Students and Snowflakes

Ellen (from Gdynia, Poland): Well, I too feel sort of “under the weather”, for a different reason.  This morning I woke up feeling like I was inside a snowscape bubble.  Gusts of huge, fat flakes were billowing down.  I went eagerly to the balcony for a closer look. All evaporated with a hiss as it touched the ground.  It’s too warm.

Now the clouds are breaking to show hints of robin’s egg blue sky.  I hated snow, sleet and most of all, ice storms as a young adult because I had to drive, often at night, and we all know how ill equipped Texans are for dealing with these conditions.  Here, I’ve recovered a childish delight in snow.  And today I feel cheated. 

I had double lessons Saturday and Sunday with a good new student.  Now, if I can just manage to recruit about a dozen more like him, I’ll be happy.  He reminds me of Mark, my  favorite student in Israel:  full of enthusiasm, with diverse interests; quick and clever, never a lag in the conversation.

Discovering students’ individual interests is vital.  Most have several hobbies, ambitions and curiosity, making it easy to begin and maintain conversations.  I thoroughly enjoy learning which topics make people light up, relax and flow. It’s even better when it’s a subject about which I have minimal knowledge.  After all, it’s the student who should be doing most of the talking, not I.  

But what do you do with someone who never gets animated? 

I have a monosyllabic young student, Susie, who looks like she could view the apocalypse without blinking or flinching. Her pretty face is always a smooth blank. It’s difficult to open our conversations and more so to keep them flowing.  Thought I would have it made on our last lesson:  she’d been to the Netherlands for the Christmas holidays.  Surely that would generate enough discussion and spin off topics!  Instead: 

“How was your vacation?”

“It was okay.”

“Wasn’t this your first visit to Amsterdam?”

“Yeah.”  Shrug.

“Tell me, what did you see?  What did you do?”

“Uhm.  Walked a lot.  Museums.  Shopping.”

“Which museums?”


Under more prodding, she eventually showed a trace of emotion about Van Gogh, whose art she doesn’t like.   

I thought at first she was shy.  Or her age made her closemouthed; adolescents are mysterious creatures.  Friends who have known her from birth, however, tell me she has always been very quiet.  One recounted an exciting sailing trip he took with her family and that she uttered maybe two words for the duration. Another, prone to dramatic assumptions, suggested the girl is “a little autistic”.  I received some advice, though:  to read ‘Harry Potter’.  Apparently that is her abiding passion.   

Sometimes I wonder whether I’m the only person in the world who hasn’t read at least the first of the Harry Potter series.  While I’ve admired the young author’s extraordinary success, the subject matter, wizards and whatnot, doesn’t grip me anymore than science fiction does.  Well, if it helps generate some conversation with Susie, I’m willing to try. 

I’m snickering right now because I had to interrupt this post for a first lesson with Zosia.  Could anyone be more Susie’s opposite?  I’m flattened!  Zosia flies low at supersonic speed.  She raced in chattering, lickety-split, and though she immediately announced she wanted me to correct every spoken error, I had to fight for the privilege.

Bright brown eyes blazing, she launched headlong into a discussion of everything she wants in life.  She very well may get it, by sheer force.

At the end of her hour, I looked around, dazed, startled by how orderly the room remained: somehow I expected to see all the chairs overturned, pots boiling over and houseplants upended.  It was like being visited by a wild tropical storm.

She will be only an occasional student, wanting appointments prior to job interviews.  My first tip to her will be:  give the interviewer a chance to speak!

Copyright 2008 by Ellen Dlott

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