by Michael McVey
During a visit by teachers from a distant land, a veteran teacher is reminded of the first words he teaches his ESL students.
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of speaking to a group of Indonesian English Department Chairs from all over their country. They were visiting as part of a visit to the United States and funded by a Fulbright grant. They were on their way to New York City in a few days and were deliriously excited about it. My talk was about the challenges of technology and they were a very attentive audience. I shifted my usually rapid patter of speech to a gentler pace like the one I used in Japan when I taught English there.
It is a funny thing, quite literally funny, but every time I visit a new country, my students take the time to teach me the word in their native language for "bald" which is a term easily applied to descriptions of my shiny head. My English students told me I did not have a forehead, I had a FIVE-head. Funny. In Japan, I learned the word "ha-ge" from my chuu gakou or middle school students on my second day in the school. They smiled and patted their heads to teach me that one. When I taught in the southwest United States, I learned "pelon" from my students. They were more polite; it took them four days to teach me that one.
This group of Indonesians was very polite and kind. I was a little disappointed not to have learned the Javanese word for bald. I came across them later in the week, walking single file across campus heading back to their hotel. I jogged over a little to wave to them. They immediately came over to me in a gaggle and we chatted briefly. To my surprise, one of them said, "You are looking very handsome today." I was startled.
"Do you mean me?" I asked in genuine surprise. The men who were talking to me were all neatly tailored with open neck shirts and suit jackets. They all had thick dark heads of hair atop their slight frames. They were the handsome ones.
"Yes. Handsome. Very . . . phrenology." They all laughed, as did I.
"Oh," I smiled, "you mean my skull." I pointed to my head and they all laughed again. I drove off to hear them chatting with each other in Javanese. I will bet one of them was explaining how the word for the study of personality and skull shape came into their conversation with their new friend on the other side of the world.
So, what is the lesson here? When you stand at the front of the class, a unique entity, you become the first lesson. Embrace it, use it, but most of all enjoy it.