Thursday, August 14, 2008

Shut up, por favor!

I am beginning to realize that, as a teacher, I was quite spoiled in Japan.

Now, the school itself didn’t present much in the way of luxury: the building looked like something out of Communist Eastern Europe, freezing in the winter and sweltering in the summer. Each day, I joined my students for our requisite cleaning time, which involved me scrubbing the long hallways on my hands and knees. The classrooms weren’t wired for Internet. The facilities for extracurriculars were located out in a rice paddy. And I had to squat to pee.

Contrast that with the bells and whistles I have at my school here in Mexico -- air conditioned offices, technology-filled classrooms, well-manicured tennis and basketball courts, palm trees, and my very own laptop -- and one might think that I’d hit the jackpot, work-wise.

But that’s not quite the case: Let’s just say that my Mexican students are a little more, uh, verbose than my Japanese students were.

The Japanese kids were the epitome of politeness. They started off every class with a cheerful “Good Morning!” and a bow. They were absolutely silent during class, and always raised their hands when they wanted to talk. When granted permission to speak, they would stand up, push in their chairs, say their piece, pull out their chairs, and then sit back down. If students ever spoke out of turn, they suffered the wrath of their homeroom teachers’ castigation in rapid-fire Japanese. The verbal assault was enough to scare even me into silence, and I didn’t even understand most of what was said.

Now, I realize that, for a variety of reasons, the Japanese scenario could never exist here in the Americas – North, South or Central. But I’d certainly get a kick out of seeing how long my Mexican students would last in a Japanese school. I’d place my bet on about five minutes, because the kids here never seem to shut up.

I'm not having this problem because I'm the new kid on the block here. Even the school's veteran teachers complain about their chatty students. But I hate being that teacher, the one that is always crabby and yelling and shushing. So, this week, I took what I thought was the high road, a creative approach: I asked the students to write me a letter with advice about how they thought I should keep the class quiet.

Their responses were interesting, even chuckle-provoking: Several suggested that I bring tape to cover offending students' mouths, and some thought that I should make talkative students run laps around campus or do push-ups in front of the class. One even advised that I administer tranquilizers! Some apologized for being loud, and many seemed to sympatize with me, including one who closed her letter with this piece of advice:

“Take care, and patience, teacher, you are going to need it.”

Yikes. Guess I will have to bring some duct tape next week.

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