You can cut the eraser into a thousand pieces

This is another failure story. It was when I was assigned to be a ‘foreign homeroom teacher’ at a junior high school which was set up to provide bilingual education. Unfortunately, the whole enterprise was doomed to fail from the very start due to a complete lack of expertise, common sense, funding and… well, students. I was working with a class of 8 kids, one of which was perhaps the least academically oriented kid I have met. Let’s call him T. T never answered questions, never wrote anything down, slept through most of the classes and only uttered about 3 words in English in the whole semester. Cutting his eraser was by far the most creating activity he engaged in. After failing a vocabulary test, I wanted him to review the words he did not know (all of the test items actually). He looked at the test and places it gently on his desk readying himself to get one of his mid-morning naps when I ad an idea. At a failed gift-exchange event, I got an English-Chinese dictionary, massive, outdated and impractical brick probably not new to the business of gift-exchanges. I gave it to T., saying, you can play with it or try to find the words in it. To my surprise, T. got quite enthusiastic about the task and set to work. He looked up the words, wrote them down, and… NO, he did not turn himself into a hard working student. This is not a fairy tale or a success story. Sure enough, the following week he went back to eraser chopping…

There are perhaps millions of students in English classrooms around the world like T. They cut erasers, cutting the minutes and the hours that they feel they have to cut to get through the day. We waste their time and they waste ours. Sometimes a ‘dictionary’ – something that gets them ticking for a while flies in and we get hope. Usually this one moment remains just one moment and does not develop into a turning point for the student. At that moment, should I have taken the opportunity much more fervently and drop everything else? Even though it would be only for a while? YES, even though I did not believe it would work. What would work would be pull T. out of the class, let him work with his hands, learn to make furniture, to cook, help him discover his value because school as it was presented to him did none of that. But as teachers, we do not have the power to do that, and parents more a nd more have neither. Or maybe we should have a competition in eraser cutting.

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