I knew I had won the teacher lottery the moment I saw the kids running in the halls. It was the first week of school, during a break between classes. I was heading to the Teachers’ Room, saying ‘Hello’ to all the young smiling faces greeting me with “Good morning, Good morning teacher,” or just placing their hand on their chest in their sign of respect. And then the bell rang, indicating the end of a break. ALL the kids picked up their pace, some of them even started running, a half-eaten snack still clutched in their hands. And, unlike in Northern Canada where the kids were more apt to start running for the exit, these kids were heading for their classrooms!
“No running! Why are you running?” I cornered one of the sprinters.” “Teacher I am late for my Math. Can I go please?” The boy seemed to be really concerned. “Of course, run!” I said, dazed. They did not want to be late for class! Were they for real, or had I died and, despite my bad deeds, ended up in Teachers’ Heaven?
Since that Eureka moment I have been in perpetual awe of our students, realizing that I could have never done what they are doing when I was their age. Most of them have big dreams involving graduation from a good Western university. They are all bright. What distinguishes my students from their Western counterparts is that they realize that being smart only gets them so far. Their work ethic is unbelievable. For the oldest students, who are applying to universities, getting a high score in the internationally recognized IELTS English exam is the Holy Grail. Their commitment even takes them to extra classes in the evenings, and even on some Saturdays.
I am lucky to be teaching English to the higher grades, because their English is advanced enough that they get my jokes. There is nothing sadder than telling a joke that falls flat because of the language barrier. Occasionally I must explain some vocabulary beforehand, but they always get it in the end, and I think that they appreciate my bringing humour into the classroom. It’s a fun way to improve their English.
The other day I was conducting an assessment of their spoken English. For this, each student comes at a scheduled time and draws a card with a topic and some guidelines to help them discuss the topic. The topics vary in range, with some of them easier to talk about than others, just because of a student’s personal interests. As with anything in life, luck has its role to play when drawing a topic. When Aslan entered the room, he did not look nervous at all. He is one of those born leaders. He often speaks on behalf of the class. When they all work on a task, I might ask the whole class, “How close to finishing are you?” Often it would be Aslan, volunteering, “We are done, let’s move on.”
Aslan sat down confidently and pulled out one card from the selection I offered. He read his chosen topic. Business. I was very happy to see that his face brightened up, so he was obviously comfortable discussing business, unlike his friend whose earlier unlucky draw forced him to discuss fashion – a topic about which he had very limited knowledge.
Aslan jumped right in, telling me proudly that he already had his own business. He apparently shares a ‘parrot’ business with his dad. I perked up my ears. This sounded interesting. “I help to take care of them and my father gives me money when he sells their eggs.”
I am not supposed to ask any questions during the two minutes the student is expected to talk without many pauses, but I couldn’t help wondering, “How very strange this is. I never heard of people selling parrot eggs. Would they still be viable if they got cold? How could they hatch once they get cold? And how do they transport them? They must have clients all over the country. This must be a niche market. Good for them!” All kinds of thoughts were swirling in my head while I was trying to focus on the rest of his speech.
“Oh, and I also own six tikkies,” he continued. “They are all mine. I bought them with my own money, so that’s my own business.” Now I was really puzzled. I never heard of ‘tikkies’ before. With the two minutes up I started probing, “So Aslan what are those tikkies? Can you tell me more?”
“Yes, they are a special type of parrots. They are bigger.” So maybe this must be some type of a parrot I don’t know. After all, I am no expert on parrots – I could not distinguish between a parrot and a budgie if my life depended on it.
“And what do you do with your tikkies?”
“Well, I also sell their eggs.” So here we are again, how can they hatch once they get cold? “So Aslan, what do people do with these eggs?”
He looked at me with a mixture of disbelief and pity, as if I just demonstrated some inability to perform something really simple, like unscrewing a bottle top (which, by the way, sometimes does give me trouble, especially if it’s one of those child-proof things). He slowly started explaining, it seemed, maybe slower than was necessary, as if he was really making sure it sinks in.
“Well, some people work really hard. Especially in villages. So, when they get up in the morning, they need good breakfast. So, they scramble eggs.” Now I was really stumped. I do see a lot of quail eggs sold at the market, but parrot eggs? They buy expensive parrot eggs and they scramble them? And the parrots I know are not big birds. So how many eggs do they need? This was insane. But what do I know? Maybe it’s some very special Uzbek thing. I pressed on. “Aslan, these parrot eggs, how big are they?” He indicated what looked like a regular size egg. Something didn’t add up here. “And Aslan, do these parrots come in different colors? Perhaps some are red, and some blue or yellow?”
“And can you teach some of them to talk?”
He looked at me as if I were mad. “No!”
“Aslan, I think that you mean chickens.” He shook his head, “No, no, we call them parrots.”
“No Aslan, they are chickens.”
“But what about hens then?” He was not ready to give up his parrots.
“Well, those are female chickens. They produce eggs,” I said with the authority of a fowl expert.
“Ok.” He frowned. He didn’t look convinced.
Now, with the parrots sorted out, I pressed on. “And Aslan, these tikkies ... tell me more. What are they?”
“Well, they are these big parr … chickens.” I kept saying to myself, “Tikkies, tikkies.” And Aslan repeated after me, “Tukkies, tukkies.”
“Aslan, you mean turkeys! Turkeys!” He gave me a sheepish smile, “I guess …”
Oh, I have so much fun here! The students here make teaching enjoyable again!