ESL Indonesian teaching story #1: The burping boy

by Will Sanders on June 30th, 2010

So I was back States side recently for a quick break, hanging out with my family and friends.  I got to meet my new niece which was so cool. It was also cool to meet Ryan and Amy’s new kid, so to my sister and Ryan and Amy (Amy is a big blog believer, so is Ryan, and little Joseph one day we hope) thanks for having babies right around when I was coming home.

And one night I was sitting at the Felini’s on Lavista, next to what used to be the ma and pop grocery I came up clerking in, now long gone like most of Atlanta.  I was sitting there, a little sick that night but out anyways, and I was with my friend Stussy.  Stussy is a cat who doesn’t seem capable or bothered with words, he is direct and a very astute critic, which is a very cool thing.  So over a beer he told me that he missed the blogs I wrote in China.  He pointed out that I spend more time writing about travel log sort of things and don’t talk about the students anymore, so this one is for one of the blog believers from the old days who have stuck with me, you guys know who you are and as always thanks for giving me a read.

Stussy this one goes out to you, my man.

This is the first of what will be a few short stories about things that have happened in the classroom in Indonesia.

Remember the one boy who sat in the back of the class room when we were kids and caused trouble.  Many of us had times when we were that kid, some more than others, but I am pleased as all hell to announce I have found that boy (and less often a girl but I have seen them as well) in just about every place I have taught in the world.  He always has different tactics, sometimes hilarious, sometimes cruel, sometimes just indifferent, but without fail he is always cooler than the teacher and has to be dealt with early on or you (the teacher) will be in for it but good and for the rest of his time with you. This is one of the happy global universalities I have found in my teaching travels.  I can’t imagine a class without at least one such kid, nor would I care to.

One day I walked into a room of kids, I guess they were around 9 or 10.  And there he was, grinning at me all sinister like.

This boy was there on a mission.  This boy was out to get me.  This boy had clearly long ago waged war on every poor sucker daffy enough to go into teaching and I would simply be his latest casualty.  He would make me miserable for the next three months.

There were maybe six other kids in the room, and they watched the boy anxiously, ready for their cue to join him in his mischief where ever he lead them.  In the first minute of my entering the room the boy started yelling at me “mister, you so fat mister.  Why you are fat?”  Followed by his bowing his back sticking out his belly and rubbing it, all this to roars of laughter from the other kids.

This is the age old problem teachers face of how to be nice, fair, strict, cool, and effective as a teacher all at the same time.  I used to work in a school for kids with behavior disorders back in the States and dealt with some of the toughest kids you can imagine.  I learned to make them toe the line and I learned how to do it and use becoming the heavy always as the last resort.  If it is time for me to play the heavy it means that after trying everything it’s just not working.  I am usually so nice and smiling in my daily life and especially in my classes that when I drop the boom they feel in on the rictor scale and kids listen, dig?  But man, I hate doing it that way.  I always feel like such an ass when I have to come down like that, it is always so much better to figure it out early.  Most teachers will tell you that you will solve or own all your problems with every classroom on the first day, and after that it is more of the same.

I asked them to take out their books, and in a mock silly voice this kid sings it back to me in falsetto.  The next two things I say he mimics with his best ten year old silly voice.  Americans reading this should be made aware that this is completely the worst that kids get in Indonesia, almost unheard off.  They are really good usually, behavior is almost never an issue.  Little angels I would say.  This kid is really pushing me as hard as he could or as hard as anyone ever has in my time in Indonesia.

And I sighed and I said to the kid, more talking to myself “you’re going to give me the buisness, huh?”

Which he obviously didn’t understand, so I said “You want to give me trouble?” and he laughed and nodded and now everyone was giggling.

I would say this would be the worst possible time to become the heavy.  A kid like this is praying to press the right button, to have me blow it big and become a big yelling moron that he can laugh at for the rest of the class.  He gets to be the funny wise cracking bad ass and the teacher will never ever get that cool back.  A new teacher might let themselves get all rattled, maybe even pissed off at a ten year old boy, a boy who they themselves would have admired for their bravery and brilliant comedy when they were the same age.  I know I would have if I was ten.  If I was ten, man I would have followed that kid anywhere.  My problem is that even though now I am the teacher, I still kind of think that this ten year old kid is really damn cool.  Part of me wishes I could be just like him.  But now I am the old jerk wearing a tie, life if funny at times.

So I took both my hands and clasped them together tightly, so tight that I made a suction in my palms.  I pulled the palms apart suddenly and then back together to make a loud sound which sounds (if I do say so myself) exactly like a really beefy fart, a skill which I had always known would one day serve me well in some kind of professional capacity, although it was not until this very day that the afore mentioned talent had come to my service.

My hands went on farting for a little while.  Then I stopped, waiting to see what he would do.

The boy cocked his head to one side, sizing me up like a gun fighter at a show down in the old west.  The other children were suddenly frozen silent, not knowing what would happen next.

His response started as a low gurgle at the back of his throat.  His lower jaw stretched downward, his teeth protruded like a vampire about to strike.  From somewhere deep inside that boy came the loudest bullfrog self induced non beer related beer belch I have ever heard.  It’s tone was even and it lasted a good four or five seconds, a life time when measuring a burp.  Midway through it took on the quality of medieval gregorian chant, or maybe think Tuvan Shaman throat singing, or aboriginal didgeridoo, a deep timber too heavy to come out of a ten year old but there it was just the same.  It was a declaration of defiance.

All eyes were on my now.  Now it was my turn to cock my head to one side.  I asked him “can you do that with the English alphabet?”

And immediately he went into AAAAAAAAAAAAA, BBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBB, CCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCC, and through the whole thing.  I let my jaw hang, and pointed with the same amazement I would normally reserve for things like talking dogs or UFOs.  When he was finished I asked the kids if they could do the same thing, none of them could.  A couple of the boys tried but they were completely out of their league, this kid may have been the greatest on-command burper I had ever laid eye upon.  I exclaimed that he must be the most talented boy in the world, how amazing and wonderful he was, I gasped.  I clapped.  I made a really big deal about how great I thought that was, and he was while I was at it.  I asked the other kids if they too found it amazing and they agreed completely, this was amazing to them as well.

And it worked.

The other kids looked to him like a hero.  He acted like it wasn’t a big deal but clearly it was.  It was as if I had bestowed some brand new honer on him, finally recognizing the genius he had always known he had deep in his heart.  He picked up his book, and I not making this up, he picked up his book and moved to sit next to me.  The rest of the day when I needed to say something and asked the class nicely to quiet down the boy next to me hollered each time “QUIET” like a commandant.  He pointed menacing fingers at the other kids, warning them to pay close attention when I spoke, the other little boys snapped on a dime when this kid dropped the whip.  He even corrected other kids mistakes.  This was a new problem, I wasn’t about to let a little kid have that role, and I handled it and by and by he dropped the new heavy routine.

It was Truman, or Eisenhower, or maybe Johnson (I can’t remember which) who gave some loud critic of his policies a job on his own cabinet, explaining “I would rather have him in my tent pissing out than out of my tent pissing in.”

That class quickly became one of my favorites and that boy was always the first to answer a question, he turned out to be really smart and really active in the class activities, and pretty soon he excelled, speaking the best English in the class, which was more because he was a really smart guy who was really into more than anything I did, he did all the work.  And man, he was funny as hell.

And not every day, not every week even but every once in a while I called on that boy to once again regale and thrill us with a demonstration of his amazing gift.  And although he always hesitated when called on for just a quick moment, just long enough to  fain false modesty, he never refused a request and never failed to deliver high caliber shotgun shells for each of the 26 letters.  The belches were an art to that little boy, each show was always met by gleeful the cheers of myself and his classmates, and I like to think that in some small way the rest of the class benefited with a strengthened familiarity with the alphabet.  I doubt it but one never knows what memory a kid will hang onto or which part of ones teaching will get though.

And so, from that first day onwards that boy belched when I wanted him to and not when I was trying to do something with the class.  When the class needed a laugh he was delighted to be the guy who could pull off the incredible, but he was never once disruptive to what I was trying to do.  And from that day onwards he looked at me with the kind of eyes that little boys usually reserve for ballplayers or super heroes, an admiration that I never really did anything to deserve aside from encouraging him to make rude noises louder, better, ruder, and prouder than anyone else ever had in the entire history of naughty boys.

I got a bunch of these stories, and I can already think of a few I will try to get down over the next few days, so keep looking.  Meanwhile, the spammers have my number again.  Unfortunately I can’t challenge them to a burp contest to solve that problem so the comment thing is on the fritz for the moment.  But I would love to hear from you, and if you are a real person who really wants to get in touch with me than you can get me at my email, it’s

Thanks again Blog believers, thanks Stussy, thanks to all my friends back in A town and Mobile and Oakridge and Memphis and everywhere else.  I had a great time hanging out with you guys, sorry if I didn’t get to see you enough or not at all.  I will be back when I can.

Love you guys.


One Response to “ESL Indonesian teaching story #1: The burping boy”

  1. Tika We says:

    hihihi… I feel like reading the diary of Jack Black from School of Rock, cool!

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