WHEN THE TEACHER BECOMES THE STUDENT
I entered the classroom on the third floor of the school, and greeted the students as they walked in and grabbed a seat. We were a couple of weeks into the City of Dublin Education and Training Board’s Youth and Education Service (CDETB YES) program, and the young people meandered into this afternoon class after trying to catch a few more words with their friends. Notebooks were pulled out, the workbook turned to the next page. They knew what to expect. They were here to learn English, and I was here to help them accomplish that. I was there to teach. I had no idea that my own ignorance was going to become the lesson. It was only a lesson on time, after all. Something I was well accustomed to and understood. Time doesn’t change.
After a few minutes, instead of the students being asked questions, they were questioning me.
What time do you wake up?
When do you head to work?
What time do you eat lunch?
All my answers were wrong.
“Eight-thirty,” I replied.
“No, what is it class?” countered the lead teacher.
“Half eight!” Chorused the students.
“Twelve fourty-five,” I replied.
“No, it’s quarter to eleven!”
Adding into my confusion, military time is used across the country and I now had to figure out what 18:00 meant. I didn’t really know time at all. Or at least Irish time. Being in another country where English is one of the official languages and spoken regularly, I thought the language would be the same. I was in for a surprise.
Irish English differs considerably from American English … and I was expected to teach myself the Irish way as I taught it to the young people.
Coke became cola-cola in the worksheets and in my speech. What’s the craic? replaced What’s up? and JP surgery replaced doctor’s office. Tennis shoes became trainers and sweatshirt became jumper.
Teaching English in a foreign country required more than my American English. Even though the countries shared a language, the language wasn’t the same. I found myself learning alongside the students, attempting to make myself more culturally and aware of the Irish style while trying to teach at the same time. Never beforehand had I seen so evident how much more defines our conversations besides our language. It’s the local slang, the expected interactions, the shared knowledge of Dublin that truly made a difference in my daily interactions with my students.
My failure to tell time correctly also reminded me that while I may be the one they call teacher, they are filled with immense amounts of information to share with me as well. I’ve danced to Romanian pop music, eaten Eritrean Injera, and played Chinese video games. This school truly is a melting pot of different cultures, and I’m learning not only Irish culture but the multitude of cultures from my students as well. Truthfully, this teacher spends most of her time learning.