I teach English at the local Normal University. The students are very young, between five and nine years old, which is new for me. I have never taught anyone younger than around 14, and the average age of my students when I was in Manchester was probably around mid-forties.
I haven’t enjoyed teaching children as much as I had always thought. With age and language as a barrier, it become infinitely harder to form any kind of personal relationship with them, to care about their lives, their families etc, which was what I loved about this profession. They aren’t yet fuelled with the passionate hormones of adolescence or the weathered wisdom of old age. They’re like half baked people; they have their own personalities and quirks, which are lovely, but there is nothing past that first layer.
This may make me sound cold and heartless, “children bore me”, and I always thought I would be good with kids; but having to be up-beat all the time whilst somehow trying to explain the present continuous to a five-year-old can be immensely exhausting. I miss the banter and the teasing that can happen when teaching older kids or adults. I have a new-found respect for primary school teachers.
At the end of every lesson I have to write a short comment on the students’ performances. It’s not expected to be in too much depth, it usually reads something like;
“Emily continues to have one of the highest reading levels in the class but still needs to look over grammar regularly. Keep up the good work!” – Mr. John
By the way, the students and parents all refer to me as Mr. John. Jazza provokes pronunciation problems in a variety of languages, and insisting on being called Mr. McMillan-Clenaghan would just be cruel to anyone, let alone five-year-old Chinese children. So we settled with Mr. John.
The parents are expected to read this report and take on any advice that I give them. Few of the parents, however, speak very good English. I thus decided to have a little fun with these report cards – shrouding them in metaphor, idioms and various other poetic devices. Yes, yes, maybe this is the cold, heartless Jazza rearing his head again. But, you know what, bugger it and screw your judgement that I am feeling through the computer screen right now.
Here are some of the reports I have sent home:
“Ringo may have entered into the class late but he is already become a dark horse of the competition. If he bears his current course steadily and is able to soar over the various hurdles that the English language throws at him he will most definitely continue to float my boat and ace whatever test I desire to launch in his direction. Keep up the good work!”
“Anna is like a hawk stalking her prey when it comes to her grasp of the passive voice. She has not quite tasted the sweet flesh of this grammatical structure yet, but so long as she keeps her eyes on the goal, not wavering for a second (be sure to practice for at least an hour a day at home) in no time at all she will soar to great heights. She continues to be one of the best students in the class. Keep up the good work!”
“It is as if Emily has the many arms of an octopus when one considers her amazing ability throughout her language learning. Her grammar is flawless, her pronunciation faultless and she is quite simple lovely to boot. I am confident that the fate of Nemo, getting lost, will not befall her and that she will become queen of the great sea that is the English language. Keep up the good work!”
Reading some of these back, I even struggle to remember what the hell I was going on about.
I would like to stress that I only do these elaborate report cards every so often, generally when I have nothing constructive to say apart from, “Keep up the good work!” I am sure that, when I do write like this, I do it in my most illegible teachers’ scrawl.
I am in Nanjing for Christmas, which is going to be a strange but interesting affair. Maybe I will take some pictures. God knows this blog needs some pictures.