Essays for the Last Day of Summer

My summer intensive courses have finally come to an end. Thank whatever god(s) preside over TEFL. I will make my libationary offerings this week for having passed through that particular Valley of the Shadow of 60 Hour Weeks.

I come out of it with a strange phenomenon: my middle-school students like me. They actually seem to think I’m sorta…cool? It’s a strange thing. In the past, middle schoolers were the hardest of the hard for my teaching. Especially the boys. They were difficult in Chile, and they were challenging in Korea. There are possible societal reasons for this in both places; machismo is real and palpable in both. My young male students were often simply beginning to assert their place as male.

Still, I find it interesting that I can so easily win them over these days. Maybe it has to do with being four years older than when I first started teaching in Chile. I’m definitely of ‘Teacher Age’ now, and no real threat to anyone in terms of adolescent stupidity. I’m a grown-ass woman. I’m not a greenhorn. I’m married. All these things make little differences in the perceptions of my students, and somehow they seem to have come together in the middle school summer courses I into which I was conscripted.

I spent weeks teaching them about writing. We read Jonathan Smith. We read Hemingway. We read Faulkner! I turned the shitty, desperately boring lesson plans provided me into something resembling an actual English language arts course. We spent a week each on News Articles, Movie Reviews, Creative Writing, and Essays. On the last day I taught them, I told them we’d be writing a persuasive essay.

We went through two hours of practice, learning how to construct and express opinions. And then in the last hour, I put this statement up on our interactive board:

This is the greatest class that you have ever taken in your life, and your life will never be the same. You must argue that this statement is true. You must write at least five paragraphs.

I did this deliberately. I mean, these are kids with whom I’ve done ten push ups when they were being punished for swearing. I knew that this would get some hilarious responses.

‘Miss Coleen?’ said Richard, the completely-fluent kid in the class.

‘Yes? But it’s Mrs, actually.’

‘I cannot lie. See, I’m a Vulcan. I cannot lie.’ (He is obsessed by Star Trek.)

‘Uh huh. Sorry dude. Remember what I told you: learning to BS well is one of the most important academic skills you can hone.’

A smirk.

‘Ok. I guess.’

And this is what they wrote:

I can talk English as well as a professor in Oxford now!…Our teachers, Coleen and M (edited for anonymity), are also pretty good. They are exactly superheroes, who saved the Earth for hundreds of times. They can fly in the sky, make fire, and electricity from their hands. Millions of aliens ad been killed by them. -Big Ben

First about the teachers. Coleen is a kind woman. She comes from America. She is teaching students so patient that all of the students are loving with her. M is another teacher. She comes from South Africa. She is very kind, too, even though she is a black man, but she is a member of the students. She speak English very clearly and all the students and teachers are praising with her. – Steve (who was punished most often for nonsensically interjecting, ‘Oh, shit!’ in class)

The chairs in the classroom are very nice. We all sit on the chairs in the class. They are confortable. We always sit on chairs to do our homework or finish our works. – Martin

(Completely missing the boat on what the essay should be about) It is a best computer in my class. look! It’s a difinition touch screen! We always study this computer. It’s very intuitive. We can download some app. For example, we can use this computer find some information. And we can play game on this computer. Oh! I think it’s a best computer. – Joe

What are the best teachers! They are so beatiful, so interesting. They like listening crazy music. I like them! What are the best classmates! There are five boys, but only have two girls. Boys like playing phone game on the break time, like mine craft, Temple Run. Sometimes teachers take them phones away, they were sad. One of the girl like doing her homework on the break time, I’m the another girl like reading books on the break time. – Candy

…Secondly, it strongs my courage. I was often a little afraid to speak with foreigners, because I couldn’t speak English very well–just some simple and easy dialogue and I couldn’t understand the words they said quickly. After this class, I think I can do it better. -Wendy

…I also liked the teacher, Coleen. She was not very strict but gave punishment to rule-breakers. She was fun-loving and fair to all of us, even though we were not allowed to choose our teams for the team quiz. I have a feeling we have something in common, and that she was much less unnerving than some of my other teachers a [company name redacted]…P.S.Everything that is not fact is mostly lying. As a Vulcan I feel that I should be completely honest. P.P.S. The P.S. is not included in the essay and neither is this. -Richard

Reading their essays made me happy. I was sad to see them go.

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