Thursday, December 18, 2008

The mask

Last Sunday I caught a cold. It was a sudden and vicious sort of cold, the kind where you go to bed feeling perfectly all right and wake up feeling as if someone has been stuffing your sinuses with cotton wool all night and shoving bits of broken glass down your throat. I thought I would never recover.

On Monday I was feeling quite a bit better already, but to make sure I didn't pass on my germs to the students, and also because the air is so dry, I wore one of those surgical mask thingies that are commonly worn here in this season. I would not do that in NZ, but I can do it here, because everybody else does.

As it turned out, it was a very clever thing to do. Sometimes I am clever without meaning to be, and Monday was one of those times. My afternoon classes on Mondays are usually very difficult ones. The students are noisy and full of energy but uninterested in learning English, and generally by the time the final bell rings my ears are ringing along with it. We often have fun, but it is exhausting fun.

On Monday, when I went into my first afternoon class wearing my mask, the students all shrieked loudly and demanded to know whether I had a cold.

"No," I croaked. "I have the Ebola virus." Naturally, they were not listening, so did not hear me. This is often the case. I can say what I like.

Monday's task for these students was to prepare for the oral test I'm supposed to give them in January. I had prepared a list of questions for them, and from those I told them I would be choosing four, but they should prepare for all of them. I told them to write their answers, and I would check what they wrote, so that they could practice correct answers over the New Year break. (Most of them won't, of course.)

I told the students sitting nearest the front that I did not have the energy to go around the class checking what they wrote, so they would have to bring it to me when they finished. They nodded wisely and spread the news around the room. (I also reassured the one good student who actually listens that I did not in fact have the Ebola virus.)

After the first excitement they settled down and behaved like angels. They worked hard, frequently stopped to ask me how I was, and looked concerned every time I coughed or sneezed. When they had finished writing their answers they brought them to me for checking, and lined up quietly instead of mobbing me and yelling insults at each other. When there was still half an hour of class time left most had finished, and only three or four were still working away. Their friends crowded around them to help, and I heard one saying,

"Hurry up! Teacher is sick! She needs to rest!"

The slow students hurried up, and class finished early. As they were leaving, all the students told me to take care of myself.

I was touched. They had managed to refrain from shrieking for nearly eighty minutes. They really cared!

The last class of the day was almost identical, and I got home early.

I have come to the conclusion that I should go to those classes masked every week.


Tabor said...

I cannot help by think this behavior is unique to Japan. American students would use your disavantage to their most cases. Hope that you are feeling better soon. Drink lots of green tea.

Keera Ann Fox said...

I have a cold too, right now. I'm gargling with brandy. And swallowing. I imagine it helps. ;-) I imagined the Japanese might look down on the sick, but apparently not.

McDare said...

I was looking up your blog about coal tar soap (I've had a rash that doesn't respond to the usual antifungal salves.) I bought some Mazon's coal tar soap from Canada that in a week has knocked back the rash and itching. Again, it only has .5% of coal tar and the smell is nowhere as strong as I remember from childhood.

But, your comment today about being sick and the students responding sympathetically brought to mind my experiences teaching first grade in Washington, USA. When I had a bad cold and could not speak loudly, the children also whispered. The quietest days were those when my voice was nearly gone!
Hope you feel better soon.

kenju said...

Isn't it gratifying to know that they were concerned about you?!