For the last four weeks I have walked into class every morning to find twenty-odd silent Chinese kids, each staring raptly at the screen of their smartphone, poking or stroking it as it were some fascinating little creature. They do not appear to register my presence. Even when I yell 'OK, put your phones away now, please!' there is no immediate response beyond a wordless 'yeah, hang on, we'll get back to you.' I repeat my request a little less politely and ask that the phones be switched off and put out of sight. We can then begin the lesson, but it will be necessary before the end to ask them several more times to put away their phones, and on occasion to actually confiscate the bloody things, setting them on the casing of the AV equipment where ever and anon they ping and buzz to each other like little aliens.
I do as little up-front teaching as possible so as to keep the students actively involved. Most of the talking I do in class is by way of instructions for the coming activity. Deprived temporarily of text messaging and social media, some of the students hold whispered conversations or flick through their books and files, thus missing the instructions unless I intervene. It's all such a waste of time and so bloody juvenile. I've decided this 'respect for the teacher' business is to be taken with a good pinch of salt. I'm pretty sure that back home these kids are used to walking into huge classrooms where they sit in serried rows, and free from the expectation that they might be asked to participate, they can simply zone out. It also occurred to me that since every one of them is an only child, they've probably expected adults to let them do as they please far more than kids from larger families might, but maybe I'm just being a middle aged grump. (Again.)
Most of these students are nice kids. They greet you cheerily in the street or corridors, waving and smiling. They will come at the end of the lesson with questions that could have been dealt with in the class, but at least it shows they are listening some of the time. Some have told me that they prefer our style of teaching to the style they're used to in China. One lad even said 'English teacher is care more for student than Chinese teacher.' I asked why he thought this. 'Because English teacher always say students to put away smartphone and listen.'
But why can't you just put away your smartphone when the lesson... Oh, I dunno.
On the train yesterday my earplugs were penetrated by the raucous voice of a gabby young woman sitting across the aisle, quacking into her smartphone. Then I became aware of what sounded like the Muslim call to prayer. I removed an ear plug and realised that the same young woman was listening to music on the same iPhone, and of course it wan't anything like the Muslim call to prayer, but some banal pop stuff. I caught the eye of the bloke sitting opposite me and we raised eyebrows in synch.
'Is that your music?' he asked the woman.
'Yeah,' she said. 'Is that alright?'
'No. Haven't you got any ear-phones?'
'No. Sorry.' And she switched it off.
Christ, I thought. I wear ear plugs, I often change seats to get away from people who are annoying me or pinpoint potential sources of irritation on the platform and make sure I don't sit in the same carriage, but I'd never actually ask them to desist like that. I do envy them as has that kind of balls.
I had blood tests for everything but pregnancy the other week to see if there might be some physical explanation for the anxiety that I feel so often these days. The tests all came back normal. 'So you're just crackers, then,' my sister said.