The Tall Traveller

I am a (tall) British expat currently working in Mexico as an English teacher. Read on for amusing stories from the classroom and my travels

Friday, 20 June 2014

Adventures from the classroom 13

Being an England fan remains more of a challenge than captaining a massive spacecraft

El Mudial:

Classes during the World Cup have their benefits and pitfalls. At the time of writing, Mexico is riding on a wave of optimism following a win over angry Africans Cameroon, and a precious draw against the favoured host nation Brazil. Whilst the students are certainly keen football fans, this doesn't translate to them being knowledgeable about the sport. I asked a quiz question on how many American teams (North, South and Central) were playing in Brazil.

" . . . err. 2 teacher".

Me: "Mexico is an American team, Brazil is another, so how many in total?"

"ahhhhh . . . errr . . . 4 teacher"

Me: "Don't just guess, count them."

Then they start saying things like, Canada and Cuba who aren't at the World Cup and even Italy. The mind boggles. There are of course 10 American teams playing in Brazil. Can you name them all?

The tournament has given me the chance to break out football examples for everything in class. At least they normally understand them. I even offered prizes to those who predicted the games correctly.

Mexico vs Cameroon. "What's your prediction?"
Student 1: 2-1
"OK, Student 2, what do you think"
Student 2: 2-1 Mexico.
"Don't pick the same result or you will have to share your prize!
Student 3: errrrr 2-1 (the rest of the class nods in agreement).

In all of the classes, there were so many predictions the same, it was bloody lucky that they don't know anything about the teams. One class all predicted Australia to beat Chile. It saved me some money anyway.

Silencio por favor:

"Tranquilo teacher, please"
I've had a bee in my bonnet about noise recently, and it's no different in the classroom.

English here is a bit like R.E. was in senior school. It's the obligatory doss class where students think they can get away with anything, especially chattering like mad chimpanzees on crack. It's important to keep your cool to demonstrate how one should behave, but it's also natural to chuck the odd marker pen at them, tell them to shut the hell up and call them big babies. You know, just to keep them on their toes.

"Tranquilo teacher" they whine, with their sad little faces transformed into watery eyed poses.
"Why you so hungry?"
"Err, I think you mean angry. I'm just disappointed"

It can be a little frustrating when you are genuinely trying to help them pass a test and be able to complete their degree, and they just want to talk loudly about tacos.

n.b. Don't worry about me taking the piss out of 'taco-talk' being thinly veiled xenophobia, they openly embrace national stereotypes, just look at Speedy Gonzalez.

I tried a 'pose master' silence technique in a particularly rowdy class with limited success. Whilst they where chattering on about tortillas and the like, I attracted the attention of one group and put my hands on top of my head. "Copy me" I said giving a reassuring smile.

Nothing

"Copy" I repeated putting my hands on my head again

Still nothing

In fact one girl's expression went from confusion, to hilarity, to primal fear in the space of the 30 seconds that it took me to convince them to copy me. The pose finally spread around the class leaving just one girl who was chewing her pencil and listening to her headphones to be the unlucky butt of the joke.

After that debacle, I'm looking forward to picking my sister's brains on the silencing techniques she uses with her primary school class. I'm sure they'll work just fine with my noisy rabble.

Perfect Projection:

And now for the UNSIS weather forecast
It's that time of the semester again, where my classes have projects to do. This time I decided to incorporate a twist that they would grade their classmates. I got the idea from another teacher who had the students copy out grading cards for their presentations. One of his students had given everyone 1/20 which must have been interesting when he gave the forms back. I can imagine the witch hunt that must have ensued, and rightly so! Luckily my students paid a little more attention to their peers' presentations and graded a little more generously.

Here are some highlights from the current crop of projects.

If I won the lottery I would buy a many foods for my family. Tacos I imagine

If I won the lottery I would help African children and adopt one because they are good singers and are a beautifuls (doing a circular hand to face motion to signify being black).

If I had a superpower I would fight to the criminal cartels.
To be fair you probably do need superpowers to fight the cartels!

I asked the same student If you were invisible what would you do?
". . . probably nothing". He replied.
I almost fell off my chair laughing. MY GOD! What an imagination! Go into the girls locker room? Rob a bank? Nah, . . .nothing. I thought he was going to follow up by saying that he'd watch TV if he had x-ray vision or catch the bus if he could fly.


The second project was on weather reports.

Many of the presenters seemed confused by the difference Fahrenheit and Celsius (aren't we all?). One student persisted in saying "Fahrenheit" which I enjoyed, although most just equated them.

"It will be 34 degrees Celsius or 34 degrees Fahrenheit"

Other highlights included a prediction that tomorrow would be stompy (stormy) - accompanied with loud lightning sound effects. One student confidently predicted that there would be a big Jack storm (Jack Frost?!?!), and said "Tomorrow it will storm, Don't Panic please! Keep calms!"

One guy did his forecast in the past (e.g. today was cloudy), not the future and then told us that we could wear our families to the beach if it was sunny.

They all took my suggestion of giving advice for example to 'drive carefully' a little too seriously. Many of the girls bossily informed us that as it would be cold tomorrow, you have to wear jeans, a sweater, gloves and a big hat. They all told us to stay in and drink coffee because it would be rainy too.

I also suggested to one class they dress up to get into the role of TV weather forecaster. Obviously they obsessed over clothing colours and weather charts rather than the actual work!

Attendance:

Students' attendance is monitored and if they drop under a certain level, they can't take the exam and pass the course. After a fairly bad record in my class, I decided to give them the opportunity to convince me to ignore there attendance records and answer the following question in writing:

"Why should the teacher let me take the Partial 3 Exam".

Their responses were rather heartwarming. Here are some extracts.

I really like talking classes - I'm not sure if they mean taking classes or talking in English class.
I promise to pass the exam with 10/10 - Well good luck!
I would have to repeat the level again, oh no I don't like! - Me neither
My father will get angry with me if I fail.-  It's a wonder that this doesn't happen more often!
If you let me taking exam, I would learn a few of English - Hope springs eternal.
I have a many problems in me life and want to do less problems. 

Like I said, I was pleased with the response. It's nice to give them a second chance and bend the rules, I just hope they make good use of it.

Student logic:

We'll finish with a rather random assortment of bizarre decisions and reasoning used by my current crop of little scholars.

1. Many students don't put brains into gear before asking question.
"How do you say - decir" asked one bright spark
"Decir - Say. You just said it!"

2. Students will often tail off mid sentence in written assignments. They use sentences with "etc" in them.
"I would travel by aeroplane, boat etc."
NO! It is a written assignment, don't write 'etc', try to actually complete your sentence.

3. Instead of saying "I don't understand", one student has started to shout out "No capisce, no capisce!"
I don't understand how she's learnt the phrase in Italian and not English! It makes me laugh whenever she utters the words so one lesson I wrote it on the board next to her name for an exercise.

"What means Ka-pis-key teacher?" She enquired.

In fact the students remain ardently phonetic in their pronunciation. If I say rain they look clueless until one student starts saying "Rhine, Rhine" and then they cotton on to how it is spelled. They like to chide me for not pronouncing things phonetically and say that I have bad pronunciation.

One day I asked the students to log into 'Side by Side B' an English computer program. As the instruction was verbal, that couldn't locate the program until one student shouted "Seedy bee seedy bay". Within seconds the whole class where chanting "Seedy bee seedy bay Seedy bee seedy bay Seedy bee seedy bay".

4. English can be difficult, don't get me wrong. Yet my young scholars fail to appreciate that words can have more than one meaning or use. In fact, there are several words in the English language with over 400 uses! Anyway, after a whole class on "Questions with 'like'" - What does he 'look like' or "What is the classroom like" they still obstinately stuck to Me gusta.

Twiki says "Seedy bee seedy bay"
This resulted in one girl answering the question "Would you like more or less homework after class?" by saying - "I like to eat hamburgers after class".

Maybe if you did your homework rather than stuff MacDonalds into your cakehole you might learn something!

5. Students' logic for translation is one of the most confusing things in class. They can't appreciate when to translate, and when they don't need to. In a gap fill exercise they will want to understand every word, when they don't need to. Conversely when I teach them vocab through synonyms, mimes, opposites or pictures they never write the Spanish down. Arrrrggghhh!

6. Finally, we move to student taco logic - I've already mentioned how they seem to have tacos on the brain (I do sometimes too). Yesterday there was a truck advertising tacos with a loud speaker parked outside the University. Advertising tacos? They are pretty ubiquitous. Miahuatlán has a population of 30,000 and has well over 150 establishments that sell tacos. People go to the most convenient one. To prove the point, my favourite Taqueria here is 20 meters from my house! It's like the equivalent of advertising rain in England.

"We've got rain of all types - drizzle, heavy downpours, storms and raindrops. Come and get them before they come again tomorrow and every day thereafter".

You might think I'm harping on about tacos a lot, but when my friend came to visit my class, the first question the students asked him was "Do you like tacos", followed by "Do you like garnachas".

It's time to say goodbye and decide what to eat for dinner . . . probably something with meat and tortillas that's a four letter word. 

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