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Humanising Language Teaching
Year 4; Issue 3; May 02

Student Voices

I have been robbed of the chance to enjoy my subjects

(here are three paragraphs from a letter sent to the Guardian newspaper ( UK) (Education Section) on May 14th, 2002 by a year 12 student from UK, Richard Green)

Exams started yesterday. In fact, year 12 seems to be nothing but exam preparation. Last year, when choosing subjects to be done at AS Level, we looked forward to interesting excursions, extensive time to read and opportunity for debate. Actually there have been few excursions and little extra reading or debate. There simply was not enough time.

Currently I am writing three pieces of coursework at a time when I would prefer to be revising. This would not be a problem if exams happened later in the summer term.
Before AS levels were introduced, course work and revision would not have coincided and there would have been time to explore subjects properly before being examined in year 13.

Students now have major exams in years 11, 12 and 13. In my peers I have noticed two effects: they either suffer stress from large amounts of work, or they simply do not have the energy to worry about their performance and so they care less.
When students sit so many exams is it any surprise that some become desensitised to them in the same way a child does to violence on television?

..I have been robbed of the opportunity to explore and enjoy my subjects in year 12

A student in mourning

( In this piece you will hear the voice of the student's teacher, David Cranmer from Lisbon, Portugal and then the voice of the university student)

Perhaps what most makes me want to write to you again now is what has become of the boy whose grandmother had suffered a stroke. As the year went on, he contributed reasonably to classes, while keeping himself fairly much to himself. I gathered from the class 'representative', a kind girl who talked to me plenty during the year, that he was actually being more sociable than the previous year, easier to work with. However, not long before Easter, the boy's grandmother became sufficiently frail to be admitted to hospital. He missed a lot of classes, including the second of the three formal tests that they do, in order to visit her. As usual in such circumstances, I arranged with him to do a supplementary test at the end of the year.

About a month later his grandmother died. As was to be expected, he was absolutely devastated. When he returned to classes, I offered what support I could, but it was very plain that the bottom had fallen out of his world. He could concentrate on little. Although he came to the third scheduled test and did quite reasonably in it, he missed most of the other classes that remained and by the time of the last one, alone among his colleagues he had not given an oral presentation. It was not difficult to guess why as if his own tragedy were not sufficient, his partner for the project had been one of the older students who had dropped out. In the circumstances, I saw no point in being insistent, so sat him down for a brief interview, so that I could at least assess his spoken English in a more formal context and thus fulfil what I felt was professionally necessary. Without wishing to pry, I felt it best to let him talk about how things were going with him anything else would have seemed so trivial. He did talk briefly, telling me, among other things, about a new preoccupation where he was going to live since his grandmother's death meant he would almost certainly have to leave the flat where he had been living with her. I once more offered any support he felt I could give, but he left me feeling so powerless to do anything to relieve his pain.

I saw him again at the supplementary test, which I later marked. His composition rather took me by surprise. From the range of three topics, he chose to answer one that asked him to describe the oral presentation of one of his colleagues. I have noticed that this boy sometimes takes a topic and uses it as a springboard to dive into something closer to himself. And this is what happened again this time. Since it didn't answer the task as set, it left me in something of a quandary. When you read it, you will see why. I did the only thing I felt I could give it no mark and worked out his result on the basis of the rest of the test. (He passed.) I'll say no more, for, even with a few errors, he writes more eloquently in my language than I ever could.

"I haven't done any oral presentation and the only one seen passed aside me as I was in pain within. In any case I would like to flow some ink about something that touched my heart deeply.
My grandmother's death took my energy and attention from any other thing I had in mind: school, friends, love. It took a lot from me and gave in return an heavy burden, pain. I lost notion of time, place, all the focus to achieve many goals in life that I have. In the middle of the chaos came a person, my english teacher. He was the only one that really understood what I was going trough, helping me along the way.
But not wanting to avoid the question's topic I will get to my "oral presentation". On the last day, after he dismissed my colleagues earlier[,] he talked with me. What was supposed to be an oral presentation it became a simple talk between two people. Teacher, student; man, man; chatting with words, gestures, looks. All my body, soul and heart done the talking for me. It was a short dialogue. I was feeling a little incomfortable for I am shy by nature and used to keeping my feelings inside. I could have taken his shoulder to cry but I could not cry. Tears did not come out my eyes as I felt to explode but in the funeral and everyday since.
I left the room feeling a little better and then went for a long walk. I will never forget his look of compassion, not pity, zoomed in by the reflection of his glasses. Thank you Mr. Cranmer ... thank you."

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