Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Spork foring

Today was the last day at one place I work, although I will still be at others until the end of the month. I spent the day with students handing in final homework and so on, and also writing answers to some questions about the course while I worked on their grades.

When I collected this writing there were, as usual, one or two gems. From my favourite student, a tiny, extroverted girl with an fantastically piercing voice which she used ALL THE TIME (in English!), I got this comment:

When this class day, I happied every week!

This was not something I didn't already know. Her happiness was hard to avoid noticing, and every week when I walked into class she lit up like a light bulb when she saw me.

"HELLO, TEACHER!" she would cry joyfully from the centre of her bunch of friends, and turn to the rest of the class shouting, "SENSEI IS HERE!" to shut them up. She wanted me to start class IMMEDIATELY and not have to mess around getting everybody to be quiet first. She was full of expectation and anticipation. She LOVED her English classes, and the other students, and her teacher, and was an absolute delight.

Some of the boys had very mixed feeling about her. You could see a confusion of dread and pleasure on their faces when they ended up being her conversation partner. The pleasure came from being paired with the most fun and popular girl in class, and the dread from knowing her usual reaction if they tried to chat her up in Japanese. She would grin at them cheekily and say, in her very carrying voice,


Then she would laugh her head off, and her partner would glance guiltily at me. Thwarted again!

She also made the most progress of anybody in any of my classes. She knew her English was very low level, but believed me when I said that lots of practice and making mistakes were good ways to learn. She practiced a lot, very loudly, and made a lot of mistakes, also very loudly, and her English got better. A couple of weeks ago she was packing up at the end of class, and looked up to tell me,


I was not surprised she was tired. She had been concentrating fiercely for ninety minutes. I told her that she had worked very hard, but that it was worth it because her English was getting better.

"You're a wonderful learner," I said. "Your English is getting better and better all the time."

"REALLY?" she shrieked happily, and I think my ears actually cringed.

I did not get any negative comments this time. I'm not sure why this is, because I did not feel the classes were any better or worse than usual. I was frequently late to my first period class, but nobody commented on that, perhaps because we were on the sixth floor this semester and the elevator was always full, and I was not the only latecomer. I got a lot of variations on this next comment, which is always one of my favourites:

I learn to enjoy this class. I haven't ever like English but I learn this class, I liked English. Thank you very much!!!! I love you!!!!!

For most of them it is the first time they have ever actually spoken English in an English class, and this is why it suddenly becomes interesting for them. It is not because of me, particularly, but it is encouraging.

I asked them for advice about next semester, both for the new students and for me, and while those answers were generally not very helpful, they were fun to read:

I have no advice. Please teach students English in joy in your own way.

My teacher is too perfectly to give any advice.

Well, of course I should have known that it was a silly question for a perfectly teacher like myself to ask. What was I thinking?

I enjoyed this next comment (and the student, who was late EVERY WEEK but always charmingly apologetic and forehead-beating about it), even though reading it made me groan out loud and wonder what I had inflicted on the English speaking world:

I don't like English. But I very like this class teacher. This class is very exsite. I am very happy for meet this class teacher. This class is very enjoy class. I can spork foring country by this class. I'm very thank of you.

So there you have it. If a charming (and late) young Japanese man ever tries to spork foring at you, you may blame me.


Cheryl said...

I only meant to fly through, but;
wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful!
So glad I came by, that is adorable.

What happened to your class with the single student? What feedback did you get from the kid who kept turning up early?


fallensnow said...

I would love to be in your class! =) I'm sure I would have loved my teachers too if they had been like you.

Keera Ann Fox said...

Indeed, Badaunt, what have you inflicted on the English speaking world? Besides a good laugh, I mean. I'm almost jealous that you get to write about spork foring in your blog, a very enjoy blog.

Miz UV said...

How sweet! Enjoy your time off.

Lia said...

How wonderful! Makes me think of Bucky . . .

You have awesome students.

kenju said...

I didn't really have time to comment tonight, but I HAD to. This is priceless!

melanie said...


Badaunt said...

Cheryl: Ooh, what a compliment - a comment from the recovering blogger! (Why do I feel like I've managed to tempt an alcoholic into having just a wee drink?)

My class with the single student is still struggling along. He is still fairly uncommunicative, but we manage, with the help of a textbook I'm copying madly (and illegally) which is basically lists of questions about various topics. His most memorable answer so far was to the question about health, which asked something like, "Do you have health problems?" He answered yes, he did. Then the follow-up question was "If so, what kind of problems?" - a question I wouldn't normally ask, but he had said something before about having a bout with arrhythmia so I thought it was an opportunity to recycle his fabulous new word. Instead he thought for a while (like five minutes) and then looked up, smiled, and said,


(How was I supposed to respond, do you think?)

And regarding the kid who kept turning up early, his responses to the questions on the final day were too disturbing to write about, although I tried, and ended up deleting it all. Not negative comments (although it's hard to tell) but incredibly messy and incoherent. I was so puzzled when I saw them I fished out some of his earlier writing (from the first class meeting) and looked at them side by side. The contrast was frightening - at the beginning of semester he was a neat writer with pretty good English. The last paper was all over the place. It looks like it was written by someone on very strong mind-confusing drugs. That kid has problems, and they have nothing to do with English.

I'm going to take the two papers in to show my boss, probably next week, along with a letter expressing my concerns. I'm fairly sure the university won't do anything even though it is perfectly clear that the kid needs help, but I can't just leave it at that. I have to do SOMETHING.

Fallensnow: You would probably find my classes incredibly frustrating and childish, just as I do most of the time. Getting anything started seems to take forever. Class management takes up a lot of the ninety minutes, and the main reason my students like the classes is that they are speaking English (against their will, usually) rather than studying it as something nitpicky and academic. Most of the focus is on affective stuff. My greatest triumphs are when students realize that English is a LANGUAGE, for COMMUNICATION. How sad is that?

Keera: That read like perfectly English to me, for a moment. I've been reading too much of my students' writing.

(But isn't 'spork foring' BRILLIANT? I couldn't have made it up on my own. This is what students are FOR.)

Miz UV: Sweet AND sour. I didn't write about the class I gave almost all B grades to. (There was one C.) I couldn't believe it when I calculated their grades and there was nothing interesting in there. How could an entire class have no standouts? Not a single A student? I looked at them as they wrote their glowing eulogies of my class, and tried to find the A students I felt sure I must have missed, but they were all high mediocre to low mediocre. That was pretty depressing. It was an easy class to teach (nobody demanding), but still, depressing, like teaching clones.

Lia: Bucky? Please explain! (The only Bucky I can think of is Buckminster Fuller, and I'm pretty sure that's not who you meant.) Do I not watch enough TV?

Kenju: My students are good at luring people out of 'lurk' status!

Melanie: Priceless is right. It is reading what students write at the end of semester that gives me a kickstart into next semester. If I didn't do this, I'd probably give up. It always astonishes me what they tell me when I ask them what they think. It's almost never what you'd expect from watching them over the semester. All that fighting to get them to speak English at all, and then suddenly they realize that they were ENJOYING it. And when I finish the last class early, half the class hangs around to chat with me - IN ENGLISH. Because they have noticed that they CAN.

I have tried doing a similar survey in the middle of semester, but it doesn't seem to work until it's all over and it's too late.

Pearl said...

That enthusiastic student is a live wire isn't she. Glad you're taking the concerns of the downward plunging student to someone.

Each class is so unique from the next. Wonder what your next term will bring.

Radioactive Jam said...

Ha! Lia is talking about my titanium spork aka Bucky T, inspiration for fine haiku and foring. Possibly.

Badaunt said...

RaJ: Of course. Of COURSE! How could I have forgotten so quickly? (Alas, poor Bucky, I knew him well until I forgot who he was.)