And in this corner: The English Teacher!The 7-year-old jumped onto my back while his 4-year-old sister clung fiercely to my leg. With a final, Herculean effort, I managed to shake them off and begin the arduous process of calming them down long enough to teach them the alphabet. Hired by their parents to tutor them in the finer aspects of the English language, I had become a glorified baby-sitter.
I’ve had my share of students in this country so enamored with English that you could set up a stand on the street with a sign saying, “English lessons here” and watch a line appear instantaneously around the block. The job is usually a breeze; most of them are adults looking to hone their conversational skills.
With these two, however, my fatal flaw was exposed. I didn’t have a clue how to relate as a teacher with children so young. Should I play the strict disciplinarian, assigning pages of copying the alphabet until their handwriting was perfect? Or be their friend, establishing a connection that would make them receptive to what I had to say?
Unfortunately for me, I chose the latter. Sensing my unwillingness to raise my voice as long as their mother was in the kitchen, they pounced on their new plaything with a youthful enthusiasm.
For the rest of the summer, the hour I spent with them every week was passed either wrestling them off or telling them a story. Luckily, they had a stack of Berenstain Bear books that I read aloud, providing some blissful moments of peace and quiet.
Once they had been lulled into submission with the Bear family’s antics, I would try to slip in any tidbits of education I could. Sensing that I was about to begin teaching, the crafty duo emerged from their peaceful listening mode to become twin terrors even World Wrestling Entertainment would be proud of.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed the job, the money having something to do with it. I made the same amount in one hour of tutoring that I did toiling for five at my school’s library. So every week I took the envelope and gave a nod and a smile, happy to get paid for doing the same thing I did for free with my youngest cousin. Yet the gratitude the mother expressed as I exited the apartment left me with pangs of guilt. Even with all that time I spent with her children, I realized that they hadn’t learned a single thing.
It’s been one year, two months,12 days and counting since the last time I stepped into the apartment. While I enjoyed my time with the youngsters, it’s safe to say that I haven’t looked back.
by Steve Lee