6pm Playground Duty

25 Jan

My Zootecnia (Animal Husbandry) class is like a class full of 12 year olds, most of whom have seem to have unmedicated Attention Deficit Disorder. Supposedly I teach adults (it is a university), thus avoiding the whole discipline situation. Tragically, that is far from the case at 6pm. I’m more likely to find these students shooting spitballs at each other than doing anything productive. Every evening at 5:57 I square my shoulders and prepare for battle.

 

Okay, mostly I just shrug my shoulders, reminding myself that after this I get to go home to my real children. “Hello! Good evening! How are you all?” I ask, radiating enthusiasm and positivity.  Why not? I love my job, and I even like these students. They make me laugh maniacally even when they stubbornly refuse to learn anything.

 

For example, the other day one of my bright goody-two-shoes biology students at noon was holding the class ball. It’s a soft little ball I use when I want everyone to participate. Students read a line from the passage, or answer a question, or whatever it is that we’re doing, then they pick the “next victim” to read aloud or answer the next question or what have you by throwing the ball to that person. I like to think it magically converts a dreaded task into something more fun, although I’m not sure my students really agree.

 

“Teacher, who is Alex?” this bright little level one girl asked out of the blue (name changed to protect the guilty). “I have a student named Alex in another class. Why?” I asked her. She showed me the ball, where my oddball 6pm student had indeed written his name on my class ball. I remembered that the last time we’d used it in his class he’d asked me to give it to him. “Regalemelo” he repeated about 5 times, and every time I clearly said no. “Why not?” he asked me then, as if I’d denied him something legitimate, like, I dunno, instruction in English. “Because it’s my ball for class activities. No and no. Give me back the ball.” I didn’t notice then that he’d already marked it. The audacity!

 

I wasn’t particularly worried about damage to my ball, but I took advantage to give my student a hard time. “Alex, my daughter is 3 years old,” I told my student, speaking slowly in English, making gestures to make sure he got it. “And she likes to color on everything. I constantly tell her, ‘We only color on paper. We don’t color on walls. We don’t color on the baby’s head. We only color on paper.’  It’s a problem because she is three years old. But you are not three years old! So why did you color on my ball?” I’m smiling but shaking my finger at him. I’m much more bemused than angry, but my entire 6pm class seems to love me scolding them.

 

Is it silly to find them shooting spitballs at each other and smacking each other upside the head, taking each other’s books so they get their friend in trouble for not having a book? Yes. Is it absurd that my party girl student uses her phone dictionary to look up every single word in a reading, then tries to ask me every other word during exams? Yep. Do they sometimes sidetrack me by asking totally irrelevant questions or making me repeat something that I’m pretty sure they already got? Yes and yes. But it’s also my only class where some students come to my office for extra help, including two that just want to practice more in their spare time. I love that in this class my sharpest student never gives her boyfriend the answers, making him work for it instead. I love that my party girl comes up with hysterically incorrect translations. I love that every once in a while they prove that they’ve learned something, because it feels like a much bigger success than my other classes’ learning.

 

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Is this class full of smart asses? Yes, but luckily I appreciate smart-asses.

Sure, sometimes it irritates me to spend half of class saying things like, “Put away your cell phone!” “Please stop talking while someone else is talking!” “In English, please,” “Focus! Concentrate! We’re reading!” “Listen to so-and-so. I can’t hear because everyone else is talking.” “Do I need to separate you two?” I feel like a broken record, but some of them have some good come-backs, and they usually have the decency to look abashed when I call them out. They’re not purposely rude, they just can’t seem to hold that thought the entire class hour.

 

Many of them can’t stay in class the whole time, either. They “go to the bathroom” for long periods of time, sometimes multiple times in a class. (Did I mention it’s only an hour-long class?)  Nothing deters them. Even embarrassing questions about their stomach or bladder problems just make them smile and shake their heads. If all my classes were like this, I’d take it personally and assume I’m a horrendously boring teacher, but thankfully 6pm is the only one who behaves like this.

 

Inevitably, before class even begins, some wise-ass or the other asks if we are getting out of class early tonight. Mostly I tell them it’s up to them. “Get to work and we might get to leave early,” I say, dangling my carrot in the hopes that it’ll motivate them to stay on task. “Teacher,” they whine, making it sound like teeeeecher. I believe it might be the only word some of them know in English, despite this being a level two class.

 

After our exchange of greetings, I tell them our objective and then notice that only about 20 percent of them have something out on their desk. “Where’s your book?” I ask several students. Some of them take it out of their bags. Others frown sheepishly or tell me they forgot it, yet again. “Where’s your notebook?” I ask several other students. Usually they take it out of their bag, even if it’s not really their English notebook. Good enough if they have something to write on. “Guys, come on, let’s go! Let’s at least get out some kind of tool for learning, even if you don’t have plans to learn tonight! You’re in college, guys!” There’s my opening pep talk for Zootecnia. Apparently they love this routine, because we have to go through it every night. They’re like attention-starved children, and they can’t seem to figure out how this education routine goes exactly.

 

Just because I make them put things on their desk, though, doesn’t mean that they’re going to do anything with those items. We can spend the entire class learning our 10 new target vocabulary words and some of them still won’t have them written down. One night I made each student show me their notes in order to leave class. But that doesn’t guarantee that they’ll bring those notes in order to apply their vocabulary the next day. Sigh.

 

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Even this level of note taking often doesn’t happen for some. Alas. 

Other creative tactics have included taking roll at the end of class instead of at the beginning, so the students who have been out roaming campus for the past twenty minutes of class are thus marked absent. Really I’m not bothered by those students leaving class, because it’s preferable to them disrupting everyone around them. Mostly I’m a natural consequences type of parent/teacher anyway, and I figure if they don’t spend time in class they probably won’t pass, and I won’t feel guilty about it.

 

Aside from waiting for my I-told-you-so moment of truth when they see their grades, my number one discipline tactic is rampant scolding and finger-wagging. Occasionally I have to implement rules with the consequence of being asked to leave class. (For example, “Whoever doesn’t bring their book tomorrow can’t stay for class.” “Whoever talks while other students are presenting will be asked to leave.”) For some reason, even though many of them leave class on their own for half an hour, being asked to leave class by the teacher is not cool, so it’s a pretty effective tactic, as long as I don’t use it too often.

 

I also get my revenge in various ways. For instance, it was quiz night and several of them wanted class time to study. “Teacher, 5 minutes!” they hollered. “No! We want to get out early!” I imitated them, cackling away about using their own complaint against them. Bwahahaha! Then, when they got the quiz, they all freaked out because they couldn’t remember how to do the grammar section. “But teacher, we didn’t practice this yesterday!” Ummm, no, but we learned it last week, and practiced it for 2 days, plus I told them they needed to study it for the quiz. And yet several of them asked me things like, “What do I put if it’s superlative again?” or “Is this right?” even though they know I never give them answers to the stuff they’re supposed to be studying. Hope springs eternal, right? So I keep hoping that my next semester’s Zootecnia class will be a little less like being a playground monitor and more like being a teacher- although it might not be quite as entertaining. We’ll see.

 

 

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