Oliver Twist

Sat, 13 Sep 2014

The bell rings. Always verified with a glance at my increasingly distressed watch. “Stand up!” I motion with my hands to the class and they rise in unison. “Goodbye students!” I holler, and they respond with “Goodbye Miss Ida!” We point at our eyes and yell SEE and then each other and yell YOU and then we throw our thumbs behind our heads and yell LATER and after I announce “Xia ke” class is over, and the mad scramble to put their notebooks on my desk and make it out the door for their precious free time begins. Oliver is hanging back at his desk. This happens sometimes, they want to hang around and watch me gather my lesson planning notebook.

Oliver is hanging back at his desk. This happens sometimes, they want to hang around and watch me gather my lesson planning notebook, roll of tape, sharpie and other class supplies. There is still an element of novelty to my teaching, despite having already been teaching for almost three full weeks. (Some of my TFC co-fellows only started teaching a few days ago, schedules vary). Some students hang around and look at me. Since conversation is one of the transferable skills I’m trying to teach them, I usually engage at this point. Hang around to watch Miss Ida? Better believe you have to answer her questions.

“Do you remember how to say your English name?” I ask him. (Note: All conversational exchanges with students have been translated for the convenience of my largely English speaking blog readership.)

“No.” He grins.

“Oliver,” I say, forcing that eye contact I keep struggling to teach them.

“Olahv!” He grins again. He’s getting closer.

“Oliver is a name from a famous book,” I tell him. “A famous man in England wrote a book and the main character’s name is Oliver. Oliver Twist. Miss Ida loved that story when she was your age.” The other students who have hung back to first stare and now watch this exchange begin to giggle. ‘Twist’ is, apparently, hysterically funny to them. You would be surprised at the things that are and are not funny to a class of 9 year old rural Chinese students. Or also to D, who laughs and expresses things in many similar ways.

“Oliver Twist!” They whisper in unison, giggling behind their hands as if they have said a bad word. “Oliver Twist!” “Oliver Twist!” “Oliver Twist!” They run up to Oliver and announce “Oliver Twist!” with the same level of enthusiasm you might expect from your cat when it leaves a dead bird on your porch. “Look what I did! I killed this bird! I said Oliver Twist! Aren’t you happy and proud for me? Did you see that? Did you see how great it was?”

The giggles continue, and Oliver himself practices the name. “Olahv Twiss,” he grins back up at me. Do you see this bird I left on your porch Miss Ida? I did it all by myself.

“Yes, good.” I reassure them all frequently. English is a hard language to learn, confidence is important. I collect my things and head back to the teacher’s office, leaving behind a class of hysterical children, whispering back and forth the name of Dickens’ masterpiece.

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