gerbie: (local)
My first lesson in every class was obviously meant to get to know the class. I asked them for a claim to fame. This is not a very familiar concept for the Dutch, but I got something out of most of them, after giving them a handful examples. Most of them had asked an autograph from some celebrity at some point or were in the newspaper with their school class. She stood out. She had been on national TV in one of those shows that reunites you with your holiday love.

She was one of the nicer students to work with. Never in trouble, never grey either. Not brilliant, but no problems passing exams either. Always a smile, sometimes even giggling with her best mate. Fun to have in a class.

She managed to make me giggle in Barcelona. During our visit to Montserrat we had to stand in the queue to see the black Madonna. Legend has it that whoever touches the statue will be pregnant within a year. For many religious people Montserrat is on par with Lourdes, Santiago de Compostela and Jerusalem. Just beyond the point where silence was mandatory, she stood behind me, there were 3 or 4 of us in total. During the 5 minutes it took us to get passed the statues, she made at least 3 extremely funny remarks (“If I do not give a donation, does that mean I won’t get pregnant?”), making it really difficult for us to keep straight faces.

She had to do her traineeship in Spain. There was no way anybody could talk her out of it. Even though nobody joined her and we as school were hesitant to send an 18 year old on her own to Spain, she went. It was complicated to get all the paperwork sorted before she left, we managed. She had been to the town several times with her parents, but a girl that young on her own in a country where she hardly speaks the lingo, for us it was still a risk. Yet as a new school of tourism, you just need some trainee places abroad, she helped us creating one.

She did brilliant. I visited her last summer and spoke to several managers who were all impressed. I saw her present a show in several languages. She was a huge hit. A blonde beauty in Spain attracts a lot of attention, but she showed that she has more skills than appearance.

Her second training had to be back in Spain, but the rules wouldn’t let her. Reluctantly she accepted that she had to do it back home in the Netherlands. And again they were very happy with her. In a time of economic depression, cutbacks and sackings they offered her a contract. She refused. She is going back to Spain. They offered her a job there as well. Her new boyfriend had nothing to do with that, she assured us. Next month she’s due to get her diploma, but she won’t be there to pick it up. This week she’s left the country. I wish her well.
gerbie: (bowl)
My students (13)

She wanted to see me after class. And she didn’t look very happy either. Which is never a good sign, but with her even worse. She tends to have a natural happiness over her. More importantly she dares to be different in a culture where everybody is afraid to fall out of fashion with the group. Where girls can be really nasty to someone who isn’t exactly like them. Where appearance is so important several girls have no problem sitting in the class room with a little mirror reapplying their make up. Not that she doesn’t care, she certainly does. But getting your hair dyed bright red is not their idea of beauty, whereas she knows that it suits her, even though she will get stick for it. Next to that she actually does her homework. Not only that, she even does more than asked sometimes. When there is little homework, she anticipates and does next weeks share as well. This makes her stand out even more. The majority of 16 to 18 years old think that homework is for fanatic students and being fanatic certainly isn’t cool. Bringing the correct book into class is an offer that some do sometimes make.

Still, she is not the automatic odd one out, she talks a lot, mingles brilliantly with the rest of her class, she is just about the ideal student in my eyes. Not one of those I-am-good-and-I-will-do-everything-to-please-the-teacher kind of student, nor the I-know-I’m-17-but-that-doesn’t-mean-I-can’t-behave-like-I’m-13 kind. She wears different style clothes, she looks different, she is a model student AND blends in. The class she’s in is the best I’ve got this year. Only 23 of them, second year, mostly well behaved and nicely motivated. She is a lovely smile in the back of the class room. And this hour she just sits and doesn’t even listen.

She has always been very open with everyone around here. We knew her boyfriend was about to get ditched before he knew. We knew about Saturday nights, while at home they didn’t. Now, while the rest is running to catch the bus she sits in front of me and looks sad. She doesn’t know where to begin and I’m not sure why I am talking to her. Her group teacher is not the easiest teacher to approach, but I have my own group and plenty of problems. Not that I would even consider telling her that, if I can do something for her, I will. The story comes out in waves. Problems at home, parents who behave weird, hit her, treat her bad. Her brother who has a different set of rules from her. An ex-boyfriend who is slowly turning into a stalker, the meaning of life, it has all become too much for her. Tears are flowing and I feel like she is desperate for a hug, that my shoulder would be of help, but I know that it wouldn’t be a good way to solve it. I can’t solve anything, but I can listen. Just being there for her to tell her story at the moment is enough help. I offer her to find professional help, but she already had some and lost her faith in them. We talk for an hour and I tell of similar moments in my life, to comfort her. I tell her everything will be okay, though I’m not convinced it will be. I tell her that she should come to me again, should she need professional help. We talk about life and everything it has to offer. It seems cliché, but the tear and the smile both appear. She leaves grateful when she leaves an hour later, though she knows that her mother will ask her why she is late.

A few months have passed since. She is still there, seems back to her normal self. With everyone around I don’t want to ask her how things are going, though a look sometimes tells me enough. I’m glad to be able to teach her. I’m proud that she came to me to talk, even though I wasn’t the first or even second obvious choice. I hope she’ll manage in the following year. I guess in a year’s time she will have her work placement, she’ll pick a place far from home. And then go to a college somewhere on her own. I know she’ll manage. She is much stronger than she herself realises.
gerbie: (uluru)
My students (11)

His parents must have come over in the sixties or seventies, somewhere from North Africa. Not an easy decision, give up everything and go to a cold country in the north of europe, to do the jobs that the locals won't do. Still, they wanted the best for their children, so they came here. So he was born and bred here, but raised as if he was born in their natice country. Caught between two cultures, as so many of the children of the guest workers.

In his case, I doubt if he really feels it this way. He has led an easy life up until now. Whereas his sister has a job, next to school, he doesn't have to. He is the boy, the son of the house, he gets a bit spoiled. He always has a friendly smile, sometimes seemed a bit slow, but what can you expect at this level. If he had been bright, I wouldn't have had him in my class.

At some point I tried to explain the difference between concrete and abstract markets. Asked the class for examples of concrete markets, something everyone will be familiar with. An abstract market was much more complicated. Minutes into my explanation and examples, he suddenly found an example of another concrete market. By then I realised he is not just a bit slow. From that moment on I have tried to find evidence for the fact that he is not completely stupid. I'm still looking. By now my image of him is a completely empty head. I've had plenty of children in my class who aren't very brihgt, even some who are borderline mentally disabled. Still, I never actually pictured it as clearly as I do with him. I just can't imagine that there is anything behind his eyes. I've got this image of complete emptyness. Should someone crack his skull, he must be a miracle. I'm amazed he finds his way into school sometimes. Had he not been such a nice person, one could have easily made fun of him, now everyone is just feeling sorry.

The worst thing is, he doesn't realise. In an easy assignment I gave them some months back, I asked them to write some things about themselves. What are your strong points, your weak points, how does your future look, things like that. He had big plans for the future. He even posed for a picture to make the assignment look nice. I gave him a reasonable grade, ignoring the fact that not one sentence was without spelling mistakes. Had I been honest, he would have scored extremely low.

Soon he will leave us. He found out that the leisure industry is not his cup of tea, is considering retail now. I wish him good luck, I really hope it will work for him, but I can't imagine anybody hiring him. I hope he'll prove me wrong.
gerbie: (Royston)
My students (10)

Only weeks into my new job, I had a parents night. It is an opportunity for the parents to get to meet the teacher(s), to hear what is happening with their child. It was very difficult for me, as I hardly knew the children myself. Nor did I have anything to do with the grades I was discussing with them. So in the teachers reunion I made as many notes as I could, to be well prepared for that evening. I had several difficult conversations that evening and often told the parents that I would find out and get back to them. I think I have done that more or less.

The last appointment that evening, I almost felt like a doctor sometimes, with the corridor of the classroom as my waiting room, was with him. He is one of the two boys in a class full of girls, a quiet boy, his grades were okay. I deliberately made them come last that evening, to close to evening on a good note. The three of them entered and sat down, I had by then adjusted to the fact that the children were coming along with their parents. To me parents night was about parents and teachers, the students weren't supposed to be there.

The conversation went well, there wasn't much to discuss, but as they lived very close to the school, they felt it polite to come anyway. The only discussion was where there house was. In the big building his father had lost a bit of his sense of direction. In the end we ended talking football. It turned out that father was the chairman of a local footy team and I had played against that club a few times. We even knew someone who went from his club to mine, as he had moved to my hometown. It was a nice conversation and I left school satisfied afterwards.

A few weeks later he came to me to tell me that he might possibly miss some lessons as his father had been diagnosed with cancer. He never missed any lessons, so I told him to do so whenever he felt it was necessary. One monday he wasn't there, the next morning I read the advert in the newspaper and found out that his father had died. Only weeks before he had told me about it and not even a month before that I had been talking to the three of them. The class collected some money and I arranged for flowers. A delegation went to offer condoleances and I could see in his eyes that he appreciated it. His mother looked devastated.

The next monday he was back in school and picked up his work where he left it. As if he had had a flew for a day or two, he went on regardless of what happened. I found it very difficult to cope with, tried to ask him if he was okay and if he needed any help. "Life goes on", was his simple reply. And so it did. He kept getting good notes, his mother kept coming to parent's nights, even though he went strong as ever. We even discussed it one of those evenings. Sometimes it takes a while before reality hits you, but he was sure it wouldn't happen to him. It is nearly a year later now and he is still one of the best students I've got. Always friendly, hardly ever misses class and always good grades. I really hope it stays that way. My football team played his club a couple of months ago. The widow came on her own and greeted me, though had problems recalling my name. The parents night after that she apologised for it. She recognised my face, but couldn't place it out of the surroundings she knew. My team won. Next week we have to play away to them. For me it will always be "his father's football club".
gerbie: (waterval)
As soon as I arrived last November, she came to me and told me about my predecessor. Everything he did wrong, everything they had to suffer from. As she was the class representative, I heard the complete story, happy to hear what she thought. It could make my life easier, if I had her on my side. I had been warned, before I arrived even. My class was the worst one in the school. But someone had to do it, I only saw it as a challenge.

I soon got to know her better. Anything that could possibly be wrong was blown out of proportion, anytime she felt like it, she criticised school, colleagues, me, my boss and basically anybody that could be hurt. My boss had a soft spot for her. She seemed to voice the problems of the class really well, a new school has to listen to the students, to make sure the product would be good very soon.

She did not agree with the way I conducted my classes. She did not agree with the fact that I chose to ignore some of her comments. She did not agree with the fact that since I became the class tutor, her influence seemed less than before. It seemed that she started a personal vendetta against me. It got out of hand when I deducted points for handing a report late. Not just a bit, but very late. There were several reasons for this, but I decided not to overlook them and deducted a bit. The other three in her group agreed, she didn't. The very same day her father rang me. We needed to talk. Therefore, we did. In that conversation, she told everything very colourful, not showing a hint of self-criticism. She could not admit that in some cases she was wrong. She cried her eyes out, while her father only concluded that we needed to get closer towards each other, find a compromise. At one point, she even told me to sit in with some colleagues, as I didn't have a clue how to teach.

From that day on, our communication was over. Indirectly, through other students, I heard plenty of remarks she had made about me. Also, from several colleagues I heard stories about her misbehaving in their classes as well. The quote "I'm not negative, I'm only critical", became a classic during our coffee breaks. She had one advantage, she was smart enough to get good grades. However, her influence on the atmosphere in class was devastating. During the school trip to Spain, she showed her real self. Away from parental supervision, she went on the pull the first night, only thirty something hours after she kissed her boyfriend goodbye in front of the bus. The language she used in the bus is not suitable for reprinting, let's just say that it was not very ladylike. Nor was her behaviour.

Towards the end of the school year, I heard rumours that she was leaving. The class was fed up with her as well by then. Every time she opened her mouth with some negative remark, somebody would tell her to shut up. I felt relieved, I didn't even have to answer her, the other ones did. The rumours turned out to be true. She did not dare telling me directly, but needed to talk to me for her paperwork. She is going to a different school, same study, different place. Not that anybody is bothered. Contrary, although we hate losing students, it costs us money, nobody though it was a shame she left. Next school year my class will be different. I need a new class representative. I need a different atmosphere. Without her, that cannot be a problem.
gerbie: (koala)
Soon after I took over this class, I knew these two ladies could be trouble. They stick together without any interaction with the rest of the class. And very soon I realised I could not trust them. They use their looks (they are both real neck twisters) to appear innocent and friendly, but underneath they try to arrange everything in their own advantage. At tests they sit next to each other and always have the same answers, sometimes the exact mistakes, though nobody actually caught them cheating ever. You just know they do.

They are a bit more mature than the rest of their class, a year older, a more mature attitude towards studying, they skip classes whenever it suits them, but always call in sick, to avoid any comments. Talk about mature, apparently one of them got married last summer, though in class she only refers to him as her boyfriend. It took me a while to know that instead of being extreme strict and severe, it was easier to let them go. You miss class? You have to do the exam, not me, know what you are missing. They have a certain cleverness though. One of them miss an exam, for the second sitting the other comes well prepared. They know we are extreme busy, we're a new school, so we haven't got time to make a complete new one, we adapt some questions, that'll have to do. And they use that in their advantage. They ask to see the first test, if they made it badly, but wait to the day before the next chance, not when they get their grades.

I have come to the phase that they do not bother me anymore. I've got more problem children, who need more attention or help. If this is how they want to play it, go ahead, it's your life. For group assignments, they are hell though. They miss so many lessons, it is impossible to make an appointment they keep. Other students suffer or blatantly refuse to co-operate with them. Today I had to sit an exam again, one of them was missing. Everybody was really busy, only she looked at me and gave me one of her smiles. Huge innocent eyes, beautiful face, lovely smile. I can imagine being happy at the fact that someone of that category, a decade my junior, looks at me that way. My only thought was that she was probably cheating somehow at that very moment, though I did not know how.
gerbie: (nacht)
He is one of the two boys in a class full of girls. The first impression he gives is that he is a softie. In a class of 17 and 18 year old girls, it is not easy to stay yourself. His little moustache did exactly the opposite of what he hoped it would do. Instead of being more masculine, it seemed like a desperate attempt to get a bit of credibility. When you start talking to him he tries to impress by playing it cooler than he is. Soon it turns out that he is top of the class. His grades rarely come in the low variety. The girls in his class pick on him, though with a touch of affection.

Under all the impressions, he is just an incredibly nice guy. The one you suspect to be gay, he just hasn't found out himself yet. He surprised the rest of the class by announcing he has a girlfriend. She is from Chinese origin and lives on the other side of the country. Ever since the girls try to get him to talk. All kinds of embarrassing questions are fired at him. He only answers some of them. It is still easy to wind him up, though it is nearly impossible to get him angry. Once I managed to do so, he felt that he was being punished for something he couldn't be blamed for. I agreed, but couldn't possibly admit, as the others who thoroughly deserved the punishment would have rioted.

He even managed to fail some tests recently. According to some colleagues, this might have something to do with his girlfriend. He just thinks he underestimated and misunderstood some things. He becomes seems more human since. He'll be top of the class come the end of the term. However, I am afraid for him after that. He doesn't seem the kind of person to easily survive outside the safe boundaries of school. Good grades and a nice personality might not be enough in the harsh world we live in. I hope I'm wrong.
gerbie: (koala)
Obviously they attract attention. In the first class I taught, they stood out. Not that they were completely punk, but their hair was wilder than others. They wore oversized T-shirts with names of bands that I had never heard off. Which is an achievement, as up until then I thought I was well up to scratch if it came to music. They talked a lot instead of doing something useful, so my first, old-fashioned, reaction was that they needed some discipline.

After a while I found out that they weren't too bad. They were different from the rest, in a class where most tried desperately to fit in. They dared to be different, something I can appreciate. One day they came up to me and asked if I needed any CD's. Suspiciously I asked them what they tried to sell me. Obviously I didn't want to be associated with any stolen goods, nor did I have much confidence in their taste of music. They summed up some bands, most of them unfamiliar to me, but I had heard of Korn. Not my cup of tea though. But they insisted I gave it a try. I didn't like it. But after a few conversations we did find a band we had in common: Tool. So they sold me a cheap CD by Tool. Not until then I realised that one of their fathers had a CD-burner, something still fairly new at the time. After they found me as a customer, they told me they could get hold of any album should I want it. I decided to test them. I gave them a title of an album I had been looking for for over a decade. It had never been released on CD and the LP was not available anymore. They accepted the challenge and a week later I had the long sought for album on CD, an extra album of the same band included for the same prize, both LP's were short compared to CD-length. Their secret was a public library that had a huge collection of music.

They promised me a better price, big consumer as I was now, and I gave them a list of albums I wanted, but wouldn't want to pay full price for. They burned CD's for a while and made some extra pocket money. In the meantime I had to correct them once in a while in class, where they weren't exactly examples for youth. They were clever enough though to bring up the right conversation whenever I was in a foul mood. The rest of the class still considered them as weirdoes, the colour of their hair (green and purple) didn't exactly help. Some of my colleagues couldn't stand them for exactly that reason, but once you got to know them, you had to like them. We helped to develop each other's music tastes. They helped me to the Tindersticks, I taught them about Tom Waits. We never agreed on Korn or Elvis Costello though.

On an excursion to Paris I had a lot of fun with them in Disneyland Paris. They and some of their friends took me along on a day of stupid rides, making fun of other visitors and basically were enjoying themselves where they weren't supposed to have a good time. I'm glad I went with this group of 7 students that day and not with my colleagues. When I left school, they kept in touch through E-mail. Not very often, but once in a while, giving me some news I already knew or just telling that the competition among students with CD-burners had become stronger. I have ordered a few CD's with them again after I came back. I miss some student in my new school who could take over their role.
gerbie: (Default)
There are four of them, they are inseparable. And they know I like them, they are clever enough to use that knowledge. It wasn't like that from the beginning. L.'s face turned red every time I told the class something she didn't like. Her anger is always easily detectable. A. was happy enough to tell the world about her hometown. On top of one of the schoolbooks she only needs a very little bit of white to draw a map of the town. I have played football there, which makes her happy. Not many people even know the place. She promised she would be there the next time I play an away match there. M. is the smartest of the four. She has dyed her hair red, always has an opinion, but only sometimes feels the need to tell it. The last one is J. She will never win a miss election, but her appearance will always draw attention. She was born in the same place as I do. Since a couple of years she started playing softball, her boyfriend plays baseball. After she found out that I am a baseball nut she brings up the subject whenever she doesn't feel like doing anything in class. She knows I find it difficult to ignore a discussion about the World Series. We live in a country where 9 out of 10 people wouldn't even know which sport were talking, when the World Series are on.

Together the four of them usually sit in the back. They talk, laugh, giggle like small girls and make fun of me on a bad hair day. And I just can't be mad at them. Off course I tell them to go to work, like I do with all the others, but somehow the effect isn't the same. Not that they don't do anything. At home, in their own time, they make sure they are ahead of schedule. Unlike others in the class. Which is one of the reasons they can get away with more than others. I shouldn't, I know, but that's how it is.

Once I started a lesson with telling everyone that the following persons weren't welcome: those without books, those with the wrong books, those ignoring school rules (no hats, coats, food or drinks in the class), those who hadn't done their homework and those who didn't want to participate properly. The four of them looked at the board, read, asked for an exception and left after being denied the exception. They laughed in the corridor. Others were angry and hated me since, only 2 out of 29 were allowed in that day. The next lesson everyone had the correct book, most had done their homework, school rules were obeyed. But only these four were way ahead of schedule. They had done so much, they could just sit in class for a week without doing anything. I had no way of correcting them anymore.

I have changed schools since. Sometimes I wish I had a group like them in my new classes. It makes teaching so much more enjoyable. My footy match in A.'s town was cancelled because of bad weather last december.
gerbie: (beachbum)
Z. is a couple of years older than his classmates are. While most just own a scooter, some have started driving lessons, Z. owns a car. Given the age, financial limitations and intellectual capacity of my students, you'd expect them to own something old, something small. Z. doesn't. He owns a Mercedes. Not just a Mercedes, a new one. And with everything to go with it. Judging on what I heard of some students who have driven home with him, only the added extra's and accessories of his car are more expensive than my own car. Last week we had a school excursion. Everybody went by coach, three buses full of students. He was entitled to go with his own car; he had something important afterwards and couldn't wait for the bus to leave. So there we drove on the motorway. 3 busloads of students and a big new Mercedes in-between them.

Z. is not the best student in class. He misses a lot of lessons, even when he's there, he's the prototype of the kid who doesn't do anything, has a laid back attitude, who like to be cool. With just a tiny difference. He can be cool. His car gives him status. Amongst teachers we laugh about us being the stupid ones, he must have some source of income that goes beyond our not even very low wages. Z. is always friendly, at least to me and several other teachers. His English teacher doesn't get the friendly treatment. His first oral was bad, he blamed her for wanting to drink coffee. Today I saw him leave the second oral. His face wasn't as friendly as usual. He swore big time, words not to be repeated. He flunked again. The day before the exam of my subject he came up to me and asked me what he really needed to learn. He did this in a semi-threathening way, the way you see in movies sometimes, faces closer to each other than necessary to communicate. I laughed in his face, the others laughed as well, so did he in the end. He plays with his attitude and tries to find out what he can get away with.

In my class the only time he showed some interest was when we were talking about South America. As soon as Colombia came up his classmates looked at him. The words street value and provider have been used in the same sentence as his name. But just knowing the capital of Colombia doesn't get you far in my class. His exam was useless. On a scale of 10, he scored a 1,1. If you spell your name correct, you score 1,0. Monday I will have to announce the scores to his class. Hopefully I stay in his good books, somehow he doesn't seem the kind of guy to mess with.

Nice

Oct. 5th, 2001 09:13 pm
gerbie: (Default)
"I am not going to be nice again, it doesn't bring you anywhere in life". Bitter words, especially coming from one of my students. I haven't seen him smile yet. "My mother was the nicest person in the world, it got her nowhere", is the explanation for his behaviour. It must not be easy to have lost all faith in life before you're even twenty years old. The first two weeks of the year he was absent. Apparently he had been in a fight and couldn't come. A serious fight that must have been. Charges are being held still. But if you look at him, you couldn't imagine him as a fighter. According to another teacher who knows him a bit better, is his computer the only one to be in contact with him.

He hopes to become a management assistant someday. Therefore he has the same classes as the girls who want to be a secretary when they grow up. The girls make fun of him. It can't be easy, one boy in a class with 20 girls. Certainly at that age. But he doesn't talk voluntarily. He ignores all the girls in his class, even when they try to get in touch. At times like that he seems nearly autistic. To me he says a few words when I ask him something. In the meantime he does what he has to do and that's it. Within a month he has overtaken the rest of the class in my subject. When I do explain some things, he never asks a question. When I specifically ask him if he understood, he just nods. When during other classes I ask him if he needs help, he shakes his head. Even though it is forbidden to use your walkman/Discman during classes, for him I make an exception. Somehow I don't feel it necessary to explain him what the rules are for.

His parents are divorced off course, a lot of the problems in that particular class can be explained by just looking at the family situation of the kids, he is no exception to that rule. Apparently he never sees his dad again. All of this information is confidential by the way, but I assume he remains anonymous enough, should he ever bump into this entry, there are no lies here. His name hasn't been mentioned once, in case you hadn't noticed yet.

At the end of the year he could have a diploma, he will have to apply. He might find a job. But I can't recall ever having seen e boy as bitter as him. Even teachers twice my age agree on that. He has been offered psychiatric help by school, something that doesn't happen very soon in my country. He refused. There is no way to get into his head. I feel sorry, but know I can't do anything.

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May 2009

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