Students and the Darndest Things

One of the interesting things about teaching at an all boys school is that I get to see, for better and for worse, the boys behaving the way boys behave when there are no girls around to impress. The homerooms are basically multi-resident bachelor pads that start out clean and get slowly grungier and grungier over the week.

The other interesting thing is that boys tend to forgive slights, both real and perceived, more easily than girls and they can be a lot more forward. As a result, many of them aren’t shy about confronting teachers and/or back talking. Usually, as a teacher, I adopt the rule comedians live by: never let a heckler have the last word. For example, when a student told me to shut up, which at least he did in English, I talked him out of the room–he seemed to think we were actually going to fight–and let him explain to his homeroom teacher why it was necessary for me to shut up.

Every now and then, though, one of them says something that I can’t help but let pass. They aren’t always confrontational, just different. The student who told me to shut up gave a funny, improvised speech about how he was the best speaker in Japan. He wasn’t going to get a good score because he hadn’t actually followed the assignment. However, I said he was right, he was the best speaker, and said he was going to the speech contest. His “Really? No no way” (in Japanese of course) was pretty funny, although perhaps not the way he expected.

Another student gave a speech about his skin, which he kept deliberately pale and sickly looking. Once again, it violated pretty much every requirement of the assignment, but was done well enough I let it pass.

In a less happy one, a kid in a lower level junior high class decided that because he didn’t understand what he was supposed to be doing, he was automatically granted free time. He put his book away and took out a pair of lighters and started playing with them. I confiscated the lighters and turned them into the homeroom teacher. The next class, after I called his name in roll I said “Gotta light.” he just mumbled “Fuck you” under his breath. Since I was the instigator, and since it was the most English he’d spoken in two classes, I let that one slide.

This one technically doesn’t count because it’s from a different school, but when I was back in Niigata, some of my students were returning from P.E. They’d been studying Judo and were still in their dogis. One boy looked an me, held up and flexed his arms like a body builder and said “I’m fighting for justice” and then went on down the hall.

My favorite, though, involved two high school boys who, because they were friends, always worked together on in-class projects. Work, in this case, being relative not literal as they spent most of their time messing around and talking. After a while, I told them that if they didn’t get their work done, they’d never be together again. The more flamboyant of the two looked me straight in the eye with feigned horror and said “Like Romeo and Juliet.” I laughed through something about not ending up like them, but I’d already lost that round.

The student lost points, of course, for not doing his work correctly, but it was a small victory for me as he probably never noticed.


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