lessons of fear

December 11, 2009

The other evening I went to the post office to buy a stamp for a card I had written and carried with me for too long. Of course the post office in my neighborhoods is open until 7 pm like it always was since I knew it. The building is an old one, flat and long, just the ground floor, no lights above the entrance, no xmas thingies hanging…just a plain, unlit building with tall windows. Sunken in the dark as it has always been, some things never change. At first I thought it was closed for some strike reason as practically inside there were three neon lights on dimming in a room the size of a ball room. It turned me back in time in split seconds, the same tiles on the floor, the same phone booths that nobody uses anymore, the same tall-to-my-chin tinted marble counter. It smells like iron scrap and humid walls.

The woman behind the counter with a puffed-up hair like it’s candy floss looks at me over the shoulder under her glasses and asks: ‘What can I do for you?’ ‘Do you have stamps for US?’ ‘US?? Oh, no. I don’t think so. If you’re lucky maybe I’ll find one..’ She pouts, looking through a pile of messy grey papers, but not really looking. ‘If I don’t find one, you’ll have to pay more, I can give you one for Europe and another stamp which covers the sum’ ‘Fine, how much more?’ She doesn’t reply. Suddenly I remember the post office in Marseille, where I asked for some credit to charge my French card. The woman there had the attitude of a dead platypus too and when I asked if there are instructions of the credit I bought, she just said : “Je sais pas, press 09 and parle avec le robot’. This lady here is much scarier and I am almost riveted in this suspense and feel as if I am going to lose the big pot unless she finds that stamp.  ‘Ah’ she manages to find one. ‘There you go’. She then goes back to her stamping in loud noise her piles of papers and starts printing on a machine that is as old as the post office there or older, one of those printers that go nee-ah; nee- ah; nee-ah – I can’t even  remember their names. I can’t seem to be able to communicate with such people, not even at the level of “Have a good day!”

I go out of the post office and I notice 2 teenagers with checked bandanas, large jeans lowered to their butts , school-bags thrown on the ground, laughing and drawing graffiti on the walls of the post office: it read – “Vampires will eat you”. Couldn’t agree more with them. Further on there’s this greengrocer woman selling fruits and veggies in the bus stop outside on a very small and dodgy stall – she asks me who am I voting for in the elections. I answer I want more oranges please and return the question : she proudly announces with a grin she votes with a man that wants to kill all Hungarians and shun them away from Romania, a man who would call for the army forces if needed be, and there is a need because teenagers nowadays have no respect and spit on the streets and push old women on busses, and she feels this country should be taught a lesson and be run by force, by a strong hand. ‘Pretty lady, let me tell you how things are: we, Romanians learn out of fear’ she adds my pears in a very uneco plastic bag.

Erm, fear? I leave her stall wishing her a good day and ponder: What did I learn out of fear? Hmmm, I must remember fear, it’s a pretty strong feeling… All I remember is a feeling – a grey, cold as steel bars, ash-tasting and  pretty slithery down the spine feeling of fear when all the lights in the city used to be turned off for economy reasons and mom used to lit up a candle so that I could learn Multiplications by 6, 7, 8…etc. by heart. Maybe that’s why I failed Arithmetic in high-school. Guess I was lucky I had a choice later to choose foreign languages, out of a hatred stirred by fear, fear of learning in the dark.


Culture clips always fascinate me…they invite and inspire for discussions and projects and presentations and OMG I just love them:).

Enterprise 4 offers these culture clips at the back of the book: there’s one about Maya civilization and one on some Canadian tribes. A loose question-pack hanging grinning and toothless at the far right end of the page: Who are your ancestors? How did your people form? Talk about your people’ traditions that come from ancient times.

Here we are, on shaky grounds: I had to tell my students that our former president’s formula was a more of a blunder rather  than a joke; i.e. he said (and this is accurate believe me) The Romanians come from the Ducks (read: DAKS) and from the Trucks – meaning The Dacians and Tracians. Students know the blunder and laugh.

Now what do we still keep from old times? I uttered some words which are still used: branza (cheese), manz (foal/colt), balaur (ogre) etc. And then I asked them to think what kind of people were the Dacians and also think of some traditions we have from Dacian times.

They mentioned the heavy drinking habit of the Dacians, the God of  Thunder and other gods they used to worship and kneel to,  the tall funny wooly hats they are fashionable nowadays too, also the fact that they lived in houses made of a mixture of manure…erm, the fact that the Romans came to teach the Dacians how to wash themselves by building the viaducts and introduced the first water sewages in Dacia…all in all everybody agreed that the Dacians were cool because they drank and danced in front of bonfires like we do now on school camps.

Back to traditions: one of them said “Mos Nicolae” (Saint Nicholas), Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Halloween…. (why not Thanksgiving??!) No, not that! I said with my pointer. They gaped into a class murmur and I simply stilted through their rumours of no-know-how… Maybe eating sausages and mamaliga! A girl  blasted her answer in a trimphant hand-up style…No, well, not that Ana…That is just what we do on 1st of May.. A jadded boy replied.

To be honest, it was me who said Martisor (the 1st of March red and white thread) and then they came up with Babele (The Old Ladies – when in the first 9 days of March you choose your Baba and see what your year will be like)…and to save the day, I set this as homework.


My last themed lesson with teenage students was on Halloween. I chose ‘Zombie’ by Cranberries to elicit ‘the masked evil’ because I am sick and tired of gores, vampires, and other spooky faces I cannot relate to in any possible way. Therefore, listening to ‘Zombie’ which sings about the horrors of what wars leave behind, I easily elicited the answer to Who is Zombie – War is, they said…and a concrete silence unfolded when I said there is still war nowadays as you know, this planet is not living in peace…

Another mother’s breakin’,
Heart is taking over.
When the vi’lence causes silence,
We must be mistaken.

We started talking about what starts wars and even historicized violence. They seemed pretty shaken about this topic on violence.  The next move was to make up a poem on War looks like, feels like, smells like, sounds like…thing as much as Peace looks like, feels like, smells like, sounds like…

The most amazing answers from the predictable answers like : Wars looks like blood, smells like blood, sounds like cries and screams (very Halloween-ish I should say), I had one that rocked the day: Peace smells like my grandma’s cake. I said: Oh…can we have some? He mutters more to himself, gaze down the desk: Well, she’s dead. She died in second world war, split by shrapnel. I know my grandma baked awesome cakes because my mom says so…I never got to taste them.

filter this!

September 12, 2009

my friend and I have a new subject of conversation: online dating. we do some research for fun and try to understand the who’s, the what’s and the whereabouts of online profiles. she told me that her profile has no photo and bans all stupid lines as ‘hi, got webcam?’; plus, she can’t stand emoticons smiley faces that appear once she mentions some intellectual topics. bearing in mind she’s a professional and a lovely girl to be with, she tried to find someone at least interesting to chat to. first thing we do is filter the gazilion of information there, so her filters were:


2.aged 27-40

3. higher education

4.interested in: books

5. doesn’t want children.

Quite reasonable, honest filters, i should say, for men nowadays. The page display read: “We are sorry for the inconvenience but the search came with no results. The profile you are searching DOES NOT EXIST”. Then, she unticked the last two. Page started to load like that intro in Startrekk.

how do we teach our kids to filter information? in this day and age, we are constantly complaining that they don’t really know where to get that bit of information for the class because everything they do is copy-paste from the internet. the likelihood that we have a neat original piece of paper on the woolly-mamooth for example is null. i asked the kids how they get their info. are they using filters? what kind? where to they go to when they want to do some research on the saltiest lake in romania?

the point of asking our kids to come with an A4 with some pictures and some info written in times new roman of 12 as a project to be posted on the classroom wall is simply lame. nobody gets to read that anyway, they have no idea what to do with it other than read from it. i witnessed a ‘project’ where my colleagues invited me to visit their class. i said ‘ what on earth are you doing with these kids??” they were supposed to come to the front and read the bits and ends they found on some extinct animal. the rest of the class were playing under the desks, drawing, yawning, the speaker at the front chuffed at the end and rushed to his place after having read stumbling in words he never used. this meant an A.

fliters are paramount when it comes to kids. and teenagers too. this time we have no excuse. this time we, as adults, are in charge of their veering online mazes of  chunks of web pages ad nauseum.

i let my class once to take the liberty and write about an city/place that they find intriguing or that they learnt about from different sources. i remember a girl who had a paper on Sydney. she couldn’t answer my question “why did you choose this place?” she blushed heavily and smiled daftly. “i don’t know, teacher” she said. my thirst for knowledge abruptly quenched. I felt i gave them too much liberty.

the teacher as a cheato-meter

September 11, 2009

i dont understand cheating. First of all, somebody once said “if it makes them feel better, let them cheat” you can’t help it anyway. I became immune to this. Secondly, I cannot sue anyone as there’s no high court of justice for people who break people’s heats. These things go unpunished and people do them over and over again, without taking notice of any change inside them…

i dont understand people who cheat in general. young ones cheat in test papers like there’s no tomorrow, teenagers cheat because they are cool to have cheated, adults cheat because “c’mon, everybody does it and who has the time to study anyway”… I read in newspapers that people plagiarized others in their PhD disertations. Is it because they feel the need to empasize any aspect on that paper? I am abhored of this trend here and this is not recent.

people cheat like they breathe. it’s a cholera spread here and this is hand in hand with corruption at any level.

i was teaching an intensive English class once, only young learners of 11-12 and to my amazement they moved their desks and sat at their desks, the type of desks that are individual ones (one drawback of the internet as it alienates people from people in a kinesthetic way but i will go back to this later). the youngsters were supposed to take my test after i, their clairvoyant teacher had announced “a test shall fall upon you this friday”…i had a good, close to a normal state of mind feeling. the papers were handed out by me. i explained that they are not supposed to ask any question. and the time started to tick. countdown. silence fell like a velvet blanket in that classroom of 10 pupils. all of them, and i mean it, all of them concentrated throughout 50 minutes solely on the paper. occasionally a few of them raised their look and smiled at me or looked outside the window. at the end, they handed out the papers on my desk and left the room. i heard them talk at the break about the solutions they gave and it filled me up with nice post-trauma mixed feelings…have these kids been taught not to breach the protocol? not even ‘verify’ answers amongst them? how come it seems so natural the test hour? are they pristine and i am just obsessed with this idea of cheating? as their teacher, favourite teacher i might add with lack of modesty, i couldn’t help asking myself ‘why’.

still, these are the only 10 people i know in my life not to have wanted to cheat and it made me think harder about attitude.

I also pleaded for this “cheating-free imaginary world” during my class as a tutor. of course i explained the whole line of punishments they would get once they try it, and, in the end, i expressed my feelings in relation to this act. i said i felt, as a teacher, that i am called stupid in my face if any of them tried to cheat, i also mentioned that my blood pressure goes up and i am merciless if it happens under my nose. besides they tested my perfect eyesight and i even spotted the guy figdeting at the back within split seconds. don’t know how many understood. didn’t care. they tested my endurance, my level of “kindness” as they called it, in connection to cheating…

 i am convinced that at least one person out of 28 doesn’t cheat. because it’s 3 years since they graduated and i still get messages from them saying that they are great in their jobs and managed to get in this or that company with their own forces, after they passed honest contests, and also because they learnt how to learn; it makes this life of an educator bearable…

the adamant question

September 7, 2009

the moment you stop asking questions the inside of you is already dead.
if your lover stops asking you questions, then they are probably focusing in another direction that intrigues their sentiments…meaning he or she ‘is no longer there’.
if a parent stops asking you questions they are probably heading to Alzheimer…
if a child has no questions for you or is constantly looking sideways, then as a teacher, we spot a something’s-wrong-at-home behaviour or they are not interested for this and that reason.
how do we raise ourselves to our students’ needs and expectations? what do you remember as a teacher being your first moment of hesitation? have you even quantified the input you placed in them? the questions can go on and hit a wall. our role as educators is a dodgy one, some may not even remember us, some may even recall us with a start, some may blog about our ‘perls’ as we call them and this can go on. the recording of our teaching them once is often placed in a box along with all the other memories of childhood, adolescence or whatnot. therefore, once we step in the classroom, we should smile, look them in the eye and call them by their first names and then they might want to ask some questions – even if we don’t have all the anwers, we could prompt a reliable source. and the liaison is created. they would always trust a teacher who reads and has answers – it’s ok to say i read this in a newspaper or i found this in a thesaurus…
so, next time you open the classroom door as a teacher, ask yourself:

are you actually cut out to listen actively ?