Salaam aleikum

Only about half of my students stay with me for more than a semester; a benefit, in some cases, a crushing loss, in others.  This semester, my favourite students come as a pair.  They didn’t arrive in my grade 11 tutoring class that way, but have since discovered they are in the same grade at the same school (although in different classes), and have become close friends.  I often see them hanging around together outside the school.

For reasons which include  – but are not limited to – their privacy, I will not use their real names, but will instead call them by the names I use when thinking about them: “Salaam” and “Walaikum”.  Each and every time they meet, these two cannot finish the entire greeting, but instead mutter the first words and give each other “knucks”.  I used to put it down to adolescent form, but now realise these two finish each other’s sentences, too.

Salaam and Walaikum are worthy of a blog entry because of their learning styles.  Walaikum doesn’t need to be with me: he has an 80% average, but really wants 100%.  Only 100%.  We often have chats about the improbability of getting a 100% in English class, as English is by no means an exact art.  As well as depriving himself of sleep to write the perfect essay, he researches advanced essay writing skills online, and keeps a chart of his teacher’s literary opinions so he can replicate them when necessary.  He got 98% on his last essay, and we had to go through the whole thing to figure out where he might have lost the two marks.  Much as I like him, two hours with Walaikum sometimes leaves me very tired.

Salaam is my typical student: very good at math and science, and bored silly by English.  While he is extremely well-bred and would never say the words, I often get that look of “who cares?” from him.  His average is just under 60%.  He’s only with me because his parents make him come.  He wants to pass English, but only requires that magical 51%.

However, if Walaikum is doing it, Salaam gets curious.  Like a sponge, he just sat there as Walaikum and I tore Lord Of The Flies into little tiny bits and analysed every single syllable.  Salaam is not the articulate type; he doesn’t “do” big words; his preferred reading comprises the sports page and the odd engineering journal.  However, when Walaikum finally loosened his grip on me and turned away to write, Salaam said, “I don’t think the comparison of civilisation and savagery interests me, but I like Jack’s devolution into primitive man.”

Hell, even Walaikum stopped writing to stare at him.

So, because Walaikum could do this stuff, Salaam made a chart of the comments his teacher had made on his essays, asked me for a formula by which he could acheive a level 3 introductory paragraph, and wrote a level 3+ essay.

Now Salaam has had a taste of the good stuff, he’s sounding more like Walaikum.  They’re working on Macbeth, which Salaam has already read.  This week, as Walaikum struggled through reading Act 3, Salaam made a list of potential essay topics, and then asked me to scratch out the topics which would be considered common.  Then he and Walaikum conferred, heads bent together, and decided which topics would be best.  As if they were offering me gold, they gave me the two topics, and waited for the king’s approval.

Their classes had been given Macbeth the day before.  Waleikum’s class had just begun reading Act 1, and Salaam’s class had not even started reading; no essays have yet been assigned.  They’re just getting ready, in case.

3 responses to “Salaam aleikum

  1. Oh, Oh, I have a question for just such an English tutor as yourself. Shakespeare reminded me (well, not personally). My eldest, in grade 7, does pretty well in English and even enjoys some of the stuff she’s forced to read. She’s distrusting of new genres, though, and this year they are being introduced to Shakespeare through Romeo and Juliet. This is how the teacher plans to get them through the book: she will have the kids read it out loud. She will have children who have no feeling for or understanding of the language read it out loud. How would you, as a tutor (or parent), try to give a 12-year-old a decent feeling for the Bard? Or should I just give up until she is older?


  2. Start with some background, so the kid has something to relate to: clothing, basic history, basic plot lines, in-depth psychoanalysis of Mercutio. Lois Burdett writes a great series called “Shakespeare Can Be Fun”: get the Romeo and Juliet version out of the library. Watch the movie (the Franco Zeffirelli one, not the stupid one with Leonardo DiCaprio). See the play. Then, if the kid still wants to read it, she should have a good idea of what’s going on. You can always get a “No Fear Shakespeare” modern translation from Sparknotes.

    I voluntarily read Romeo and Juliet when I was in Grade 7. Loved Shakespeare until Grade 10, when I had a teacher who made us read the book out loud, and explained every god-forsaken line. My sympathies to Maya….


  3. Pingback: Walaikum returns! « The English Major’s Blog

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