Number one for English language teachers

Tuesday 15th March: Unmasking the fox

Type: Reference material

In her nineth diary entry, Maria Alamanou feels embrassed by the behaviour of one of her students.

I hope you and all of my esteemed colleagues and competitors have never lost yourselves in a maze of activity as I have for the past couple of weeks! This year, second-term testing and grading happened to overlap with Carnival-time festivities and it’s been a struggle trying to hold things together. But, strange though it may sound, this is not why I’ve been urged to write. The reason I’m writing this entry is none other than to share a bit of my despondency with you, treasured Diary, thus getting it off my chest and ridding myself of guilt!

Last Thursday, the 10th, was the day we had arranged to hold our yearly fancy-dress party (at the school, after what happened last Christmas!). I also had a great surprise up my sleeve which dazzled the younger students and took most of the older ones aback. Well, at least, that’s how it should have been. You see, the Junior classes have this wonderful coursebook, starring a mischievous fox (titles withheld, for obvious reasons!), and the Publishing House had the bright idea of having an actor disguise as the fox and sending him to schools to visit his little friends.

Normally, I wouldn’t have to describe the instance of the visit, given the fact that little kids adore surprises. Moreover, it was the kind of surprise that would certainly sweep them off their feet: to meet the star hero of their coursebook, getting up to some real-life mischief in front of their own unbelieving eyes! How sweet can life get? But no, not these little devils! There’s no way you can fool them into believing the unbelievable! As the actor was arriving at the school, one or two of the kids saw him coming up the stairs. Not having seen the man before, they eagerly plunged into wild speculation: ‘Another Adult learner! Why can’t they let us enjoy a fancy-dress party without getting in the way?’ I could hear them comment.

By the time the good man had slipped into his ingenious costume and emerged as The Fox, I had gathered all the little ones in the beautifully decorated hall where the show was to take place. When The Fox entered the room, I could hear giggling and astonished gasps and kept thinking to myself that it had been worth going into so much trouble in the midst of term work if the event were to bring the kids so much joy. But the bliss didn’t last (does it ever?). Suddenly, one of the kids broke away from the group, came near the actor and pulled the mask off his face. The actor, who must have had similar incidents happening to him in other schools, was quick to hold on to it but it was too late! The kid turned triumphantly towards his peers and declared: ‘See, I told you he wasn’t real! It’s just a man pretending to be The Fox!’ and hopped happily back in line.

Do I need to tell you how my face hung in shame in front of the Publishing House representative, who stood in a corner eyeing me and the kids disapprovingly, or is there any real need to describe the laughter and ridicule in which the kids held the poor actor? However, he must have been well-versed in his role, for the show went on unobstructed, with only one or two missed efforts to reveal The Fox’s true identity. Eventually, everyone had the time of their lives, save the actor and the Publishing House rep, of course, who couldn’t leave the building fast enough!

This whole incident has started me thinking, though, Dear Diary, of whatever might have happened to innocence. Why can’t kids just enjoy themselves without having to question every little thing that comes their way? Or is this the way we’ve been teaching them to think? And is it natural? I remember when I was a kid I took the greatest of pleasures in surprises and I was stupid enough to believe that even clowns were born that way. But then again, I don’t think I had ever bothered to question myself to this effect. I just lived in the moment cheerfully and lightheartedly, as little children should do.

But now I have other problems to contend with. After the long weekend that followed (Ash Monday was a holiday), we’re back at school without the slightest intention of going back to work. As if this wasn’t enough on its own, I called the Publishing House rep this morning to thank her for the lovely performance they staged for us but it wasn’t such a clever idea, for the conversation went a bit like this:

Rep.: I hear you had a few surprises of your own for our poor, unsuspecting actor!
Me : Yeah, well, this was unfortunate, of course, and I can’t apologise enough, but you see, kids are so hard to trick these days…
Rep.: …or please, for that matter, which has set the company thinking if this affair is such a splendid idea after all!

Now you know why I feel guilty and despondent. The actor may stand to lose his job, the Publishing House may stand to lose sales because of their original advertising gambit going amiss and I stand to lose all credibility in my professional circles. But what really drives me up the wall is to think that this was all thanks to one kid who couldn’t leave well alone!

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