In the Jungle

I'd like to publicly apologize to all teachers I've ever had in my life. I didn't realize your job was as difficult or stressful as it actually is. Perhaps you were just really good and made it look easy, or perhaps (like most of the students I've been in front of) even if you weren't, you were at least clever enough to exploit how forgetful and easily amused children can be.

Even though I'm only a few weeks into my training, I've had the opportunity to observe and "teach" a number of classes. I say "teach" because I'm merely getting a 4-week certification instead of a 4-year degree. In spite of the short time-frame, we've been exposed to heaps of information and it's been difficult to retain and apply it all. It seems like each answer spawns yet another slew of questions that could never be answered in the short time we have in this course. Child development, psychology, sociology, linguistics... I wish I had the time to drown in a pile of books.

Teaching stands out to me as a challenge because you are thrown into a jungle. Your eyes slowly peer over the cover of a book; camoflauged, you quickly scan your surroundings. You spot the weakest prey - that little bastard in the corner who isn't paying attention to anything but the exquisite flavor of his own snot. It will be an easy kill. "Andy!" you shout. He turns, but it's too late... you're already behind him and pounce: "Point to the line we're on."

He is so dead.

As a teacher, the classroom is your domain. It's absolutely primal - kill or get killed. The struggle is unrelenting. Even if you like the students, you can't trust them, and you can't give an inch or they'll soon be a mile past and you'll never be able to bring them back. It's not all hell, but the point is you simply have to bring your A-game all the time, which is not only challenging, but tiring as hell. I can't be wrong for 8 hours straight. Compare that to programming, where you type up some code, click "run," and if it crashes, well, now you know you have a problem to fix. Granted, I'm teaching English, my native language, but have you seen English? Yes, you are using English right now, but try reading aloud the following poem (“English Is Tough Stuff” by G. Nolst):

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.


Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it’s written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.


Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.


Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation’s OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.


Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.


There's more to the rhyme, but I rest my case: English sucks. Granted, most of my students aren't at that sort of level, but just last week I was explaining the process of mining bauxite to extract aluminum for use in manufacturing... so it's still easy to get tripped up. Additionally, I've learned about the indigenous peoples of Jamaica and Barbados, debated the idea of mandatory forced labor for convicted criminals, and dissected the cultural differences between Eastern and Western civilization. Belive me, I enjoy such topics immensely, since I'm learning as well, but it takes much more effort to prepare for than, say, something like "He is a boy. She is a girl." I find that in teaching English, I use the language barrier as a security blanket of sorts to preserve my sanity. This might be a bad habit to begin, but when you're trying to convey the meaning of he/she to a bunch of pre-schoolers who'd rather eat the book than look at it, everything helps - even muttering on about transgenderism.

Working at a private school in China has its merits. The simple fact that I could work here because I have a degree and am a native speaker is amazing in its own. In the US and some other Western societies, I'd probably have already been served litigation for "inappropriately touching a student" (read: giving a high-five). Not that young, male teachers are often trusted around young kids in the first place. I'll be certain to devote some time to this issue after I've researched it further. In the meantime, here's a quick dose of the paranoia that can be so quick to ruin the lives of innocent men. It wasn't too long ago that a friend and I took some sandwiches to a public park to eat and catch up on things. We were sitting near a playground with a bunch of kids running around and while I can't say for sure whether we were getting the evil eye from any parents nearby, there was certainly discomfort in the air. Naturally, after finishing our meal, we headed straight for the swings; I'll be damned if I'm going to sit idly by and perpetuate the idiocy.

For now, back to lesson planning so I don't get eaten alive tomorrow.
Your assignment is to have fun. Jump from a swing, bounce on a trampoline, eat vanilla pudding, pretend the floor is lava - do whatever it takes - just remember that everything doesn't have to be so serious all the time.


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