The school where I teach English (ESL) is on a monthly schedule, like many of the private institutes here in Cusco. Last day of class is typically quite an experience and yesterday was no exception. This month my schedule was in the afternoon, when most students are teenagers, and here’s how it all went down:
- I arrive about five minutes before class starts, when the students are feverishly copying each other’s workbooks. In true Peruvian fashion, they generally ignore my daily reminders not to wait until the last minute.
- We get in the class and all the 15 year old girls pretend to really like me, tell me I’m the best teacher ever.
- I go over everything that’s on the final exam. Most students ignore me entirely and instead make a feeble last-minute attempt at studying for the exam.
- I hand out the exams and someone promptly asks me to explain the very same question that I was giving them the answers to about 30 seconds earlier… At that point I can’t help them because I’m busy tracking down the one student who tried to steal an extra copy of the test so he can sell it at Molino later.
I wish I hadn’t said that…
After I snatched the exam back from the kid who tried to make a profit of extra exam copies, one girl gave me a mean look because I wouldn’t explain to her the very same thing I was talking about a few minutes earlier… and that’s when I told her exactly how I felt. In no uncertain terms I explained to her this is my “fun job”, that I get paid as much to teach the class for an entire month as I used to make in 3 hours and that she better not give me any grief because it’s not worth it to me.
Shame on me 😦
Then I went home, graded the exams and saved the grades on a diskette. You read that right, a diskette. Some fool in IT conned the “Directors” into believing diskettes are somehow safer than email.
Teacher… I have to have a really good grade or else my family will…
When some kid fails class, it’s often a huge problem in their families. I wish someone would explain to parents here that it makes no sense to send their kid to the next class – where they won’t learn a thing – if they haven’t mastered the fundamentals in the class before. The point isn’t to get some arbitrary grade, but to be able to express your ideas in a new language.
“It’s not what you know, it’s what you do with your knowledge that matters.”
My best friend, Bert, used to tell me that, and he did more to bring an end to the Cold War than Pope John Paul II. It took me years before I actually started to believe him.
Here in Cusco kids study a lot of things, but they often don’t apply what they know. Many families want their kids to bring home good grades and fancy certificates from institutes all over Cusco, but none of that matters unless you actually apply what you’ve learned.
Overall I really enjoy teaching English. Most students like me because I’m a gringo, and for that same reason I can get away with flaunting all the petty rules our “Directors” make. Instead of teaching my kids good old fashioned values like the Directors want, I play loud rock ‘n roll music in class and tell them all to be rebels, not to accept the status quo in Peru but to fight against poverty, prejudice and the injustice of “haves vs. have nots” in society.
Then I walk out, smile at the old ladies who run the place and say “hola chicas”. Bert would be proud.