Sometimes I feel like I’m really quite stupid.
The thing is, technically – technically! – I’m not stupid. I mean, clearly I’m far from being a genius – but still, I never really struggled at school. I was the nerdy one who was devastated if she got a B+ instead of an A, and who actually looked forward to getting back test results and marked essays. I wasn’t one of the super-smart kids who could sail through with straight As without doing any work, but nor was I one of those who half-killed themselves studying and only barely managed to scrape through. I had a fair amount of intelligence and a fair amount of desire to learn and do well. A good combination, for a student.
Honestly, though, put me in a scenario where there’s no essay to be written and no exam to be taken, and I am a complete burbling idiot. I really, truly am. I say and do more embarrassingly stupid things in a week than I expect the average person does in their entire lifetime.
Today, for example. I had my trial/probation period observation, where my Director of Studies came to one of my schools to watch me teach a class, in order to decide whether or not I get to, you know, keep my job. No pressure or anything. But here’s the point: I was fine. And I knew I’d be fine. I was doing my job, I’d studiously planned the lesson, I was in control, I was confident. Back at the office, she gave me a glowing review in my feedback session, and we left the room together, smiling.
This is always the sort of moment where it flips around. Put me in an interview, in a teacher-student situation, in an exam or test, in a classroom, and I swear you’d think I was a normal, intelligent, professional, functional human being. But the second the ‘official’ bit is over and I sense the conversation moving into the dangerous area of small talk, chit chat, or polite conversation, something happens to my brain. I don’t know…. maybe it gets scared. I can practically hear it going “errr, hang on, this isn’t what I’m here for, see ya!” and slamming the door on its way out. And I’m then forced to carry on the conversation without a brain. Which is not easy, let me tell you, and frequently humiliating.
In the classroom with my 25 pre-school students this morning, I was a confident, enthusiastic, calm, professional teacher. In my feedback session with my DoS, I came out with so many thoughtful, considered, reasoned opinions about teaching children that you’d think there wasn’t a more confident and self-assured person on the planet. But the second we opened the door and walked out into the corridor together, and my brain did its nervous “oops, small talk, toodle-pip then dearie!” thing, I turned into the burbling idiot described earlier.
“It’s a lovely group of kids,” said my DoS casually as we started down the corridor back to the staff room. “You’ve got a bilingual child there, too, I noticed?”
“Yes, that’s Maruska,” I replied. “She’s great. Although she’s not really bilingual. She speaks much more Czech than English. Her parents are both Czech.”
“Are you sure?” asked my DoS after a brief pause. “She has some really natural speech patterns… seemed bilingual to me. One of her parents must be a native English speaker.”
“No,” I insisted, recalling my conversation about this with the child in question. “Her grandparents are American. But they still live in the US. She just speaks to them a lot on Skype, or something.”
Another brief pause. DoS looked confused.
“Yes, but… if her grandparents are English-speaking Americans, then surely they raised their child as an English speaker?”
“Yes,” I agreed mildly. This is what I mean. I knew something was a little off, but I couldn’t figure out what it was, as my brain had abandoned me and I was back to my normal social behaviour of just opening my mouth and letting words come out, with no filter whatsoever.
We both paused again, and you could actually see her regretting the aforementioned glowing report. This woman is incapable of logical thought, she was saying to herself, since there was clearly no point in trying to have any further conversation with me.
We actually got to the staff room door without saying another word. The walk seemed interminable, and the whole way there I was struggling with my recalcitrant brain, trying to cram it back into position and make it do its job, figure out why what I was saying was stupid, and let me know so that I could rectify this.
I thumped it into submission just as my DoS keyed in the code to the staffroom door. Look, said my reluctant brain, sounding pissed off at being dragged back into service outside of its office hours, clearly her point is that if the American couple speak only English, then their child is a native English speaker, and their child is either Maruska’s mother or father, as they are her grandparents, and therefore your statement that Maruska’s parents speak only Czech makes no sense whatsoever.
“Oh, right!” I said dopily, “If her grandparents are American than both her parents can’t be Czech! Err… yes, that was kind of stupid, sorry.”
Bearing in mind neither of us had spoken since we were at the other end of the fecking building, this ridiculously delayed reaction only prompted an incredulous gaze and a smile that I can only describe as a blend of curious, amused, and sympathetic. I spent a good few minutes dully thudding my head against my locker after she left, which probably didn’t help the whole brain situation.
This happens to me on a daily basis. Has done since I was a child. Incapable of expressing a non-academic thought without sounding like evolution’s missing link.
Unless I drink vodka, but even then I’m not really sure whether I make more sense to those around me or just no longer notice my own burbling.