Рассказы об учениках и учителях, интересных проблемах обучения и преподавания, трудностях в общении, а также о разных жизненных ценностях.
LEARNING THE RUSSIAN WAY
Moving over to the window, Peter threw his wrapper into the bin and bit into the sweet. In just a minute, the headache disappeared. Sugar helped, but Peter couldn’t understand why he had to learn complicated formulas with his other classmates. In the classroom he tried to question the beer-bellied teacher about the more difficult exercises, but the large man just smiled and said that it would help him one-day… Weird!
Peter was tired, but his homework wasn’t yet done. He wished that he could just answer some of the questions like ‘can the residual of two figures be more than their sum’, for example. It seemed so easy at first sight, but he was stuck on the problem for a long time. He couldn’t concentrate and soon his thoughts slid away somewhere else…
Peter closed his eyes and relaxed in the chair after his long day. He felt annoyed, but the reason wasn’t his dull homework – it was Mary, his classmate. She was cute, well-educated and he enjoyed seeing her eyes on him, though it made him feel uneasy and this was when the bloody surged to his cheeks. He didn’t fancy her, even though she was different from other girls in their class – but the worst was that she knew it. Peter tried to hide his feelings and none seemed to notice his reaction. He didn’t want to be friends with Mary, not yet. But being an acquaintance was okay… for now. Or didn’t he believe his true feelings? Peter did not want to answer.
He thought about his last chat with Mary at school and sighed. She’d come up to him with a friend, the red-haired Natalie, who was rather cheeky and a bit stuck-up.
‘Hi Peter’, said Mary. Natalie rolled her eyes as if being hit by Mike Tyson’s uppercut to her jaw.
‘Hi girls’, said Peter, ‘How’s things?’
‘Okay, thanks’, Mary replied. Natalie was holding her left elbow tightly. ‘I’ve got a few English Grammar questions – would you mind if I e-mailed them over to you tonight?’ she asked.
‘What? To me?’ he asked. He was surprised. He knew she had some private teachers from the UK and her English was far better than others. But she never asked for help. Not yet.
‘Sure! After all, who can explain English better than you?’ Mary flattered him and raised her eyebrows.
Before he could think of a suitable answer to her question, the girls were already by the class next door.
It happened today and Peter thought it had something to do with the Maths lesson. A few days ago, the Maths teacher – well known alias ‘Teddy Bear’ – came into the class with a wry smile and said, ‘If any of you know how to solve the problem during this lesson, you’ll get A-mark for the third school term and be let out early!’. It sounded like a joke and to Peter it was.
‘Two ships are leaving piers from opposite river banks at the same time. They are moving towards each other’, whispered Alex, his neighbor – he was good at Maths and it was a challenge to him. ‘Both are moving at different but entirely steady speeds. They met for the first time, 720m away from the shore, but then moved away from each other again. Then each made a U-turn and began to track back across the river, meeting the next time, 400m from the shore. What is the distance, therefore, between the river banks?’ Peter wished he could find the answer, but to no avail.
‘Do you know what the answer is?’ whispered Mary over the aisle.
‘Not a clue’, answered Peter. He shook his head, not daring to look up, but instead rested his chin in his hands and pretended to think. His cheeks once again burned red through his fingers.
No-one succeeded in the lesson, but many of the class promised to have an answer by the following morning. Except Peter.
Peter e-mailed the puzzle to Robert, his friend in Manchester, but had no reply as yet. Robert must have been pondering the answer as well, no doubt, but if he did know the solution, he would surely make contact. Peter moved the sheet with the problem away and focused on something else. He thought about his private school in the Manchester suburbs. There were a few teachers who were helpful during the afternoon classes and helped pupils with their homework. He smiled as he reminisced about his time there. Mr. McDubley was really funny – always blinking his eyes when Peter couldn’t understand the Maths. Mr. Watersmith patiently explained the dull and boring grammar rules, but Peter never felt so desperate and exhausted as he did here in Moscow. He’s never been given so much homework, never. It was better in Manchester before…
A few days passed and there was no lucky man to cope with the Teddy Bear’s problem in his class. Even Alex failed. ‘Teddy Bear’ exulted over them, many classmates were really upset, but Peter didn’t care. He thought it was nonsense but not a challenge.
He had a few work books about Maths on his desk now, as well as two or three on History and Geography. He’d heard that there were more than twenty by different authors on English grammar that had been approved by the Ministry of Education – unbelievable! – those Russians are nuts about this stuff and they like to exaggerate. In his early days, he thought that there were exams for each class book, but was really surprised to find out he was wrong. It was only one exam. He wondered how he could choose the right course to take and books to pass the test successfully. All his efforts though were in vain – no-one could explain, simply relying on teacher’s knowledge, experience or simply a ‘hit and miss’ answer… Oh those Russians!
Peter came back to the Maths again. ‘Teddy Bear’ usually explained exercises for ten to fifteen minutes, as it took the other kids a little longer to understand his speech. Two or three more exercises took them another twenty minutes – why the hell did this man demanded a further ten to fifteen more exercises for homework? ‘Teddy Bear’ didn’t care how long Peter spent on this boring work and nor did the other teachers. Each of them thinks they’re the Lord of the manor and the pupils are mere slaves. Of course, they know more than the pupils, but homework always seems to be more than the lesson – why? Why should they do homework tree-four times longer than at school? Again, there’s no-one to explain.
Tomorrow they’ll have six lessons, two of them would be PE. Alex told him once how long it would usually take to do this ‘boring Maths shit’. However, Alex was a geek – one of the best in the class, so Peter could only imagine the efforts that, Mary or Natalie, for example, would have to go through to do the same. Awesome. If they really tried to do their homework, they’d have to do it well into the night. And no night clubs and parties, of course.
Peter imagined a teacher making all these exercises alone. He wondered if there was anyone who could endure it? Highly unlikely. He thought of Dad’s stories about his old good times when they had only one teacher. The man taught them all the subjects for the whole year and there was another one who “inherited” them in the following one. Peter thought if there were such a system in this Russian school, the teacher would not be able to give them so huge home exercises. He simply wouldn’t be able to check up the following day. Too much for one person. Even for ‘Teddy Bear’. Peter tried to gauge how long it could take him to check up their exercise books. The result was shocking: three hours per each class daily. Five classes meant fifteen hours. It was impossible. Even if a teacher were a genius and were never tired, even if he could read faster than any ordinary person, even so he wouldn’t be able to spend less than five-six hours per day for checking their homework. Without any coffee break and smoking! It was impossible to imagine. He understood now why his home works stayed unmarked so often. ‘If they do not care of what they ask for, why should we do then?’ he sighed and fell to thinking.
It was China he reminisced about. Two years ago, Dad convinced Mum to go altogether to China. He had some partners over there and planned to set up a business with Government in the South of China. It took him two years to understand it would be not so fast and his partners could not do all routine job without him. But life in China was a nightmare for Peter. Dad was crazy about his own childhood and the way he was educated in a John Dewey’s school. He wanted Peter to follow his way. He made Peter work at a factory in China for a while. On Sundays. There was no air conditioning and the food was lousy, always. But Dad said Peter had to learn life the way it was: no sugar, no sweets, just pure water, hard work and perspiration all over the body. The humidity was always 100% and the temperature was over 30 Centigrade all the day long. It was a disaster. Peter barely survived. At school they studied six days a week and almost ten month a year. But there was no home work at all in there. Strange. And now he was in Russia. Not much better but he had no perspiration every day at the very least. Dad said the future would belong to nuclear energy, and he was sure the Russians had some good ideas on that. Dad is a very smart man. But he’s as stubborn as a mule. So, he even convinced Mom to teach in The University of Foreign Languages in Moscow to move about.
Peter smiled and eyed another pile of papers. Damn, Geography! In the afternoon he hesitated about how to fill in the maps and how to find the coordinates of some cities and mountains. He didn’t, however, now. He knew Google Maps would never-ever let him down. He entered the data and got the first reply. With a safe conscience he jotted down all the necessary latitudes and longitudes on the maps and gave a stretch with delight. Even though he was against the boring homework he did not want to upset his Dad. Doing too much was not the right way to success, he thought. Peter was tired. He’d be better off leaving all this behind now. He was thirsty and died for some tea. But he kept one eye on the monitor. There was a flickering envelope in the right down corner. New incoming mail? His heart missed a beat. It was like email apnea. He could not say how but he was sure it was Mary’s email in there. He clicked the icon. Damn, it was her!
‘Hi Pete, could you help me to translate the text below, please?’ – was number one in her ‘list of wishes’.
H-m-m, she could do it herself... But after looking through the pages Peter understood their English teacher alias ‘Dragon’ was in a very bad mood today: the text was about fiber optic glass and its physical characteristics. How could they translate it from Russian into English? Even he could not… For some time. this job absorbed him and he did not notice the second question in the message. After pressing the “Reply All” button he saw Natalie’s email in the address line too. There were also a few words about it down there: ‘Please, help us with Natalie because she is my best friend and we won’t translate the text without your help. I owe u a lot, Pet!’ My aunt! It was unfair. Peter wanted to delete the message but decided to scroll it down. And in the end. he found one more thing.
‘Peter, u know, I have a problem. A friend of mine asked me to translate a few words for her. Could you have a look, please? I’ll email you all the questions in the second message,’ she was really a ‘hoo lee’ as the Chinese used to say. ‘A cunning fox’. He did not want to help Natalie but he did want to help Mary. They, women! What kind of secret did she want to keep from Natalie but reveal to him? He was intrigued. Peter didn’t delete his message. He waited for a while and all but pressed ‘Send’ button. It was through. But another one appeared instead on the message bar. It was a mail agent notification about one more incoming to his second account. Peter chose ‘download’ option. In a few seconds it was on the screen. And it was from Mary. What could she hide from her ‘best friend Natalie’ in it?
‘Evening, Peter’, she began in her Russian way. She was nervous for sure. There were too many mistypings in her second email. He smiled; she usually made a lot of thumbos when texting, too. ‘I have a very unusual question to you. You see, I have a very close friend. She lives in Saint Petersburg. We have been close since childhood. It’s a very long story. But now she is in trouble. She has a boy-friend in the UK. They met at Malta last year. And unfortunately, she fell in love. But he does not reply to her emails anymore. That guy even changed his Skype account and she cannot call him now. So, she wrote him a verse. Could you be so kind to have a look at her version that I also tried to correct a little bit, please? Please, do not comment and no jokes. It is a sensitive matter.’
Peter smiled. He was obviously flattered. Mary’s words gave him quite a thrill. He no longer thought why Mary kept this a secret though girls usually adored to gossip about such stories. He felt the inspiration overwhelming him. Here, he began to read:
No matter if it’s day or night,
Your glance is no longer bright
As it was seven days before…
But you are right: what is it for?
Why am I begging for a kiss?
Why do I wonder if you miss?
Why am I talking so much
And do not dare even touch?
Who am I now? Who are you?
Are two too many or too few?
If you don’t love me, nor do I!
And saying this I want to cry…
But if I hate again to meet
Why feeling pain is so sweet?
And nobody helps reply:
I can’t help suffering… but why?
Peter fell into deep thought and entered his own world where time stood still. Even though there were very many mistakes in the verse, it touched him. He was typing and thinking, and noticed nothing around him. His father knocked at his door twice and even half-opened it, but Peter did not turn around. ‘Hard worker as I am’ – thought Dad and went back to his room. Peter meanwhile kept on doing his unusual “homework”. Finally, he was through. He relaxed and read the lines from the very beginning:
Effulgent day or stygian night,
Your ardent glance, no longer bright
As it was seven days before…
Pitiless pain! What is it for?
Why am I begging for the kiss?
Why do I wonder if you miss?
Why do I dream and dare not touch;
Yet, overwhelming fear I clutch?
Who am I now and who are you?
Is two too many or too few?
If you don’t love me, nor do I!
My sin in blood-red tears I vie…
But, if I hate again to meet,
Why is this poignant pain so sweet?
Beloved, this is my gutted cry:
I can’t help suffering… but why?
Peter was satisfied. It sounded good and Mary’s friend’s guy is likely to be surprised. Undoubtedly. That’s what they wanted and they’ll get it. Email disappeared from the screen and dropped into Mary’s incoming box in the north suburbs of Moscow. She started when the speaker beeped loudly, and clicked the envelope icon with a trembling hand. As she was reading it brought tears to her eyes. She was looking at a young boy’s picture in her hands and whispered his name. It was the guy she met at Malta the year before. She could see nothing but his face and was quietly crying.
But Peter couldn’t see it. He was far away. His throat was soaring. He wanted to drink. So, he rushed to the kitchen. Mum and Dad waited for him over there.
‘Sonny, you look a little odd’, said Mom.
‘Yes, I am’, Peter agreed and smiled.
‘Was your homework so interesting?’ wondered Dad with a witty smile. ‘I opened your door twice but you even did not react.’
‘Oh, yes, it was. You’re right’, Peter said with a happy smile.
‘I told you’, he nodded to Mum. ‘He is clever and can adjust to any circumstances.’
‘Sure, you did’, smiled Mum. ‘Like father like son.’
‘Come on, honey, do not exaggerate’, said Dad. ‘Nowadays they have completely different homework. They know so much. It’s fantastic. I do envy them. And their homework must be also interesting.’
‘Oh, yes, it is’, Peter confirmed candidly. ‘I wish I could have it always as much interesting as tonight!’
All three sat around the table and began to talk merrily about their family matters. Everyone was happy in his own way. The homework was done.