Becoming a pupil again – old sins come back to haunt me

Paul Chandy
11th January 2017 at 15:04

Subject Genius, Paul Chandy, Becoming a pupil again – old sins comes to haunt me

It feels strange noting down homework in my planner and mustering the motivation to complete my Spanish homework before the next class.

I’ve signed up for 4 hours of Spanish classes every Thursday, I am planning to do the AS level. I started learning Spanish 3 years ago in order to teach at KS3 on the behest of senior management. I had always dreamt of studying a language when I was a pensioner, yet my plans were accelerated due to a shortage of language teachers. I wonder what my former secondary school teachers would think; they denied me the opportunity to learn Spanish at GCSE because apparently I was not academic enough.

I can converse easily in Spanish about most topics however my grammar can be inaccurate and at times I have got confused when using the different types of past tenses. I can also be lost for words when aiming to teach students purely in the target language, I feel that I lack the spontaneity and the ease in which I converse in French. It niggles me just as much as the discomfort of wearing odd socks.

Therefore I made the decision to shore up my language skills and hope that by studying for a qualification my efforts would be more focussed. Both the teachers I have are at opposite end of the spectrum. One is an ex-grammar teacher in her 80’s giving full classes and the other is 25, a native speaker and a teacher of Spanish in secondary school who gives one-to-one tuition. I am somewhere in the middle being in my 40’s. They both emphasise the importance of grammar. Sebastien, the young teacher says in his sales pitch: “You need to learn more because your Spanish is so poor and you’re a Spanish teacher,” in a shame on you kind of tone and Jane promises to teach me in a unique way lacking in schools today – loads of grammar with healthy doses of translation which she claims is the secret sauce of her students becoming able linguists.

As I begin my first class with Jane she tut tuts me on the omission of a preposition with a verb and mistakenly assumes it’s due to lacking a grammatical base; she fails to realise that I knew what an intransitive verb and indirect object was before the age of 10. I accidentally attend the evening class of the same level, on the same day, where I introduce myself again in Spanish with my mistake rectified; by which time Jane has forgotten who I am. This time I am surrounded by sixth form girls beginning the A-level course from state and private schools. There are two grown men in a class of ten reinforcing the gender stereotype surrounding languages. Some students struggle to introduce themselves, however as Jane revealed to me - one teacher to another - she is appalled by the lack of grammatical knowledge as shown when we did preterito indefinido, which some students had never studied before.

Subject Genius, Paul Chandy, Becoming a pupil again – old sins comes to haunt me

I feel quite smug doing the grammar challenges on uses of past tenses. I rush through the exercises, not bothering to check and put my hand up with glee eager to shout out the answer. As we go through the answers I later become frustrated with my careless mistakes due to missing out letters or using the wrong person. Then the wording of my former school reports glare at me: “Makes too many careless mistakes.”

When I have my lesson with Sebastien, after he checks my homework, he rebukes me for not checking the spelling of words in the dictionary and for silly mistakes due to not re-reading my work carefully. He then berates me when I read a passage flatly as though I am insulting his language. He’s a younger version of myself and I wonder if I am such a task master who gives detentions too liberally for slap dash work. My old sins come to haunt me. I feel content that I can learn the A-level content however my biggest challenge will be mastering myself in order to fine tune my Spanish.

I have made a resolution to re-read and check work carefully and pay attention to detail even if I am tired on Wednesday night and want to watch the latest recording of MasterChef. A veteran MFL colleague of mine reassures me that some of my poor habits are “just boys being boys”. Nonetheless I need to practice what I preach before lecturing my own students.

*Names have been changed for the purposes of anonymity.



Paul Chandy teaches modern languages in South East England.