This year I have a brand new class, let’s call it….5(I)D. It is the conclusive year, so when you take a class at this stage, it is like adopting a full grown up child: the room for action is quite thin. Nonetheless, I could not resist the allure of 5(I)D as soon as I learnt about its existence. Why? Well, because it is a small group, very small, a selected one, apparently. Hence, I did whatever it was in my power to come into possession of this rare gem. The reviews about the 5(I)D were not that inviting, actually, but rather ” bizarre” I would say, and, strange indeed, there was not a single voice to controvert them. Yet, I was not in the least intimidated, after all, for someone like myself who has had the fortune of working in both the best and the worst school in Rome and nearby, how could these young scoundrels be of any problem? So, even when fate seemed to have taken a different turn, as I was informed that the principal had planned to direct me to another class, I headed straight to her office and said decidedly : I WANT THE 5(I)D. And so, I had it.
Well, I couldn’t believe my eyes, when I first saw them – we are talking about adolescents of 18/19 years old – as before me there was displayed the most incredible bunch of weirdos grouped all together as I had never seen before. Apparently, they didn’t – and don’t – seem to respond to the norms of proper behaviour to be followed in class, or better, they do respond, till their basic needs come pressing such as: watching or even answering the cell phone ( “May I? You know, it’s really important”), eating ( “God, I was starving”), talking loud ( “But , we were just discussing about what you’ve just said) , sleeping ( at least they are silent) , fixing makeup and…. having breakfast .
This is a typical scene at around 8:20 a.m.:
Curly boy : “Excuse me, Mrs Tink!”
Mrs Tink : ( while explaining and deluding herself into having caught his attention), “Do you have a question?”
Curly boy: “Yes, may I go to the bar? I haven’t had my breakfast yet and I’ m not feeling that well”.
Mrs Tink : “Of course”.
Yes, I say ” of course ” , which is of a caustic, sarcastic sort ( in the hope they will understand one day), of course you can go and have breakfast, of course you can a bite to your sandwich or fix your makeup along many other things while I am teaching a class. Of course. After all, do you think I should still explain what is right and what is wrong at their age, or sanction them? No way. All things considered, I never sense their way of behaving as a form of opposition, this is just what they are. If I may say so, this is a class where the “EGO” fails in balancing the urges of the “ID ” and the impositions of the ” SUPEREGO”.
So, when it was time to introduce them to Freud’s tripartite theory of mind and apply it to the characters of Wuthering Heights, I decided to go just a little out of the box to catch their attention, thus using one of my tricks.
On that occasion , I theatrically took my wallet out my bag and picked a 50 euro note. I placed the note on the desk and I addressed them with the following words:
Mrs Tink:”Let’s figure that this note has slipped out of my bag. You know it is mine. You are alone; nobody can see you; I could never spot you. No cameras, no witnesses. Well, would you keep that note or would you return it to me?”
Curly boy : ( with no hesitation) “I would keep it! No doubt.“
Ginger girl: “Well, it depends!”
Mrs Tink: “On what?”
Ginger girl: “Well, it depends on whether I like you or not!”
Mrs Tink: “And…. do I meet you approval? “
Ginger girl (blushes, mutters something indistinguishable I can’t understand, but I feel I’d better not investigate further).
Curly boy: (while trying to convince the others) “I would keep it, if she can’t spot me, I would keep it.”
Mrs Tink: “All right, let’s say, and I want to include myself in this, that we all would share the instinct of keeping that note for ourselves, so, what would prevent us from doing it? As I am truly confident that eventually you would hand it back to me.”
Curly boy: ” I would not!”
Hooded boy: ( reawakening from his torpor) “C’mon! If you knew to whom it belongs, you’d hand it back!
Mrs Tink: “So let’s say that either a moral imperative, Kant’ s moral law, might press you to give me back my note, or simply fear, the fear of being caught, as somebody might have seen you and report it to me. This would not be a crime, to be sure, but if I knew it, I would eventually see the “culprit” with different eyes, wouldn’t I? So, this is how the superego works.”
Curly boy ( decidedly): “I would keep it, no way!”
Well, at least I had gained their attention. Eventually the bell rang, I put my 50 euros note back in my wallet and while I was heading to another class, I realized that I had left on the desk something more precious than money, that is, my packet of paprika flavoured crisps. I turned back, but I saw one guy running towards me holding my packet. He handed it to me smiling: ” You see? The superego is at work!!!”
P.S. When I said I would have produced an article about them, they seemed to be very pleased about it and one went: ” I am surprised, it took you so long to write something about us” . I guess I’ll have material enough this year to develop a series.
This honestly means you are an excellent teacher, a cultivated person but definitely an INNOVATIVE educator. What a brave challenging choice, every year. Thanks for having shared with us.
Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
Since when did ego and conscience become school subjects?
Since, ever, my friend. It’s all about ego, instinct and rules every single day.
Thank you so much, Jack.
Very clever! The curly boy has forgotten his breakfast! 😂🤗🖖
He did not. He just felt the urge of quitting for having a coffee, or meeting someone….who knows. This is how it works there. 😉
Interesting . . . they are aware that you write about your students on a blog?
. . . it at least would drive them to read . . .
I suppose we can summarize your approach as ‘spare the rod, challenge the brain’.
Yes, they knew I was going to write something about them. I don’t/ can’t use the rod at this stage, they are adults. I just wanted to place a mirror before them so that they could see what we see, and then draw their conclusions. We’ll see.
I ask because I wonder about the effectiveness of the subtle approach if they can read about what you’re trying to do.
As for mirrors, I’ll invoke Godwin’s Law and just say that I’m sure Hitler often looked in the mirror . . . and liked what he saw. Also Trump.
Probably others, too. Heck, even I like what I see, especially when I’m not wearing my glasses.
The answer is…..I don’ know, but today nobody has felt the urge of having breakfast or fixing makeup for the first time. Will it last? “Ai prosperi l’ardua sentenza”. 😉
Hmm . . . not getting the context (my Italian has lapsed quite a bit, certainly when it comes to idioms). Found a tangential reference to Napoleon (posteri instead of prosperi).
Best I can figure out is “their success is up to them if they want to work hard” or something like that. I fear that by the time they are at that age, they are beyond reach.
Regardless, good to hear even about a temporary victory and I wish them (and you) luck in that regard.
It is a quote from Manzoni’s poem ” 5 Maggio”, which actually refers to Napoleon. It means, posterity will decide whehter an action/ decision is either right or wrong. In short, we’ll see.
The change from posteri to prosperi is what threw me.
My bad. 😀
No worries; I once thought I made a mistake, but I was mistaken, so I now don’t judge others (it’s that whole ‘cast the first stone’ thing).