Thursday, September 15, 2005


The other night I saw the look in the eyes of one of my students. I had had that look many times in the past, but it's rare that I see it reflected back at me. She had something she wanted to say, and she was nervous about saying it, and it was not because of a lack of confidence in her English abilities but because she was concerned, deeply concerned, about what my reaction was going to be.

The day before she had begged, pleaded, practically demanded that the final exam be held three days earlier than planned. Go figure. A student wants a test earlier than scheduled? Whatever. I just wanted to make sure proper protocol was followed. She talked to the administration, the administration talked to me, and it was a done deal.

Ah, but that was then.

Because now she stood before me humbled, chagrined, downright embarrassed. The words stumbled out of her mouth. She had talked it over with some of the other students, and a few of them were upset about the change in the date, and well, you see, would it be possible, by any chance, to go back to the original test date? She would talk it over with the management herself, if possible, and she was very, very, very sorry to have caused any disturbance. It was all her fault, she said. All her fault.

She was scared shitless to tell me that she had backtracked. She was worried what I was going to say. I was the teacher, and teachers are given a great deal of respect over here, and she was probably anxious about the fact that I might be ready to rip her a new asshole.

I almost smiled, but stopped myself from doing so. I remember -- long, long ago -- approaching teachers and asking them something difficult, asking them for a favor, asking for forgiveness. It is not an easy thing to do, because our teachers are not people but alien beings from a solar system far, far from our own. Gauging their potential reaction is slightly hazardous, if not downright nuclear.

I told her not to worry about. No big deal. Problem solved.

She looked relieved. I hope she was relieved.

At some point in time, I have become the guy at the front of the room. (If only for a little while.) The guy who you approach with a certain degree of caution. When did this happen? Why did this happen? Not sure. But there it is.

I haven't felt like she felt in awhile, but I'm almost certain that I'll feel that way should there be an afterlife, and should I stand before any kind of Christian/Muslim God whose precepts I should have been following a little more diligently.

"But this is the thing," I'll say. "I had an inquisitive mind. I didn't necessarily doubt what you were saying, no, but I wanted to keep my options open."

"Right," this skeptical God will say, followed by his own David-Spade-from-SNL-impression: "Bu-bye..."

And down I will go, to that other place.

So I can empathize with my student, because I've been there, done that, and I'm sure I'll be there again, in her position, asking sympathy from a strange and unknowable ruler, at some future point in time.

And in case you were wondering, she sheepishly came by the next day and asked that the test be changed yet again. The fear was a little less in her eyes the second time around. I guess that's progress.

1 comment:

Christa said...

You don't seem like the intimidating type, but it is, as you say, the culture there. I think my students aren't intimidated enough! I am getting a bit tired of the ones who fall asleep in my class...does this mean that I'm boring? I simply can't accept that!