Friday, November 20, 2015

Stories from my Turkish Classroom

               In the middle of a sentence about something that even I can barely here because the class is so loud, a man who is as tall as he is round enters my classroom and asks me, very politely, something in Turkish that I don’t understand.
                One of the students who has desperately been straining to hear me translates: “He says he needs to give a test. Maybe 10 or 15 minutes.”
                I’m not sure what choice I really have in this matter and, let’s face it, all I’m doing is talking to an uncaptivated audience of howler monkeys more interested in throwing their feces around the room than becoming bilingual howler monkeys so, “Please, by all means, give your test.”
                I watch with annoyance as the howler monkeys morph back into humans and actually listen to what this teacher says. Annoyance because I know it’s possible to teach on Earth, but I’m stuck in the Land of Oz – the parts where the trees throw apples at you and flying monkeys dive-bomb you while you’re walking.
                The test is passed around. I can’t read it because it’s all in Turkish and I’m functionally illiterate, but the first direction must say, “Return to your wild state” because, just as quickly as they’d returned to being people, the monkeys came back. Students up out of their seats, looking at other students’ answers very blatantly. I remember some of my classmates very conspicuously trying to sneak a peek at a paper, always making furtive glances back at the teacher to make sure she didn’t notice. But the howler monkeys knew nothing of the art of subtly. I glanced at the man who interrupted my class. His hands were in the pocket of his lab coat jacket and his mouth was turned into a complacent smile. He just shrugged his shoulders.
                I sat down next to a student who struggles mightily and whose lack of conspicuousness was disturbing his desk partner. As he was up, staring, googly-eyed at her answers, I took his paper. He sat down. “Teacher,” he asked, because despite my insistence, they cannot seem to understand that “teacher” is my job and not my name, “where is my paper?”
                “I have it.”
                “Why do you think I have your paper?”
                This student shrugged his shoulders. “I need.”
                “I noticed you were looking at other people’s answers.”
                “Teacher, what?”
                “You were not at your desk.”
                “You were looking at (student’s name) test.”
                “No, teacher.”
                I gave him back his paper, but continued to sit next to him. Within 30 seconds, he was up again, his face three inches away from another student’s test. I took his test again.
                “What were you doing?” I asked when he returned.
                “I see answer.”
                “That’s called cheating. It’s not okay. If this were my test, you would earn a zero.” (He already has earned a zero for doing the same thing during one of my tests, but I was told I should “treat him like a handicapped person.” For the record, if an actual handicapped person were cheating on one of my tests, they would earn a zero, too.)
                “Teacher, yaaaaa.”

                And then, he ate a bright pink post-it. 


It has finally happened. They are finally in their seats. They have finally stopped talking. I am in the middle of the classroom, typing their ideas furiously, turning a bad piece of narrative writing into an interesting and actually readable piece of narrative writing. Strong hands are in the air, students are anxious to talk, but they're behaving respectfully and waiting until their classmates finish. This has been going on for ten minutes. I am hopeful that this might last for the duration of the lesson. A shadow hinders my view.

"Teacher, here is my homework." 

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