“We Live Inside a Giant Copy Machine”

-David Key

I suppose this is really an appropriate follow-up post to my last one… One of those, “Which do you want to hear first, the good news or the bad news?” scenarios. Except I didn’t give you an option, and instead thrust the good news upon you first, which I’ve learned from movies is rarely the way people actually ask for it to be given.

I suppose it’s worth mentioning that I’m only afforded this opportunity for a post at this hour on a Monday morning because my Mattayom 5/1 class, whom I only see once a week for a big, long, 100-minute double block (as opposed to two 50-minute blocks at different times in the week like all the other classes), had been replaced by 30 inverted chairs atop desks this morning. In a way this was all too appropriate in that “full circle” kind of way (you may recall on the first day of school the class was also canceled without any forewarning, though that experience was slightly more dramatic than this), because today would have been our last day of regular class. Meaning that next week is finals, which I was actually given the option of doing in the normal schedule with the other teachers as opposed to doing them on my own time, unlike midterms. Except even this has become problematic, because my finals were going to be short, individual presentations by each student, and I was told today I was given one hour block (read: not nearly enough time) for all 130 (give or take) of my Mattayom 4 students and another for all 160 (give or take) of my Mattayom 5s. Oh and I should be prepared for many of my kids to be missing from class this week due to “activities”, which (I suppose one can only construe, after what feels like the thirtieth demonstration) are clearly far more important than the classes themselves.

But I digress. Though it did seem fitting to convey the source of my current frustration with the job, it’s more of an institutional issue than any problems I have with the students, and, delightful as they all are, the little whippersnappers do have their ways of grinding this curmudgeon’s gears. Which is what the real focus is today.

It’s actually not a very extensive list, and most of its items won’t even warrant much attention at all. Like, the fact that they spend 10 minutes drawing margins on the pages of their notebooks. I’m sure in their other classes this helps them achieve a high level of organizational efficiency, but I find it largely unnecessary and I’d even go so far as to call it a complete waste of time.

Item Two doesn’t go for everyone but in my post-Lunch classes there are a handful of (mostly) boys that come sauntering in about 5 minutes late(r than everyone else, who are probably a bit late to begin with) to every class. Unfortunately, given the bizarre, no-time-allotted-for-class-changes nature of the schedules, we’re forced to show a certain level of understanding when it comes to tardiness, but their track record is certainly suspicious. I’ve considered prohibiting them entry a few times, but I have a feeling this would come back to haunt me.

Item Three: Headphones! In what world of absolute insolence do we live that gives these kids the message that it’s cool to sit there and listen to their newfangled gadgets while I’m giving a lesson? Good-natured as I tend to be, I always ask whether they were listening to English music (as though it’s some kind of after thought, and as though I’d allow them to continue rocking out if this were the case). The answer, without fail, has been “No”. Which leads me to believe that even though Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, and (judging from commonplace T-shirts and graffiti) Slipknot have made good names for themselves on this portion of the globe, the English-speaking market is severely behind that of the Koreans. (See Super Junior, Rainbow, and Girl’s Generation; but don’t be fooled by their English names, song titles, and frequently nonsensical refrains.)

This brings us to the Fourth Item (that comes readily to mind) on the list of Things Students Do That Grind This Curmudgeon’s Gears. And this, most undeniably gear-grinding item, is copying. Lord have mercy. I’ve told them, over and over. I’ve asked, “Do you think I’m stupid?” (And have had my “angry” cover blown when the odd student, either sincerely or because he or she wasn’t paying attention, nods assertively and says, “Yes,” to the horror of the rest of the class, causing me to crack a smile.) I’ve shown them just how obvious it is that people are copying when 12 students in the class have answered a homework answer with, “I perfer stay at Elite Hotel because it lovely and beautiful hotel,”  after displaying identical grammatical errors throughout the rest of the assignment as well. It’s gotten to the point that I can see that the majority of my students more-or-less get it, and roll their eyes a bit when I get on my soapbox for the umpteenth time to ask, “Copying is good or bad? Copying makes Teacher happy or angry?” (Yes, that’s patronizing use of the third person).

And yet… there’s still that handful of kids who just can’t kick the habit. In a way I feel like it was destined to be a losing battle. You can’t walk through the halls without stumbling upon a group of students huddled around a Chosen One’s notebook, completely unabashed and presumably also stumbled upon by the odd Thai teacher, who could do a better job of chewing them out than me, but seem to only turn a blind eye instead. When lamenting about this with my fellow farang teachers David issued the title-winning quote about our existence inside a photocopier. And it was kind of the same in China. It seems like in this culture, being able to provide a correct answer is far more important than being able to steer oneself through the process of getting there. But while I try to be open to most aspects of this culture in which I am a stranger and a guest, this element really doesn’t cut it for me.

Which is why things got brought to a new level, and David’s “copy machine” quote became a bit prophetic, on Friday when I was checking the homework from my Mattayom 1s (my ‘little guys’, I like to call them). When they’d handed it in the day before I noticed a few did so on regular white paper, as opposed to the lower-grade recycled paper our copies come out on. Foolishly, I was proud of them for having taken the initiative to get a new copy of the homework, rather than use the old “Teacher, lose!” excuse. That is, until I saw, well, this. From two different classes:

ol' goo was so benevolent as to dish out his paper to two of his lazy friends!

she turned in a photocopy complete not only with the answers of the original, but also a few of her own, in blue pen, where the original had forgotten to. simultaneously outrageous and amazing.

or how about this: seven papers that use the answers "go jogging" and "go shopping" in the exact same spaces... even though those weren't included in the options to be used.

It was pretty astounding to me, and a bit heartbreaking to have to explain to the kids who were quick to note that it was they who actually did the work that got handed off to the other little sneaks, that they were complicit and therefore subject to a bit fat zero (and accompanying frowny-face) as well. I think even more heartbreaking was that no sooner had a finished my rant than I looked up to see a girl blatantly copying her neighbor’s sheet from the day before (which I’d already said multiple times we didn’t need on the day in question). A losing battle indeed, it would seem.

Of course, there are the kids who take the high road, and do their own work no matter what degree of confusion they may be experiencing:

But hey, at least he lovs his mom (if only on 9:55 on Saturday).


About Angela

I'm not actually a sleeping monk (though if I had my druthers...).
This entry was posted in Thung Song and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to “We Live Inside a Giant Copy Machine”

  1. RoryinChina says:

    I’ve nominated you for a Seven Links award. Check out my blog post:
    Now it is your turn!

  2. Jess A. says:

    Collectivist society at its finest! Loved this post.

  3. Pingback: English Poetry By Thai Students | i'm having the THAIme of my life!

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