Inevitably there comes a time in any teacher’s life when they feel that they’re talking to a bunch of people who aren’t listening.
Last weekend I was on a bus to Kallithea and I saw a student I had two or three years ago. His name was Kostas and he worked, if I remember correctly, in a bank. He was one of those people who lack any talent whatsoever at learning a foreign language. (I’m probably one of them myself. I’ve known Greek and English my whole life.) He was well aware that the problem lay with him and not with the school, and he was a loyal customer, coming back year after year for more lessons. He had been at this school since it opened thirteen years before, and it had taken him ten or eleven years just to get the First Certificate. The year I was there he was planning to take both the Cambridge Advanced and Proficiency exams, as well the Michigan Proficiency exam. It’s the scatter-shot approach: aim everywhere and you might hit something.
The problem was that Kostas would come to class already exhausted after a day’s work. He often nodded off in class.
Once, he raised his hand and asked me to explain something. I had not finished even the first sentence of my explanation when his eyelids slowly closed and he started to sleep right there as he sat upright in class. It amazes me to this day that he could pass out mere seconds after asking a question. Within seconds his tired mind had strayed, had forgotten his question, and the fact that I was speaking to him and answering his question, and he dipped into unconsciousness. The other students didn’t notice, and I didn’t know how to react. Should I call out and wake him up? Should I tell the others,”Hey, look! He’s fallen asleep.”? Instead I pretended he was still awake and kept talking. The answer didn’t concern anyone else, so there I was, standing before a small room full of people, talking to myself.
I said hello to Kostas on the bus, but that was it. I thought of asking if he’d managed to hit any of the exams he’d been aiming at, but I was afraid of any possible embarrassment.
When I got to my stop, I shot a glance back at him. Once again, he was nodding off.