Last day of class

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.
C.C. Molino, a place full of pirated CDs, movies and ESL tests...

C.C. Molino, a place full of pirated CDs, movies and ESL tests...

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.

8 thoughts on “Last day of class

  1. Ward — Thanks for giving us a glimpse into classroom life in Cusco. I found it useful because I’m going to be teaching writing (in English) at a university next month, and I’ve been wondering if Peruvian students are focused, hardworking, etc.

    It surprises me (why?) to learn that students in Cusco are a lot like the students I taught back in the States, when I was teaching English composition and writing about literature. The cynic in me says, That’s life. I taught both priviledged kids at a university and less-priviledged kids at a community college. Mainly the richer kids were obsessed with grades and would tell my that I had to give them A’s; they would hand in the work on time but would do anything to cut corners. I had a girl steal the plot of “The Devil Wears Prada” and pretend that it was her own! Cheating was rampant. Another girl stole material from the Internet, presented it as her own, and then told me, when I confronted her, “But I’ve never been accused of plagiarism before” (as if that excused her). When I didn’t buy that line, she followed up, “I’ve been really stressed lately because my dad was sent to Iraq.” Shameless!

    The poorer kids were less savvy about working the system. They didn’t hand work in on time and accepted D’s and F’s, not trying to sway my opinion. Most didn’t want to work at all or really learn. However, there were always a few who were honest and worked hard, and they were a pleasure to teach.

  2. Good for you getting a teaching gig Barb.

    Honestly the majority of the students are really appreciative of the opportunity to study. Usually the only ones that are less interested are teenagers who are told to go to class by their parents.

    The biggest thing I look at is finding a way to make them apply what they know, give them the self confidence to believe they can make a difference in the quality of life in Peru instead of accepting the status quo.

  3. And one more thing… cheating is just as common here in Peru (no surprises there). When they feign innocence, I always take the opportunity to teach them my favorite redneck expression…

    So if any of your students ever tells you “I didn’t fall off the cabbage wagon yesterday” you might know where they took English classes 🙂

  4. Si, todo el mundo plagea, pero al menos aqui no damos excusas tontas para safarnos del castigo, si nos cogieron copiando pues ni modo a contentarnos con el cero….

  5. Ward- As a former teacher, I enjoyed your description of teaching— sounds like the same thing I experienced with students in the States.
    Keep up the good work. Even when you think they are getting it, they are, at least some of them. I run into kids whom I taught 30 years ago and they still tell me things they remember from my class.
    Good luck~

  6. Thanks Katharine. I think it’s interesting how people as individuals aren’t really any different anywhere in the world. As a culture the entire experience is of living and teaching in Peru is different than in the US, but when it comes down to individual students they can be just as good or just as mischievious as their counterparts in the US.

  7. The good old days… I remember you were my teacher, and you were like one of the best teachers at ICPNA because you kept everyone laughing. We were all noisy kids but you had a lot patience.
    Nowadays, I teach English to pay for university. Kids are so hard to work with, and they think that because I am about their age we are going to turn the class into a wild party. On the other hand, adults are stubborn and always trying to outsmart me-WHY?- =( I need some tips teacher Ward! Would using more formal clothes solve the problem?

  8. Arturo: good for you that you are teaching and working your way through university. Teaching is never easy but my advice is relax and be yourself. You will never please them all but that is not the point anyway, you can only teach, they have to decide if they want to learn or not. Best of luck

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