Most of what happens to me in the classroom isn't enough to merit its own extended blog post. But as the Vietnamese school year comes to a close, I want to share a collection of stories from my classes. This is the first of 2 installments of the teaching 'story basket'. So without further adieu, here are 4 little windows into what class with Peter is like.
4th Place 🙌
Fun fact about Vietnamese people: they hate China. They hate China with a fiery national unity. Why? The simplest way that it has been explained to me is that China bullies Vietnam. If you look at history that is certainly true and it continues to this day.
On an unrelated note, when I start with a new class I always make a point of doing an icebreaker activity. I do my best to establish an atmosphere where students can be relaxed and we can make learning as fun as it can be. And of course, one integral part of every icebreaker is going around the room and saying names.
I was doing just that with a class of highschoolers one day. When one boy tried to say his name another student said something in Vietnamese and the rest of the class laughed. I asked what was so funny and this class clown responded that the student’s name said backwards sounds kind of like the Vietnamese word for China. So his nickname is traitor.
The rest of the class giggled. ‘Traitor’ just rubbed his eyes, looking tired. Idk man, I thought it was funny.
3rd Place 🥉
The Good Samaritan
This might not be quite as entertaining as some of these other stories but it touched my heart, so I’m writing about it. Hanoi gets hot; it gets really hot. I first arrived in Hanoi during the dog days of summer (of 2014). Even though I had just arrived, I had plenty of teaching hours and, in the beginning, it was always a struggle to find my way to class.
On one particularly hot Saturday afternoon, I was lost. I was racing around looking for my class in the hot sun, tired and dehydrated. When I finally found my class I was about 10 minutes late, and absolutely drenched in sweat.
When I came into the class I was in quite a state. It looked like somebody had doused me in water. I was too thirsty to really even speak. When I opened the door the chatter of my 8-year-old students immediately gave way to silence. They all stared at me in a state of bemused pity… all of them except for one that is. One little girl quickly jumped up and ran into the kitchen.
I trudged to the front of the class and put my backpack down. When I turned back around the little girl was standing in front of with her arms outstretched, offering me a big glass of iced tea. It was the sweetest thing… maybe ever.
2nd Place 🥈
My Gay Admirer
“How To Write A Letter” is inevitably in the curriculum for every high school and most middle schools. I taught in a lot of public high schools and middle schools so I had a lot of chances to perfect my lesson plan for this topic.
Since no Vietnamese class is complete without a game at the end of it, I am obligated to find ways to make even the most boring topics into a fun game. It continues to be challenge. My game for the “How To Write A Letter” class was to have everybody in the class write a letter and not sign their name. The letters would ideally be entertaining in some way. The students would then hand in their letters to me and I would read them aloud to the class. The class had to guess which of their classmates had written it. It can be hilarious if the students do a good job and write something funny. Or it can be boring if they all write cookie-cutter letters.
The game was going well at first; the students were laughing, I was laughing, the letters were (mostly) well written… until I got one letter that was addressed to me.
“Dear Peter,” it began. By the time I realized that this letter was a profession of love to me, I had already read through a rather mushy-gushy analysis of my green eyes. The class was losing it.
Realizing what this letter was, I looked up to see the effeminate boy in the class who always sits with all the girls flailing his arms and covering his face in embarrassment. He apparently hadn’t been paying attention when I told the class that their letters would be read out loud at the front of the room. The class laughed and laughed.
I felt pretty bad.
The good news is that this did not strike any nerve beyond pure embarrassment. It was obviously no secret which team he played for, nor was it subject to any disrespect or discrimination that I had ever observed from his classmates. So I didn't 'out' this poor kid. For how traditional a country Vietnam is, I have been pleasantly surprised by the open-mindedness of young people here.
1st Place 🥇
The Cream Pie
Sometimes, to practice the conversation structures I have taught them during class, I will have my students prepare and perform small skits. One morning I was teaching to a group of 15-year-olds in a public high school and the topic was "weekend activities". At the end of class I had my students break up into groups of 2 or 3 to prepare this skit over the course of about 15 minutes.
Most of the skits were pretty normal and boring until the 2 resident hooligans stood up for their turn. Their skit began like this:
Student A: Hello, what you do this weekend?
Student B: I watch porn.
Student A: Oh, it’s fantastic! Did you have anything to eat?
Student B: I had a cream pie.
….What?? You can barely speak English. How did you know about THAT?
Actually, I don’t even want to know.
Some of the more worldly (and linguistically gifted) boys roared with laughter. The other boys and all of the girls just looked confused. I just did the face-palm. I was actually kind of impressed that this kid even knew what that meant. This class was pretty terrible at English so I’ll take any progress I can get I suppose.
My policy on inappropriate language in the classroom is that as long as it is used with correct English, I don’t care. This was a little over-the-top though, so I said something like “Okay okay okay, I think we’ve heard enough. Now sit down ya couple ‘a pervs.”