Barely able to catch my breath after walking up eights flights of stairs, though by the time I reached the fourth it was more like crawling. Sweat pouring off my forehead, red faced and puffing like a steam engine, I’ve lost any sense of dignity or superiority as I staggered into the classroom to face my first class in
I’m not very good with names. I find it hard to remember the names of students in small classes, so faced with 80 Chinese students, with unfamiliar names to learn in just eight weeks, I am filled me with dread.
The boys breeze into the room, and without embarrassment, practice their English, “ Hello, Miss. What your name?”
The bell rings.
‘Hello everyone, I’m your teacher for this semester. My name is
, but call me Liz it is easier, I say as I carefully write my name on the board. Elizabeth
“I need to call the roll, please forgive me if I mispronounce your names, correct me and I will try to get it right next time. Also it will help me to know who you all are.” I say breezily.
I look at the roll, “Hell, I’ll never learn all these names, I’m stuffed,” I think.
Just saying, “You” and pointing is not a good look.
I start calling the roll. Thank god most of the students have given themselves English names. The ritual calling of the roll is not only compulsory it also helps me fixate some of the names to faces.
There is Webber the tallest and largest in the class, like a gentle bear, always early and sitting in the front row. Next to him is Billow, never without a smile, wanting to please. Then there is Michael cheerful and eager. Rick and Christine like Siamese twins, arrive, leave, or absent, together. Then there is Rock. Never on time, produces no work and seems to be on another planet.
Somehow the girls all merge together, they all come quietly into the room, smile and sit demurely. Faces and names don’t seem to connect. Except one, Jelynn, she is tall, almost statuesque. She dresses elegantly but not expensively. She has a refined beauty, only after closer scrutiny do I notice she is wearing make up. The other students always note her entrance, especially the boys who, like me, are drawn to her quiet beauty.
She doesn’t always arrive on time, often absent, which I note negatively. This doesn’t give me a good impression; negative thoughts are already emerging about this student. Her work is average and she makes very little contribution to the class. She seems distracted during many activities but is happy to participate in a steady and measured way and the other students want to be part of her group. No one wants Rock in their group, as he is not noted for his enthusiasm or participation.
‘Miss he can be in our group’ Jelynn offers happily, murmurs of disapproval and frowns on the faces of the rest of the group show they are not happy about this, but she responds with a smile and ‘It will be OK’ and they accept this without further rancour.
One day before class Jelynn approaches me earnestly, “What does she want now?” I sigh, “She has been away for a week and has produced no work. What pathetic excuse is she going to come up with?”
“Miss Beth, I’m sorry I was absent last week, but my grandfather was very sick. I had to go to my grandparents’ home in the country to look after him.” she explains.
There is something about the intense way she looks at me, pleading and doleful, willing me to believe her and understand. A crack slowly begins to appear in my natural sceptism.
“I’m really sorry to hear that. But you know, Jelynn, you have missed a lot of work and you haven’t handed your assignments in yet.” I tell her quite sternly.
“ Oh yes, I will get it done.” Jelynn promises.
Weeks go by, Jelynn’s promises of work still haven’t materialised. I am becoming impatient and more irritated with her attitude to her work. She arrives in class chatting quietly and laughing with her friends, she seems in good spirits, confident of her good looks, yet there is an air of vulnerability about her, a sadness in her eyes, which appears when she thinks no one is looking.
“Jelynn you have been away a lot and we are half way through the course, and still you haven’t given me the first major assignment. Remember you are meant to interview one of your fellow students and write their biography. You need to hand it in by next week, or you will fail,” I tell her emphatically.
“ I will give to you on Monday, Miss Liz”, Jelynn confidently states.
Monday comes, Jelynn is early, and she hands in her work. Jelynn, who barely writes a paragraph in class now has presented the longest piece of work I have received from any student.
I now have to read and correct each students work. I leave Jelynn’s until last. I’ve glanced at it and expect it to be a hard read because her skills are not very good, also it is so long it will require a great deal more time. Having finished correcting all the other students work, I take a deep breath and I start to read Jelynn’s piece.
There was a girl had a beautiful mother. She loved her dearly. A little girl her life perfect. Then she grow older she begin to see her parent argue and fighting all time. Her father go out with other women and her mother left at home night every night lonely sad. They shouting and anger around make her very frighten. She hide in corner with hands over head and eye closed, wanting them stop scream at each other.
She start to hate her parents now; they make her life so unhappy. She run away many times when she little. She beaten and sent away to aunt, but don’t really want her, for many months.
At night, she quietly weep under blankets. She did not obey her parents, didn’t do her school work. She is wild. She want to punish parents for the unhappiness they cause her. She would dressed in short tight skirts, high heeled shoe, her make up be of bright blue eye shadow, ruby red lipstick on her face, smoke and drink and staying out all night like her new friends. She want belong, be liked, her new friends didn’t really care about her. They only like her for the money she could bring for their night games . She stole this money from parents. She was make to stay home, but this didn’t stop her go out the window at night, so she could be with her friends.
When she was fifteen she came to her sense. Her parents had divorce. Her mother became very sick, the doctor say cancer. She beg her mother to forgive her for all the terrible things she do. She sit on her bed and cry and cry her heart. She understand now how much she love her mother and how much she want her mother be with her. Every free moment she spend with her mother.
As I’m reading the story the poor grammar is overlooked; the poignancy of the story takes over.
Next class I look for Jelynn. I want to tell her what I think of her story. I anxiously await her arrival. Roll taken, Jelynn still hasn’t arrived. Then half way through class I see her try to slip into class unobtrusively, bent over trying to hide behind the other students, trying not to interrupt the class or gain my attention.
As the students are leaving, I call, “Jelynn, before you leave I want to see you”
She looks startled at first, comes up to the desk, a slight frown appears, “Yes. Miss Liz”
“I’ve been reading the biography you have handed in.”
“Yes” she responds.
‘You wrote a lot.” is all I can say, then add “I haven’t finished correcting it yet. I will give it back to you at the end of the week”.
I go back to her story and continue.
When her mother taken to hospital she go there every afternoon after school and stay until morning. Her mother grow weaker and weaker and she see that death come soon. Emptiness she feel the day her mother die. She like a robot, she don’t think or feel everything done like robot. Now she alone.
Her father didn’t want her. She then sent to her grandparents, her mother’s parents live in the country. They very kind to her. She loves them dearly. Her mother had some of money, which be used for her education.
She now is work hard at college to get good education so she can make her mother proud of her and show thanks to her grandparents for their love and work.