Saturday, October 25, 2008

Strike that Ass and Where's your Butt?

"John has only two balls," the teacher said, trying not to blush.

She was not discussing the strange need of the adequately equipped John to be superhumanly endowed.

That was an English teacher giving an exercise in the use of although. (Although John had only two balls, he gave them both to his brothers.)

And that teacher was me.

I can see the textbook- makers chuckling as they write such sentences for the poor teacher to handle in a class of thirty boys and girls.

Perhaps it isn't the textbook makers who are the villains.

Language has changed so much that unless you are alert, your words may sound suspicious. The fall of a word from innocent to obscene gives rise to unintended vulgarity and giggles in the class. A teacher has to step cautiously around formerly clean words like gay, come, bush, hole, pussy, D... ... you know. Besides the media, the songs and writing to which the adoloscents are exposed promote the new, not-so-clean meaning rather than the original.

Teachers of old had to only mind their language. Now even gestures convey multiple meanings.When I taught my daughter in class twelve, one day she came home embarassed and told me not to show my finger at the class. You see, I'd had this habit of counting out points on my fingers. I never noticed that a finger stayed up as I waxed eloquent on a particular point!

Every generation of students has a teacher who organises 'kiss contests'. But the GK teacher in my staffroom created an 'earthcake' when he threatened to screw the students who didn't perform well in the 'kiss'. Of course, what he meant was that he would put pressure on them to do well.

Sometimes you realise, too late, how your instructions sounded in class. After assigning tasks, I would ask my students to 'do it silently' or 'do it together' or worse, 'do it with your partner'.

The worst was yet to come as I smiled wisely and advised, "Keep doing it till you get it right." And then there were snorts that just couldn't be suppressed. That's when I wanted the earth to split open and swallow me up.

I thought I'd learnt never to put my foot in my mouth ever again.

But yesterday I blanched to hear myself say to the eleventh standard student -
" Strike that 'as' and where's your 'but'?"