There is more to teaching than I ever really considered. I think in a lot of ways it’s about being extraordinarily human, or drinking heavily. Since I don’t really drink, I guess I’ll have to aim for the first option. One of the other teachers said she felt a little psychotic, shifting from being happy and playful to showing anger and yelling at students then back again. For me, it became natural long ago.
I was raised in a house where anger came without warning and it was natural to shift between emotions that quickly. My father did it while he drank, my brother and I did it because it was familiar. Years ago I focused on learning how to switch back from anger after it was spent rather than letting it hold on for the rest of the day. My ex never understood it, that I could go from absolute screaming rage at a video game to talking peacefully and kindly to her. That’s part of the reason I stopped playing. That and the fact that they fucking cheat.
Over the years the rage faded, it’s visits becoming shorter, until I can easily switch back and forth, and the rage never really controls me like it did. I still curse like a sailor when my phone runs slowly, but the emotion doesn’t stay. Fortunately, I never really felt that anger toward people. I could always forgive them almost anything.
Teaching children is still hard, but I think I’m getting better at it. My goal is to control the class and never have to yell. I did pretty well this week, but I still don’t have any students who have hit puberty yet. I wonder if the anger will always have some value. I worry that it will. I am happy that I can usually have trouble with a kid, but get them back into participating and laughing before the class is over. I try to be consistent with what causes the yelling, and what causes playfulness. The problem is more of teaching them limits than it is denying behavior. I don’t really care what they do, unless it hurts someone or disrupts the class. I have to teach, and I have to be able to survive the experience.
It’s not a question of life and death, but of joy and misery. It’s too easy to be angry at children for being children. It’s too easy to see assholes where there are simply people who don’t yet have the ability to understand. To not wonder if it’s a question of being obstinate or simply the language barrier, the cultural barrier, or any number of problems that can be dealt with. To close my mind because I am tired, because I am right, or because I know what’s best.
I believe in questions more than answers, and all they have are questions. They may not yet wonder about life and death, or how innocence dies, but they are still important. Questions I believe I answered long ago. Questions I forgot.
It’s like teaching English. When we speak informally, without perfect pattern, it’s encouraged. New words, concepts, and ideas are rewarded by cultural acceptance. When we write that way, we’re crude, stupid, and lazy. People mock grammar nazis because they try and stop the evolution of language from entering the written word, but the value of the written word is in it’s formality. It is the power of the written word to express what we cannot, do not, or will not, speak.
One of the reasons Mandarin is so different is that they write the way they speak. “I want.” Written and spoken the same, and not wrong or informal. The sentence is fine, but it grates against my cultural idea of politeness. I have trouble using it, even in practice, without adding something to make it more suitable to my understanding of the social contract. It’s one of the things I challenge my students on the most, that when they say “I want,” it doesn’t make it important to me.
Today I learned that want and need are often the same word in their language. The importance is the same. If they never leave here, it doesn’t matter, but half of English is the culture, not the language. How you speak, not just what you say. How you move, how you react. I think one of the biggest problems with people becoming fluent in English is that you have to be so immersed in the culture to really understand the language. I wonder if it’s the same in all languages.
I doubt I’ll ever really know, or even if I really want to. I enjoy the questions, the search, and finding the answer kills the mystery.