In the Chinese language, the verb used when they are pushed or bumped into or physically bothered by other people gets translated into English as the word use. As a result, the native English speaker is initially confused upon hearing the sentence, “He used me!” This kind of things happens all the time when moving back and forth between different languages, as humans struggle to learn and translate foreign tongues. In some circles, this specific phenomenon between Chinese and English has been labeled “Chinglish.” It’s the combination of Chinese grammar and English words.
This has everything to do with the classroom, especially my classroom. At my cram school, “Chinglish” is an actual section of our curriculum. We pull specific phrases that are common to ESL learners in Taiwan and teach students how to say it with correct English grammar. “He used me!” is one such phrase.
But my point today is not to unpack the linguistic mysteries of ESL phrasing and Chinglish, as interesting as that may be. My point today is not expound upon the complex cruelties of elementary social dynamics in the classroom. I will do this by examining an event that happend in my classroom today.
I decided to be not just an awesome teacher this week, but a super awesome teacher. I ended up purchasing trendy prizes for my kids, and by trendy I’m talking ANGRY BIRD trendy. My students LOVE angry birds. As an adult statement against their childish trends, I have verbally declared in front of my students that I do not have the angry bird game and that angry birds are dumb and not welcome in my classroom. Almost all other English teachers I’ve talked to have taken the opposite approach.
The trendy purchases I made during a minor change of heart included the red angry bird, the green angry bird and the black angry bird (if I remember correctly). The fourth purchase was this heart shaped little zip-up bag decorated with an adorably abstract Japanese cartoon saying in English, “Stay away from my puppy.” I went trendy.
I made it luck of the draw. At the end of class, all 7 of my level 1 student’s names were dropped into a can. I had level 3 students draw names and read them aloud. The first winner got first pick. My four lucky students were Duncan, John, Dora, and Tiffany. Duncan is the youngest student, and also the slowest, and all last semester was actually quite the ordeal being his teacher, as academics and socials weren’t always treating him so well. In fact, he gets rather picked on by the other students and all the girls avoid him at all costs unless they get something out of the deal. I hear deals being made all time like “I’ll let you be my friend if…”
I’ve sent many a student into the time out chair in Duncan’s defense, but I haven’t held back on Duncan, either. All these kids have so much to learn about civilly interacting with the environment. But at the end of my day, I was pleased that Duncan was a winner. He dressed up as an angry bird for Halloween!
So I was quite confused when I saw an angry bird-less Duncan walk out of my classroom.
“Duncan, where is your angry bird?”
“I gave it to Gina.”
“Because she want.”
“Duncan! You won that! That was yours! You should not have done that. You are TOO nice to Gina.”
Gina actually happens to be the younger sister of another student who was in my class two years in a row. She’s leader of the female pack and a much harder character than her older sister. She wields a fierce social influence upon all the girls, and all the boys want to be her friend. She’s sharp, too, but she can oh, so cold. When Duncan told me he gave his angry bird to Gina, I knew exactly what kind of deal had been made.
Gina and her sister are two of the students who stay at the school pretty late waiting for their parents to come pick them up, so she’s always there while I’m teaching my junior high class on Friday nights. Before class started, I found Gina and gave her a piece of my mind.
“Gina, I am not happy that Duncan gave you his angry bird. Why did you ask him for it. You can never be mean to him again! You used him.”
“Yes! That is what using someone is in English! You used him You know how he is, and so you asked him for his angry bird and he gave it to you because he wants to be your friend. Now, he thinks you are his friend. So, Gina, you always have to be nice to him and sit next to him [at this, Gina cringed a little] because he gave you his angry bird. You used him!”
Gina’s look assured me she understood. For better or for worse, I stay extremely in tune with the social drama of certain students and interfere quite often. The students realize I know exactly what is going on. I see through their games.
“Do you understand? You better give it back to him if you are not going to be nice to him for now on.”
Later, Gina came to find me. “Teacher, what if I gave it to you and you can give it back to Duncan?”
“No, you must give it to him yourself.”
I’m extremely curious as to what the ownership of that particular angry bird (I forget which color) will be next week. Very curious. Something tells me it will change.
I will not tolerate these subtle behaviors that lead to the mountain of bullying students are too cowardly to stand up to. I will strike down the ring leaders, and I will do it as their TEACHER. Fortunately, in Taiwan, teachers still do have power.