE was at 530pm, the last session in their timetable before the flag-lowering ceremony at 6pm.

I turned up one day to find that World War Three had broken out:  most of the boys were fencing with each other using foot-long rulers, tossing rubber erasers at each other, using rubber bands to catapult some other form of missiles (balls of paper, e.g.), chasing each other round the classroom.

My immediate response, from my Induction (as one would call it these days), was to go straight to the Deputy Headmaster’s Office and fetch the Deputy Headmaster, Mr Wee.  

Mr Wee might’ve been a LITTLE chap even more vertically challenged than I, but he had a BIG cane.  And a very assertive manner, too, indeed, when it came to dealing with miscreant students, even those bigger in size than himself—which was not difficult.  (Those were the days when authority was respected.  I don’t know what it’s like today.)

The guilty parties who’d started the pandemonium were identified by their peers (for I wasn't there at the outset) and marched off to Mr Wee’s office.

In the meantime, I told the rest of the class to start packing up, which they should’ve done before I arrived to take them out for their PE lesson.  Then I made them stand up, holding their school bags on their heads, and proceeded to tell them about what they’d missed out on: “I had come today with all sorts of new games for you to play, which you’d expressed an interest in last week, thinking we were going to have such fun.  I had expected you to be all packed and eager to go out to the fields after having been cooped up in the classroom for half a day.  Instead you were misbehaving, so obviously you were not that interested in these new games.  It’s no loss to me because I can always spend the time marking homework.  It’s your loss because you're missing out on the fun.”  

Then I sat down and started marking homework silently, all the way until the bell rang for the flag-lowering ceremony.  All this while, the students just stood there with their school bags balanced on their heads.

The following week, I turned up in class to find the students all packed and raring to go out for their PE lesson.  No trouble ever again after that.
(Also read blog entry The disruptive student.)
(Singapore 1973)

The disruptive student (Singapore)

I was 19, teaching a class of 14-year-olds English Language as a temporary teacher waiting for my A-level results from the University of Cambridge.  

As if that was not daunting enough in itself, one of the students was a cocky, arrogant boy who took the mickey out of every teacher and out of  everything the teacher said.  Whatever you said, he’d either parrot it in a funny voice (which made the class laugh), or make some kind of smart-alec remark (which made the class laugh).  Most unnerving for any teacher, never mind one who was only five years older than he and inexperienced in teaching mainstream to boot.

After a number of these disruptive wisecracks, I decided to send him out of the classroom, to stand in the corridor.  I don’t know what it’s like in Singapore these days but luckily in those days students were at least a little respectful of authority, so he accepted the exile.

I carried on with the class, and said things which the students found entertaining, so they laughed a lot.  He couldn't resist sticking his head into the classroom again and again to see what the fun was all about.  I told him, “You have forfeited the right to being a member of the class with your disruptive behaviour, so you have also forfeited your right to any enjoyment that comes with the lesson.  You cannot participate in the fun.  If you wish to, you’ll have to promise you won’t be disruptive and I’ll let you back in.”  Silence from him, obviously refusing to compromise.

This went on for a few more times, and eventually he caved in and promised to behave, as the class seemed to be having such fun which he was missing out on.  I let him back in, after which he freely enjoyed the laughs his peers had with my teaching and never again disrupted the class.

No caning, no scolding, just a few words.  

I wonder where he is now, and how he's turned out in society.

(Singapore 1973)

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Donating blood (London, UK)

I’d gone along to the blood donation centre near the university to give blood before the evening’s class.  They had trouble finding a vein in my left arm, and after many attempts, went for the right arm, with almost the same results.  Eventually, they found a weak vein there, and decided to give it a go.  Even then, they only managed to collect three-quarters of a bag before the time limit was up.

As soon as I got to the class, I narrated this incident in Chinese as listening comprehension.  At the end of the story, I said to the students, still in Chinese, “So, I have no blood.”  One of the students, Pam, piped up, also in Chinese, “No heart.” 

One can always tell the students who’d been with me longest [and made regular after-class trips to the pub too] from their cheeky repartees.

(London 2007)

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Fashion statement (London)

Was late this morning for the homeless people breakfast run voluntary work I'm doing, so got dressed in the dark.  (You can see what's coming next, can't you?)  Had applied talcum powder [accidentally] liberally inside my pyjama top last night so I'd go to bed smelling nice.  Went in to central London on the bus this morning, did the breakfast run (7-9am), then walked over to Russell Square, and nobody anywhere gave me a second look at any time in spite of the fact that it was rush hour.  Then, when I got to SOAS, I saw in the mirror I had white eyebrows (as I’d pulled my pyjama top off over my head)!  Either people are just so polite in London or anything goes. Or both.  

Years ago, a girlfriend Jeanne-Marie (now OBE, no less, I discovered yesterday) gave me a straight black skirt with an open pleat.  Being a rare skirt-donner, I assumed the pleat was to be worn at the front, as it’d open when one sat down and crossed one’s legs.  I went around for months with that arrangement, then saw on the Tube one day a woman wearing exactly the same kind of skirt, but her pleat was worn at the back!  If people had given me funny looks (like they would in China), I’d have realised immediately I was wearing the skirt the wrong way round.  But, in London, one can do all sorts of outrageous things and nobody would bat an eyelid (at people’s white eyebrows, say).  “Fashion statement” works so well as an excuse for careless/hurried or ignorant dressing!

(London 2012)

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Cheeky sign (London)

Was on the bus going into central London today when I saw a sandwich shop with this name:  BREAKOUT.

Across the road is London's Pentonville Prison.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Learning Chinese: how to focus little boys’ minds (London)

Sean was always playing his computer games or watching cartoons on the television when I arrived to give him his Chinese lesson.  After all, he was only eleven, and it was 9 o’clock on a Sunday morning.  

One of the tasks was writing Chinese characters—either in the form of dictation or copying from a text.  (He’d started learning his Chinese in Hong Kong, and I’d been asked not to change the format as he’d be going back there.)  While he was putting his Chinese characters together, his eyes would constantly dart to the clock on the wall, willing it to move faster, making mistake after mistake in the process.  

After yet another batch of wrongly-written characters, I decided to try injecting some motivation: “Sean, if you make any more mistakes, I’ll stay another hour.  Would you like that?”  Magically, no mistakes after that!  (See also blog entry Trick or treat?)

I tried the same with Ben (another Sunday 9am Chinese lesson case) when he was ten and having difficulty focusing.  To my question, “Would you like me to stay another hour?” Ben’s answer was, “No.”  Then, he added, “Not that I’m asking you to leave, though.”  Sweet.  And what impeccable manners!

(London 2008/2009)