It’s 13.55 and my student has just gotten his second wind. He has somehow managed to get onto the topic of the city’s deplorable public transportation system, and he has an axe to grind.
“It’s far too crowded,” my student is saying. “The government thinks the new metro lines will solve the problem, but I can tell you that they won’t! They’re in the wrong locations…”
In general, I like it when my students ramble. It’s a sign that they are getting comfortable in the language, and it allows me to take a more passive role in the class. The problem, here, is that our class is supposed to end at 14.00, and I have to be across town at 14.30. If my student continues much longer, I’ll be late for my next class, and that won’t look good.
Meanwhile, my student holds forth: “…it’s only going to lead to more congestion, but in different areas of the city…”
Navigating a perfectly timed English class is like trying to land a plane in a storm. You have to know exactly when to advance the conversation or when to let it run itself out. If the student runs out of things to say too early, you need think of ways to fill up the final minutes. But if you advance the conversation too late, they might want to continue talking long after the class has ended. This is what’s happening now. I need to find a way to hastily bring the class to a close, which can be challenging, because I need to maintain a personal relationship with the student. If I simply cry “Shut up! We’re done now!” they might not feel too comfortable opening up to me in the future. Fortunately, I have a secret weapon for just such occasions – Lip balm.
My lip balm of choice is Lip Ice, and I’ve been using it since I was old enough to have lips, pockets, and the dexterity to operate the wheel that pushes the Lip Ice up from its plastic tube. I become manic if I go for extended periods without getting that menthol hit. At any given moment I have a stick of Lip Ice in my pocket, and a backup somewhere within my vicinity. Lip Ice has been a part of my life for so long that I have learned to wield it like the Doctor wields his/her Sonic Screwdriver. It is dangerously manipulative, and if used in the right way it can shift the balance of power in my favour.
As my student’s rant reaches fever pitch, I calmly fish into my pocket, and pull out my stick of Lip Ice. This is the game changer. This is the joystick that allows me to subtly adjust the flight path of the class. The action of putting my hand into my pocket has caused my student to think of his own pocket, and by extension, his own phone. Now he is less interested in what he is saying and more interested in what messages he might have received during the class.
As he watches me pull the the cap off the Lip Ice, single-handed, and pass the cap to my left hand, I am keenly aware of the way my student’s rate of speech has downshifted by the smallest iota.
“Really, the government should have done something ten years…ago…”
I twist the wheel on the Lip Ice, and briefly break eye contact long enough to gauge how much balm is extending from the rim of the tube. Then I meet my student’s eyes once again.
“I just think that it’s…it’s too little too late… I… don’t know…”
With my eyes fixed squarely on his, I pull my mouth into an exaggerated O-shape and, with utmost slowness and precision, I apply the Lip Ice to my lips. Time telescopes. In order to ensure that I cover my lips in their entirety, I run the stick over my bottom lip, and then my top lip, then over my bottom lip again, and then I dab it into the creases where my bottom lip meets my top. It is better to apply too much and then to wipe off the excess than to apply too little. Usually by now my student’s train of thought has derailed completely, but to pound the final nail into the coffin, I squeeze my mouth closed tightly, and rub my lips together. I hold my student’s gaze. With his eyes he tries to say, “This isn’t weird. This is an okay thing you’re doing.”
With my eyes I am saying, “This is weird, right? Isn’t it weird what I just did?”
The damage is done. By now my student no longer cares about the point he was trying to make. He realises that we’re about out of time, and he wants to check his phone. So he abandons his speech with a feeble, “well, anyway…” and then fades into silence.
“Right!” I say, taking full control of the situation. “I’m afraid we’re out of time. But let’s pick this up next week, yes?”
By the time I leave the class it is 13.58.