Play Nice!

"The authority of those who teach is often an obstacle to those who want to learn."
- Cicero

My mother's elder brother spent several years in the 80s living in Saudi Arabia. He was there for work, with his family, living in a "westerners compound". Back in England, he said the arabs he'd met were mostly decent people, often highly accomplished in their chosen areas...but all basically like children.

I was seventeen when I heard him talk about it, and thought there was more than a hint of a patronising colonial attitude (unconscious, of course) behind the words, but I couldn't prove it.

Some years earlier, his father had taken a holiday in Iraq. He said all the people he'd met were refreshingly friendlier than Britishers, but...psychologically like little children. Pleasant, open, helpful, honest, and simple. I had similar doubts.

Now I teach eighteen and nineteen year-olds from Saudi Arabia each weekday afternoon. I've got a boss who lived there, and fellow teachers with experience teaching them. My teens have the mischievous but easily cowed behavior that I'd expect of five year olds...and all my colleagues tell me I need to be a firm schoolmarm to teach them.

All of which tells us more about western attitudes to children than eastern attitudes to education. We don't like our children much, and if someone behaves in a way we don't like, we're quick to call it "childish". As an insult, it's quite revealing.

I read somewhere there's eight basic theories of "how to teach EFL" - or "classroom practice" as we're supposed to call it. The thing is though, almost all of them share an unspoken premise - that people learn language in a classroom by being given a little grammatical instruction, and a lot of varied activities to "consolidate" or "realise" or "internalise" the grammar theory.

Maybe that's true, I don't know. But it does mean most of the job involves having a raft of activities and games to fill up the ninety minute lessons and keep the students occupied, alert and interested - or at least busy.

Result: I sometimes feel a bit like a playgroup leader. which is fine, but I can't help thinking the real role of a playgroup leader is to keep control of children while their parents are away doing parent things. In effect, to be a warder - one half pacifier, one half gatekeeper.

Nevermind, I'll try to teach anyway.

So much for deep, let's do shallow. How many surfaces can one blob of chewing gum attach to?

I only ask because, either I've managed to sit in three separate blobs of gum in one day, or one especially runny stick currently occupies a park bench, two seats in my home, one pair of jeans, a towel and a jumper.

And as an extra bonus question: My bedroom contains an open window, opened packets of peanuts and chocolates, slightly stale cups of tea, lots of old paper, a sink connected to temperamental plumbing system, obnoxious liquid for cleaning it, three kinds of moisturiser (what?) and a first aid kit. And me. So why is the only smell a strong one of chewing gum?

Not shallow enough? I'm all alone in the house tomorrow, so I'm having a friend round. When I say "having"....

Now, in my modest little life I manage to offend a few people. Last week I offended everyone I work with at a meeting by saying the workbook we all pretend to teach from is "cack". There was an embarrassed tumbleweedy silence, then after the meeting I got private agreement mixed with admonition that I'd been "unhelpful".

Before that I put the odd nose out of joint on a discussion forum where some were advocating the death penalty for baby rape - I wondered why child torture was only newsworthy when the torture implement was a genital organ.

Though that was nothing to the abuse I got for say the Doctor Who final episode didn't make sense.

But now I know what I have to do the get death threats and nationwide vilification. I have to steal a biscuit.

My infamy shall be unbounded. Bwa ha ha.

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