Tuesday, 12 December 2006

Disruptive Behaviour, Very Short Stories

Monday 11th December 2006

Any teachers reading this will be very smug about my emotional naivety in this matter, but today the kids pissed me off. I mentioned that the department head is off in China shopping for household goods this week; what I hadn’t guessed - which should have been obvious really - was that I would be taking her classes as well as mine this week. So I arrived to a full morning of double-sized classrooms (30 kids, that is, barely a classroom by UK comprehensive standards, but a bit of a handful for my second week of teaching) who had absolutely no intention of studying at all - that being the usual course in case of teacher absence. There were two streams of students (advanced and intermediate) in each class, and I still have only the vaguest idea of what they are supposed to be studying in both cases.

Do not think that I did not rise to the challenge. So much teacherly behaviour is so deeply ingrained into us from years at the receiving end that when a situation arises the required pompous edicts just roll off our lips. In fact, how did the first teachers learn this, back in the mists of time? We may never know.

The further advantage in my situation was that when a student came back with a sarcastic comment I could come back at them at double speed, leaving them floundering with their English. As for what comments were being made in Mongolian I can only surmise - but of course it was easy to retain a contemptuous disdain for anything I couldn’t understand.

After my third straight lesson that morning I went to see the deputy with a list of names (which I had got students to write down themselves at the moment of admonition - another neat little psychological trick I must have picked up off some sadistic teacher at some point) and the intention to introduce the concept of detention. One of the American students was already in the office complaining that she too refused to tolerate any further disruptive behaviour from the spoilt brats in her charge.

The deputy spoke to the students concerned, and returned to tell me that the students might benefit from having clearly laid down rules. Now, as I understand the concept, Rules are there to be broken, twisted, questioned, or to have loopholes exploited. A very unreliable tool for this situation. How did British courts respond to the challenge of dealing with young offenders within the legal framework? By introducing the nebulous concept of Antisocial Behaviour of course.

So, I wrote the following list, to explain some concepts to the Mongolian kids. I am so set against rules that I was very pleased with the final result - not a rule in sight.

Commonly accepted standards of behaviour in the classroom:

-To arrive for the lesson on time. If late, to explain to the teacher the reason for lateness.

-To take your seat promptly and to get out the relevant course books, exercise books and writing material for the class. Certainly to have this done so by the time the teacher is present in the classroom.

-Not to listen to walkmen, mp3 players, etc; not to talk on mobile phones, watch videos, play games or engage in any similar activities at any time during class. Whether or not a phone, mp3 player, etc is in use, not to sit with earphones on. To expect that should such activity be engaged in, the items will be confiscated, at the least for the remainder of the day, if not for the remainder of the week or longer.

-Not to have work or books relating to other subjects out during a given class.

-Not to eat or drink during class.

-Not to engage in private conversation while the teacher is talking nor while the class are working.

-If asked not to do something, to immediately comply with the request, and not to repeatedly engage in the outlined behaviour.

-Not to put away books at the ringing of the class bell nor in anticipation of the bell ringing. To only put away course materials when the teacher says that the class is over.

-If a student has a question for the teacher, not to shout it out , but to raise their hand until the teacher indicates that they may ask their question.

If any of these activities are engaged in, it is to be understood that they present a serious obstacle to a subject being taught, and that it is therefore understandable that a teacher may need to use disciplinary measures to deter such infractions. Typical deterrents include (but are not limited to):

-Confiscation of items that should not be present during class; such confiscations enduring at least for the remainder of the lesson, more probably for the remainder of the day, week, or in some instances longer.

-Detention: requiring a student to attend an additional class at the end of a given school day.

-Lines: The writing of a line such as “I must not behave ignorantly and oafishly during class”, typically to be repeated 5, 10, 100 or more times. As seen in the opening credits of The Simpsons cartoon.

-Generally, additional homework being assigned to the miscreant student, such as “Write a 500 word essay on the benefits of self-discipline.”

Tuesday 12th December 2006

I guess I must have worked something out of my system by writing my vindictive code of conduct, because today went fine at school. It was helped by the fact that the students had to do a 2 hour maths test in the morning, enabling me to finish marking the exam essays from last week. I was still teaching the double-sized classes, but the lessons went much more smoothly today.

WIRED magazine recently asked a bunch of leading science fiction and horror writers to write a 6 word short story - based on the fact that Hemmingway wrote such a story and apparently considered it the best thing he had ever written:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

My favourite contributions to WIRED were from Frank Miller:

With bloody hands, I say goodbye.

which could stand in for the majority of Miller’s work, I think; and also on a theme often visited in the author’s work, this gem from Alan Moore:

machine. Unexpectedly, I invented a time

(which took me a long while to get, possibly owing to ‘machine’ being published online with a capital ‘M’; surely an error?).

So I introduced the concept to my classes today, and we discussed why any of these might (or might not) be considered a story, and so on. I wanted to force the students with a weaker grasp of English to write something and get the better students to think more about word choice, and be more concise in their writing (hey, maybe I could learn something there too...). I was very much surprised at the results, because the students got the idea and really worked on it, seemed to enjoy it too. I ran around the class reading out the stories as they were finished. Some were really good. After such successful lessons, feeling that I’d encouraged a little bit of creativity in the classroom I decided to run a contest for the school for the best Very Short Story. The winner gets an English language paperback of their choice (max value T10000) from the State Department Store.

After the Very Short Story I’ll be stealing Brian Aldiss’ ‘Mini Sagas’ competition from the Daily Telegraph - for stories no more than 50 words in length. I found some good examples of these online from foreign language students (to which I may link here if I can figure out how to) and some not so great ones from a competition where the winner was a synopsis of The Lord of the Rings. 50 words? I did it in 6 for the benefit of the class:

Frodo gets Ring. Sauron is defeated.