By Ellen Kirkpatrick
So I met this guy at my friend’s warehouse party. I was pretty drunk and my friend was throwing up outside and I was kind of trying to look out for her while also very keenly on the prowl. Somehow I managed to get a relatively fit dude’s number, before carting my drunk friend home. Can’t really remember talking to him much at the party but he was decent enough that I was willing to text him.
This guy was kind of boring and a bit pretentious, I realised immediately upon meeting him sober for our first date. He was a London boy, he had gone to school in London, and he was working in some boring job that probably involved a lot of Excel spreadsheets and saying things like “let’s touch base” and “we need a kick-off meeting to get the ball rolling”. But he took me to a cute bar with fairy lights strung outside in the beer garden, and that little detail was enough to tolerate conversing with this guy over expensive drinks.
The only vaguely interesting or memorable thing about this guy was that he’d gone to China and taught English as a second language to Chinese school children. That’s quite a cool, worldly thing to do, and it suggested there was slightly more depth to his character than anything else he’d told me so far.
Over gin and tonics he launched into a discussion about the challenges of teaching. While this could be read as “wow, he’s a grounded human who believes teachers deserve a raise,” what it actually amounted to was him just kind of complaining about his own difficulties of that time he went to China.
He said it was quite frustrating teaching small children. In China, for some reason, he was teaching children from about three to five-years-old. He didn’t speak any Chinese, but these kids were really young, and he was supposed to be chatting with them, and playing games, and building their English vocabulary. But they were little brats, apparently. And sure, that sounds pretty challenging.
He told me about this one little girl, who was three-years-old, with these big glasses on her chubby little face. Apparently she was a real terror in class. She didn’t follow his directions, she was distracting, she was naughty. I mean, the poor girl was three, in a classroom with a teacher who didn’t speak her language. To be honest, I don’t blame the kid for acting up.
But he was trying to express to me just how frustrating it would be trying to teach this class. He was really trying to convince me how naughty they were, because I was a bit ambivalent about it. I think I said something along the lines of “well, they’re three, what did you expect?” I was more bemused by the idea that he’d gone to be an ESL teacher but had instead wound up as a very under qualified kindergarten teacher. Then he told me a story that he instantly regretted.
One day, when he was writing something on the whiteboard, this little girl did something that finally made him snap. She got out of her seat for the fifth time, after he’d been telling her all day to sit down. As the girl came towards him, he was suddenly overcome with a hateful impulse to throw the whiteboard marker at this tiny Chinese girl. He – a tall English man – stood over this child, his arm raised, with the whiteboard marker in his outstretched grip. Before he struck her he realised what he was doing, and was able to quell some of the rage inside him. But his arm was still outstretched. He didn’t think about what he was doing, but found himself snatching the thick-rimmed glasses straight off this terrified girl’s face. He held her comically-small glasses in his hand, trembling at the realisation of his own anger, until the moment passed. Now she was crying, and he sent her back to her desk, her glasses clutched to her chest.
After he’d told his story, he said to me, “I don’t know why I told you that.”
“Yeah, I’m really not sure why you told me that,” I said.
He spent a bit of time trying again to impress upon me just how difficult and frustrating it had been to try to teach these kids English, and I was like, “Oh yep, gee, I bet it was. Yep, I completely understand.”
But by that stage it was just unbelievably awkward, and the drinks he was buying me just weren’t doing anything to help that. My complete ambivalence at the beginning of the date had turned into a mild repulsion of everything this guy did. After the date, we were catching the tube in the same direction for a few stops, but when I was getting off to change tubes, I told him I wasn’t comfortable with public affection, and so didn’t want to kiss him goodnight. And then I bolted.
Anyway first dates are always a bit shit, aren’t they? But if your date doesn’t tell you a story about being so furious at a three-year-old that they pull the glasses off her face, then, I guess you’re doing better than me.
Find more of Ellen’s writing (and a novel) at ellekirks.com