Thursday, June 30, 2011

Dismissing the kissing…

I either had or am having a falling out with one of my students. I want to say here that I never have any sort of romantic involvement with anybody who comes to me for English help. This is not to say that I don’t foster good relationships with students or that we don’t try to talk with each other about different sorts of things, or laugh together. I like a relaxed atmosphere in the classes because I prefer it to what most Belarusians consider normal education which is more akin to direct fascism. Russians like to bang two eggs together to see whose egg is tougher and who is stronger is therefore by definition, better. On my side though I believe that real education has more to do with open-mindedness and problem solving and, especially when we are talking about second language acquisition, improvisation. And this last of course is the basis of my method.

Anyway, I am having a falling out with one student with whom I started to have a bit more of a close relationship. This is not to say that we were really in any way romantic, but maybe a good word for it would be that we were being warm friends, which is the exact way that she put it. I know that she was enjoying my attention and I was certainly enjoying her company. But the falling out came about as a result of a small problem. Actually, maybe it was not really all that small; at least to me it was pretty important, but basically, she wasn’t doing any homework and therefore was not advancing on the English side of things.

When people first come to my class and we have our initial interview, I really can’t stress it strongly enough – I even get demonstrative and shake my fists and beat my head, I pretend to cry and ask g-d for help- there are two types of students, I cry, those who do their homework and those who don’t! And then they laugh and nod their heads that they understand. And of course as we get going, we find out who is who and generally speaking the do's stay on and the don't's go away. And this is true because it is important really to practice because my method is not all that much about learning rules and names or discussing exceptions. To me there really isn’t so much theory to acquire as English is very mathematical and symmetrical and therefore has a very concrete and learnable syntax- at least compared to Russian whose own structure must have been devised while riding drunk on a blind donkey. And because it is simple and direct, the lessons can be brief and to the point and after, you either practice your sentence making or you don’t. And this is the basis of what I do. It’s not really all that clever; it is just very, very direct and if they do their homework, they start acquiring the skills they need and if they don’t, they don’t.

Now, I want to be reasonable about it because I do understand that this is not their natural language and therefore this study comes with some level of discomfort. I also understand that this is probably exceptionally true insofar as Russians are concerned. I say this because even if the student has studied English in school, the idea of being “svoi” (свой), of belonging to the group, is probably more important than anything else in their entire lives. And this is most especially true in their education. No matter what language they chose in school, the method of teaching always led them back to their own language for comprehension. They didn’t study a second language; they studied Russian via a different set of letters. It wasn’t communications, it was code breaking.

So I understand that this is not the most natural or comfortable thing for them to do, but I need to have a certain amount of personal work from any student because if they do this, they will advance. And I need this because if the student doesn’t advance, or won’t advance as the case may be, this creates a secondary situation in which I am stealing their money. And this is something, much to my father’s chagrin, I will not do.

Most probably my idea of character in this regard (that I won’t take money without results) is better connected to a Carnegie, win-win, my reputation is my name, neo-classic American model than it is to the local standards. And believe me, it has been pointed out that if I did romance the slower students and bullshit my way through their time, i.e., just shut up and take the money (it’s not your problem that they are stupid, they say, just smile and say thank you), that this would be much more normal here and that denying a “gift from g-d” (free money) is considered rather stupid.

I am not exactly sure if this means that it’s an upside down world or not, but you get my point.

But nevertheless I don’t do this and I do believe that results are a consequence of actions and I do wish to be a successful teacher which means that I do wish to have successful students. It is important for me to do this and I do care about my reputation. And so especially if there is some sort of warm relationship going on, that she isn’t doing her homework really sets me into an enormous conflict. Yes, it is very nice to have a warm relationship with a beautiful someone, but on the other hand, if they aren’t doing anything but having a warm relationship with me, but are yet sending money over every month, well, though yes, at my current age and physiology, finding myself working effectively as a gigolo and receiving money only for giving my warm and endearing company and so forth might be enough of an ego stroke to be worth a smile –and yes, I understand that this situation was probably her gift to me – it is not what I do and therefore, in the end, does not satisfy.

And so I put the hammer down and said that we weren’t going to do the warm relationship part any more and that we should just worry about the English side of things. And of course this was taken as an offence and created some emotions and this is what we are traveling through right now. I don’t know what to say about this really. I mean, good grammar and being able to write an interesting essay about whether the tin man actually already had a heart and the lion and the scarecrow their bravery and brains is always worthwhile, isn’t it? I mean, warm relations come and go, don’t they? And it is very important not to end up with only a Brighton Beach understanding of English. I mean, this is true, isn’t it? I mean, when all is said and done, which is really more important: Holding a beautiful woman in your arms as a dreamy summer afternoon slips by or understanding that the word “very” does not modify verbs? I think it is a reasonable question. Don’t you? I would think that the answer is rather obvious…

Just a gigolo, everywhere I go
People know the part I'm playing
Paid for every dance
Selling each romance
Every night some heart betraying

There will come a day
Youth will pass away
Then what will they say about me
When the end comes I know
They'll say just a gigolo
As life goes on without me

More soon…