I pop two mint sweets into my mouth and turn to the chalk board. I haven’t made much progress with this class, and they are less than five months away from the mock exam. I’m not able to use the right textbook because most of them know nothing. I resorted to the textbook being used two classes lower.
“Summary. Open your book to page 50 in your English textbook. Look at the passage there.” I write summary on the board and turn. I drop the chalk close to my teacher’s workbook and look at them. “Who can read for us?” I look around. “Yes?”
The students look at one another.
“You are writing your exam in about four months and you can’t read a simple passage?”
A hand goes up. The only one that usually did. “Segi, yes?”
The girl stands. “Today, Si-ne-se—”
I look at my book. “Chinese.”
“Saineese. Today, Saineese food is weh know around de word, and re…re…re—”
“Re-si-pis for Saineese cook can be fond in most cook-book and on—”
I scratch my head. “Do you understand what you are reading?” I sigh.
A part of me wants to read it all but they need to learn to read. Most of them would end up on the streets of the village anyway. They will become farmers and traders like their parents. There’s a slim chance, one, maybe only one will move on to college. For the sake of that one, I take a deep breath and look at Segi.
“Re-si-pis for Saineese cook can be fond in most cook-book and on many wabe-seet. Wabe-seets. While book wit some in-for-ma-son about ah-n-ci-cin-cint Saineese food haf sor-fi-fe de cen-cen-tu-ri fask-cin-cinna-ting new informason ha come moh reck-cenli from tom-bi.”
She looks at me. And I stare back sure she must have a headache coming like me.
“Thank you. You may have your seat. I will read it again and please listen carefully.” I pause for effect. “Today, Chinese food is well known around the world, and recipes for Chinese cooking can be found in most cookbooks and on many web sites.” I look to see if I had their attention. I did. “While books with some information about ancient Chinese food have survived the centuries, fascinating new information has come more recently from tombs.”
I read it two more times. Then I tell them to answer the questions after the short paragraph. While they do, I contemplate the next paragraph they have to read. How harder could it get.
For the next thirty minutes, I pop mint sweet and endure the reading. I have to do it. The former teacher who taught English had cared less. I’d been told the last set of graduates scored 100% failure in English.
I can’t save them all. But maybe one or two will pull through.
“You will go home and read the passage from the beginning to the end. Tomorrow, we are having a test.”
The class goes up in protest.
“Ah Tisha, efry day tes tes tes.”
“Yes, you will have tests everyday till I am satisfied you know what you’re doing.” I smile. “We were supposed to start on summary today but you can’t even read the passage.”
I pack my books and walk out amidst boos. They can’t be blamed. Previous teachers taught them English in vernacular.