I don’t remember ever saying exactly that Valentine’s Day is just a cynical marketing ploy to get people to spend more money than they can afford on tat that their dream partner neither wants nor likes in an attempt to either emotionally pressurise them into providing sexual favours for them, or in an attempt to provide a public display of the intensity of their affections. It may not even be an absolute certainty that I am on record as stating it is essentially one huge conspiracy to make single people feel inadequate. I mean I do see that you might consider you have a fact there, but I am in the business today of providing alternative facts. Today’s alternative fact is that Valentine’s Day is marvelous. It is a great opportunity for, oh, I don’t know, students say, to present flowers and statements of adoration to, oh, I don’t know, their English teacher say. To help you imagine it more clearly, let’s make the example more concrete. How about MY STUDENTS, giving ME FLOWERS on Valentine’s day. Wouldn’t that be lovely?
Here is my haul from yesterday:
I know! Splendid.
The day didn’t start of splendid though, because I have a vile cold, that has transitioned from horrible phlegmy cough to nose streaming stage. This is horrible for teaching, even more so because culturally I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do. People here wear masks if they have a cold, I’ve never seen anyone use a tissue or handkie. People do snot projectiles in the street with abandon, but mostly men, it wouldn’t be OK in class. I felt grim.
I wasn’t sure about attendance today, because some students asked whether or not there’d be a class today it being Valentine’s and all. I was non-plussed as usual. Then again, I suppose if you just take on a festival without any context why wouldn’t Valentine’s Day be as big as Christmas say. The day before another set of students told me about the Valentine’s Day couple run taking place at the Olympic Stadium. It cost $9 to enter and couples run round the stadium tied together. I’d have loved to have joined in that, but it clashed with teaching.
The first class was a bit hit and miss. Only four came, and one of those came briefly, took a phone call, and then had to go. I wasn’t feeling all that inspired. The students were tired, exhausted even. It’s like they come along anyway not wishing to miss out, but feeling actual participation is a bit much. It was OK, but didn’t really flow. I was trying to encourage the student who would like to be an architect one day to write to the Architecture Tours people to ask for some work shadowing, but this concept is alien here. I wrote out a possible email for him on the board but he kept saying ‘I don’t know enough to go’, whereas that’s sort of the point. Oh well, I tried.
I was flagging by second class. Even more so, when by 6.35 I only had two students. When another two arrived I gave them the option of working with the book, or doing something else. Some division, but one really did want to do the book, so I agreed we could. Then a fifth turned up, breathless and late. He set about making a little speech, and from his backpack produced a chocolate flower with paper packaging with something of a flourish. A valentine’s flower for me! Because, apparently I am a wonderful teacher, and it will be so sad when I leave, and they all will love me and remember me for ever. (Who knew?) I was genuinely touched and taken aback. Then, somewhat bizarrely, another student produced a single red rose, also a Valentine’s Day gift for me. This was amusing and awkward in equal measure. There was an element of competitive rose giving and orations in my honour. More so, when I had to pose for several photos of being presented with the rose. I hope some will make it onto Facebook, but I fear it may be for some other purpose. Oh now, wait, some did, but not the actual presentation which is a shame…
In any event, I was mightily chuffed. It is unquestionably nice to be given not one, but two flowers by my students, it did make me feel valued. One also took the opportunity to add that they will miss me so much, they will get me another present when I leave. This was again nice but in a somewhat cringe-inducing way as I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to have this information shared with me.
I was/am prepared for a somewhat awkward and cringe inducing final session, but hadn’t expected the emotional farewells to kick in quite so early. I am going to sob when the time comes to say goodbye. It was the first time the students have been so eager to articulate what the sessions have meant. How much they will miss me, how much they value what we have done. One looked like he’d cry as he can’t imagine ever having another teacher as amazing as me ever again. I don’t know how I feel about that. I want him to have an even better teacher next time around, I want him – all of them – to be given every opportunity to succeed. That’s what my head says. My heart says these students are all mine, no-one else must ever be allowed to connect with them as I have done, and share with them what I have shared. You can see how intoxicating and idea a cult of personality is if you can get away with it. Maybe more of us have narcissistic tendencies than we like to admit. I was honoured, humbled and very, very pleased indeed. Honestly, I felt loved, briefly, but sincerely. Maybe there is something to be said for such public proclamations as long as they are sincere if not exactly spontaneous.
It was a bit hard to get back on topic. Work. Yawn. We did some fairly dull talking about the jobs in the books. I gave each of them one of the one’s pictured and they had to say, what the job was, what the person did, what they would like about the job and what they would not like about the job. I made them do presentations, and that was good. Some were nervous, but they all did it, and more so, I made them do them a couple of times so they had to look up and present properly and they improved incredibly. I then gave them the option of doing it all again, but this time with their own job. Oh my god! Such enthusiasm, where did that come from. One literally punched the air saying ‘oh yes!’
I offered help, and wrote some scaffolding statements on the white board to get them started. Nothing too complicated, so it could be essentially a gap-fill exercise for the weaker students, but room for development by stronger ones.
Hello, my name is…… and today I’d like to talk to you about my job.
I’m a/ an …………. and I work at……………………..
I like/ love my job because….
I hate/ don’t like my job because….
I think in the future I’d like to be….
but my dream job is to work as/ be a ………………. one day!
Thanks for listening – any questions?
After ten minutes or so, they each had a turn at presenting. Well, I was just astonished. They were amazing, really amazing. Suddenly all this vocabulary and enthusiasm and passion came pouring out. They talked about their jobs and I learned loads about their aspirations, skills and unique talents. They want to be entrepreneurs; CEOs; managers. One said ‘there is nothing I hate about my job’ (double negative there), and that he doesn’t work for money, he wants the money so it can work for him – he’d like to be an investor in start-up projects I think. He is involved in selling real estate and travels all around Phnom Penh. Others work in dual languages, supervising staff. I cannot begin to express how brilliant it was. Clearly, their English wasn’t perfect, but it was really rewarding helping them to craft the sentences they needed to talk about ‘thriving under pressure’ or their pleasure at learning new things. Plus, they actually presented well, asking if people had questions at the end, introducing themselves. Perfection.
Also good, and rewarding to watch, was being reminded that it was nerve-wracking for some of them. One said as she stood up ‘my heart is racing’ (I taught them this phrase when we talked about being scared by the balloon bursting in a session some weeks ago!) but you know what, she felt the fear and did it anyway, really well. I noted that some also got their friends to photograph and video them in action. I suppose it’s so commonplace to me, the idea that you would get students to give presentations within a class, but they don’t really here. Classes are too big for a start, and then of course they are presenting in English not Khmer. It’s pretty awesome. I thought I’d burst with pride and delight at their achievements.
Later on I posted on Facebook about how well they’d done, and to thank them for my flowers. I got a little flurry of comments saying again how much they’ll miss me. I am so shallow, I’d happily die for any of them now. Here are some… aw.
Wish to see you again one day. I miss you forever 😍😍
I wish: “I can visit your country and see you again”
I never forget u
I don’t care if that is just us all being a bit giddy from Valentine’s Day and being carried away by the emotion of the moment, I felt great. It is nice to get some positive affirmation. Also, it is the first time ever I have been surprised by flowers on Valentine’s Day and it was really lovely.
You might have thought, the day couldn’t get any better, but yet there was more to come. One of the other groups had got students to make valentine’s day cards for all the teachers in class. So I got a card with my name on it and everything as I came down to the teachers’ room. We all did. It was really fun. Other teachers had also been given flowers – one a whole bunch, and one had been given a cake. That gets the prize I think! We were all a bit hyper, but very pleased. Photos were posed for.
So if Valentine’s Day could be like this every year, I’d be in. Really, I would!