The number one cause of tension in my classroom is temperature.
I have no recollection of it being like this when I was at school. Either the building was always kept at the perfect temperature, or we just endured it without complaint, I don’t know, but there was nothing like the constant complaining that goes on here from the children.
Teacher, hot! Teacher, cold! is the year-round cry, as I’ve mentioned before. What tends to make it even worse is that the others often chime in with their feelings on the matter as soon as the first one starts, and then you’ve got steadily rising cries of “Hot! No, cold! HOT! COLD!”. I’ve tried many approaches in this sort of battlefield situation, from taking a poll and adjusting the temperature according to the majority wish, to getting them to change seats in order to be closer/further from the window/air conditioning, to simply telling them to give it a rest and distracting them with an activity. It can be maddening.
The very worst scenario, though, is when one child starts to whine incessantly about the temperature, when everyone else is perfectly fine, and when I feel the exact opposite way. This is never going to end well. There is nothing worse than when you’ve been rushing around helping children with their art projects all morning, and have sweat-soaked hair clinging to your neck, and one annoying little sod decides that there’s absolutely no need for air conditioning when the temperature outside is about 33°C and the humidity is running in rivulets down the insides of the windows. Teacher, cold! Usually, I try to shut them up quickly (before the others can start) by going over and adjusting the aircon temperature by a couple of degrees, and when I’m lucky that turns out to be enough. The next step is to turn down the fan speed. The next is to move the child. The next is to throw him out of the window in annoyance.
With my older classes, however, things are usually fine – they are much less whiny and their body temperatures seem to be much closer to mine, so the temperature is hardly ever mentioned. When they do on rare occasions announce “I’m cold!”, I nod very seriously and say “Really? I’m hot!” as if we are simply exchanging pointless information, and then move on, and most of them laugh and get over it.
Of course, there’s always an exception. Mine is Lisa of the first grade, a girl who has driven me to despair for many reasons in the past but who is really quite sweet when she forgets to be sulky. For a few weeks now, she’s been going on and on and on about being cold, but she does it using the same monosyllabic level of English as the new ‘babies’ in the first year of kindergarten, which irks me. Cold! she says in a whine. Hot! I reply with a shrug. Cold! she whines again, a few minutes later. I turn up the temperature a little. Cold! she insists after another few minutes have gone by. I turn off the fan. Cold! comes the bleat again, by which stage perspiration is already starting to bead on my forehead. I adjust the aircon by a few more degrees. Cold! she goes again, and her classmates, now fanning themselves, start to look annoyed. I move her as far from the air conditioning unit as is possible without dragging her desk out to the balmy corridor, and her remarks are ignored from that point. I feel I have done all I can, though she sulks for ages because she hasn’t got her way. It is quite clearly not cold in the room when everyone else is sweating, if you ask me, but she seems to expect me to switch on the underfloor heating and give her a fur coat.
Anyway, so today we were having a pleasant little group discussion, and the class was going very well, and suddenly Lisa cleared her throat and said in perfect, clear English: Please turn off the air conditioning, because I am very cold. I nearly fainted. Unless you have been an ESL teacher, you can’t understand how it feels to hear a child put together a sentence like that after having communicated in one-word sentences for the entire time you’ve known her. I almost did cartwheels around the room, and actually tripped over my own feet in my haste to get to the remote and switch off the aircon to reward her effort. Lisa, wow! Perfect! Well done! What a great sentence! Excellent! Good girl! Of course I’ll turn it off!
Obviously by the end of the class I had disgusting sweat patches on my clothes, and I felt fairly certain that I was going to pass out from the heat, but apparently the thrill of a grammatically correct sentence gives me super powers of endurance these days, and I survived.
As she went out the door (and I crawled towards the air conditioning remote like a dying explorer in the Sahara towards an oasis), she dropped a little slip of paper on the floor, and I stooped to pick it up for her. She spun around and hastily grabbed it before I could… but not fast enough to prevent me from seeing what was written on it, in the handwriting of an adult: Please turn off the air conditioning, because I am very cold.
Oh dear. Obviously the thrill was gone. Not only that, but it was replaced by terrible guilt at the thought of the poor child having begged her parents not to send her to that icy cold torture chamber of a classroom where the teacher doesn’t care if she freezes to death, to the extent where they have looked up how to say the necessary phrase and written it out for their poor, suffering daughter. Mind you, if you ask me they should simply give her a sweater or something, for the child is clearly cold-blooded, but still. Now I am faced with the terrifying prospect of the parents coming in to complain about me, or the equally daunting alternative… do I now have to teach three classes a week with no air conditioning?!
This job is more complicated than you’d imagine.