Friday, July 4, 2008

Die StudentenInnen

As I try to teach the wonders and beauty of the English tongue, I meet a great deal of interesting people. They range from the ten-year old girls in my first ever class, to the the new bourgeois. They have taught me a lot, not just about the Polish Way, but I have been able to study their thinking.

Martyna, Martyna and Tosia were in my first class. They were ten and spoke broken English, (better than I spoke Polish) but I was not intimidated. Everyone at the Benefit school had told me how they liked to chat, but I never really encountered it that much. Claudia (a million blessings upon her) had wisely told me that the hardest part was keeping them interested as they got bored quite easily. Quite easily indeed.
The class was ninety minutes long and was conversation based (can you imagine conversing for an hour and a half with preteens? What the hell was I going to talk about?) The heads of the school, Ewa and Beata, advised me to use the language book which the girls' grammar teacher used (so we could coordinate our lessons.) Claudia said that the girls hated the book and that she never used it once. She also said that they had read and listened to Rumpelstiltskin. I decided I was going to give them a poem by Shel Silverstein because it was easy, interesting, and it would take up a great amount of class time. I found and printed out "One Inch Tall"; I glossed the words I thought would be hard; and then I set about putting down questions, really simple ones like "How long did it take the author to write the poem?" Well, the first class was a near disaster. The poem was way too hard, they disliked it, they didn't respond to any question I asked them even when it concerned themselves. Luckily it was cut twenty minutes short because the girls had to go on a trip (also, there were only two girls there) so I was saved. I took away many valuable lessons. Number One: kids have short attention spans. Number Two: Have a lot of stuff planned. Stuff you thought would take days to cover in a normal class. Number Three: Kids don't consider language games fun.
The second class went much more smoothly, I was able to go over animals and we watched "Wallace and Gromit: Cracking Contraptions." The threesome was there and the class was ten minutes short of two hours, but it was better, albeit exhausting.
The girls were actually extremely smart and had great potential for English. One, Martyna L, actually applied herself and was undaunted by some questions that I thought would be too hard for even some more advanced learners. Martyna S was a character, and she always answer a question, no matter what I asked, with either a "yes" or "no." I would ask, "HOW was your weekend?" Answer: "Yes." (I'd shake my head) "No.... yes? No?" It would be like this for every question. "How old are you?" "No."
Now I come to Tosia. Tosia, I think, had the greatest potential but was a slacker to rival some high schoolers. She was more preoccupied in doodling, poking holes in her paper, chewing her paper and generally bringing down the morale of the class. She refused to play games; she wouldn't voluntarily answer questions; and I was unable to administer a small slap to get her in line. When she had to do any lengthy speaking she would just babble in Polish in that "matter of fact" way which I despise. However, she sometimes showed amazing talent and exhibited that she was more focused on being a pest that really exercising her talent. For instance, I asked a question which was very simple and I knew she could answer. She was doodling and just replied, "Nie rozumiem." (I don't understand.) "Tak, rozumiesz." (Oh, yes, you do, you little brat!) I replied. And then she answered the question!
I had several other classes, one with three teens and one with four adults (and another with a pregnant lady and apparently another group of adult whom I never saw.) The pregnant lady dropped out before I was able to teach, and the adults ended their classes two weeks later because of the end of the school's semester. The teens lasted four classes until their semester also ended. They were my favorite group, but they could be a bit silent sometimes.
I used to arrive at the school really early in the morning, and find that the benches were all wet. I used to blame it on morning dew, but I recently arrived to find a shopkeeper watering the sidewalk and gravel parking lot. He was watering it so earnestly as if he was thinking to himself, "Hmmmm, the broccoli should have come up by now. And I'll be damned if I'm not picking tomatoes by August!"

Apart from teaching at the school I also hold private lessons. My first private lesson was with a fellow, Roberto, who lives to the far southwest of the city and it's quite a commute to get there.
I have another private student, who's probably thirty-five years old, and lives in the southern part of Warsaw. When I first went to his apartment to give a lesson, I entered in the building and thought to myself, "Hmmm, should have brought a gun." On the inside it looks like heroin addicts are overdosing behind the grungy doors, and that at least one hooker is on the premise. His apartment was clean, but he was a bit odd, and at the end he gave me 45PLN in a big, sweaty pile of change. That's like paying someone $45 in bill denominations no greater than five, or paying $10 all in change.

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