04 December 2010

Hilarity and horror

Our topic in my pre-intermediate afternoon class this week was animals, and we started the week with an hilarious lesson on the verbs we use to describe the sounds animals make. My students happily clucked like chickens, roared like lions and barked like dogs, and we laughed a lot.

On Tuesday and Wednesday we covered animal habits, habitats and body parts, finishing with a fun game of ‘Go Fish!’ as students raced each other to get the most sets of animals with fangs, tusks, hooves, wings, gills, scales, etc.

Thursday afternoon was fun too, as a Japanese girl instructed us all on how to make origami cranes and frogs. It required acute listening skills, reasonably dextrous fingers and quite a lot of patience on the part of our instructor! Once again, we laughed a lot, but the results were beautiful, and if you press the frog’s bottom with just the right amount of pressure, it will do a complete somersault. I’m still practising with mine!

The first session on Friday afternoon, however, was more horror than hilarity. One of the discussion questions I had set the students was ‘What’s the most interesting animal you’ve ever eaten?’. With students from such diverse countries as Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Turkey, Italy, Japan and Korea, I knew it might produce some interesting results but I was not prepared for one Korean student’s horrific description of how his countrymen prepare dogs for the plate. Apparently, the best way to ensure the meat is tender is to hang the live dog upside down and beat it to death. My student quickly assured me that he thought the process was disgusting and he had never eaten dog but, as a long-time animal lover and animal-rights supporter, I was still shocked.

We quickly moved on to what I thought was a much more pleasant question, about what pets the students had. But even that produced a shock. The same Korean student related, with much sadness, how he had had a lovely little dog for 4 years but when he left home to attend university in another city, his mother had sold his pet for $500 and kept the money. A quick hug from me stemmed the tears that were welling in his eyes and, luckily, it was break time so he had time to recover before we finished the week with a board game about animals – ending with more fun and laughter as they all competed for first place.

Sometimes, teaching produces these unexpected moments and, when I first started teaching, I very quickly learned that you need to think on your feet. But that dog story almost had me dumbstruck.

At times, I feel more like a mother than a teacher and, in fact, one of my Saudis calls me ‘Mum’. It makes me feel old, but I am also flattered that he thinks so well of me. I used to think teaching was about instructing but, actually, being a teacher is a truly multi-faceted profession: you have to be part actor, part motivator, part comedian, part friend, mother or older sister. Probably the smallest part of all is instructor. In spite of moments like the Korean dog story, teaching is certainly the most rewarding work I’ve ever done.