Teaching

Stacking chairs: last lesson of the day via Hemingway and a bullfight

It’s 34 degrees Celsius, 27 students have just arrived from double maths, it’s the last period of the day. They are like prison inmates smelling freedom for the first time. Grown men have taken flight from less terrifying prospects than trying to teach English under these circumstances.

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… , then Devon starts throwing the pieces of an eraser he has been meticulously slicing into cubes at Jonathan on the opposite side of the classroom. Jonathan has been drawing a dragon, that’s really quite cool, and looks with bewilderment up at the ceiling which gets the trebuchet crew to begin buckling over in restrained laughter. Meanwhile Alice is deeply engaged in coversation with Molly who, having caught my stare, is feigning interest while under the desk her hand is trying to shush her friend or at least draw her attention to me. Jill, Skye and Candice, bless them, are disassociating from the class by focusing on me with such intent it’s quite unnerving. Jack and Ben are duelling light sabers that look just like pencils, their sound effects are fantastic!
I sense a disturbance in the force paduans, put aside your weapons, someone may get hurt. As I walk away I can hear the light sabers deactivating.

With faultering enthusiasm I explain how Hemingway’s writing is like an iceberg. Most of what’s important is not written, not seen, we have to fill in the gaps…
Like the gaps between Tony’s teeth? Josh shouts.
Tony, your teeth are fine, unlike the gap between Joshua’s ears. Josh leads the laughter, I smile, high five him. Ok, we’re on.
Hemingway loved bullfighting. One of his mates was gored, got a horn where you don’t want one. They’re sufficiently intrigued. A little blood goes a long way, and I am in blood stepped so far I must go on.

Sometimes, the bull wins. The bullfight is a metaphor for life,
Picasso was intrigued by the bullfight as well. The matador has ten minutes to make a clean kill. As the frothing, bleeding ton of muscle charges you, you must stand your ground and drive the sword behind the neck down into the heart.
I demonstrate the swirl and downward thrust with the board ruler, quite elegantly I believe.


Sir, if there was a bull here, I reckon you’d be dead.


Thanks Davo for that vote of confidence.
Undeterred I continue. You know, sometimes school or reading a novel for English can feel like being chased by a bull. What do you do?

You grab a white-board ruler and stab it sir? Josh says, he’s on a roll.

You do whatever you need to do, but you stand your ground and do it, I say.

Just “do it” Chris jabs Donovan in the ribs, raucous laughter ripples through the class.

Yep, that’s how you fight your bulls.

Then one day you wake up and realise that all this stuff you’ve been doing, is actually for yourself. That’s a great moment, one I hope you all have. It’s about looking at things differently. Changing your perspective …


The end of the day arrives and I ask the students to stack their chairs. A daily ritual to acknowledge the people coming in later to clean, a nod of thanks and a closure. They stack their chairs. Some of them show me they’ve listened to what I’ve said. They’re looking at things differently, and I’m the richer for it. Thanks guys, you make me smile from the inside out.
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