Monday, April 20, 2009


Teaching adolescents is not the same as teaching adults or young children; and teaching Chinese adolescents is not the same as teaching Spanish ones; and the last lesson on a Friday can be a pain.

I was thinking about this as I sat at my desk supervising my little class and watching the clock. The air-conditioning whirred, the palm trees in the garden swayed as the sky darkened, and I was tired.

Well-disciplined Korea girl was onto her fifth page of neat writing which would take me hours to correct. Motivation was not a problem with her as she had a high respect for all things English, but, many of her paragraphs would be Pickwickian blather.

Well-behaved Singapore girl and diligent Tokyo girl were onto their fourth sheets and I knew their efforts would be logical and clear. Singapore girl was a serious minded Christian and Tokyo girl had strict but lovely parents.

Tokyo girl was the only one whose work would verge on the imaginative or lyrical.

Bangkok girl, struggling with her third page of simple text, looked in my direction and smiled that well mannered, almost saucy, Siamese smile. Her upbringing made it impossible for her ever to be rude; but English grammar gave her nightmares.

Polite Malaysian boy, still on his second page, tried to hide a yawn. He was not a lover of books or hard toil, but always did what he was told.

All these kids were lovely and I could teach a hundred of them at a time without any stress.

Barcelona boy was different. He was spreading ink blots on his desk rather than getting on with his first page. He was the typical textbook teenager: desperate for peer approval, not greatly inspired by school work, and quite happy to annoy adults. Come to think of it, Barcelona boy was the only adolescent behaving like an adolescent. He had a Walkman stuck in his shirt pocket and his trainers were the hundred dollar sort. He was an expert in deceit; he didn’t know where the ink blots had come from. He was an expert in manipulation; he flashed his innocent smile in the direction of Bangkok girl. He was an expert in intimidation; he gave me that look that said: "I can make more trouble than you can ever produce and my rich dad will always back me up." I reckoned he could develop into the typical bully: a con-man, a seducer and a thug.

The bell rang. I gently reprimanded Barcelona boy and complemented myself on my degree of calm. I reminded myself that I must try not to take things too personally and that there is a bit of Hitler in all of us. My driver would probably agree with that.

Minor scrapes on the road to Bandung
His father's taken up with another woman
The Savoy
Where can the child stay?

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