SOL: Um … a little help here, please?

Jorge’s talking. This is a good thing, of course. When I started this term, I thought he and Nyema would be the toughest students to reach because both were so closed off, so silent and blank-faced.

But suddenly Jorge is talking. For a couple of weeks now. It started after our mid-term conference. He began to give answers readily in class. He started making direct eye contact and laughing at my jokes. These days I could even describe him as an active participant … So what’s my problem?

Yeah. What’s my problem? Tonight I got to work early and went to my office. I turned on the computer and started piling up the books and papers I wanted to carry into class. And then there was Jorge, sneaking up behind me to grab my shoulders and give me a playful little shake. (He’s lucky I didn’t scream bloody murder and jump three feet out of my chair, my usual startle response!)

He backed off right way, and we started talking. He asked about my trip to Chicago and asked some other questions about traveling and about my work at my day job. I brought our work to the classroom and we talked some more.

Please know that this is more talking than I would have imagined having from Jorge in a year of knowing him. And I was happy enough to talk with him … but there was something uncomfortable, too. I don’t see myself sitting alone in the office chatting with him the way I do with Jeovany, the way I would with Billy or Raj if either of them were still coming to school (both have disappeared).

No, Jorge doesn’t scare me, doesn’t make me worry that he’s dangerous or anything … no … it’s just that tonight … well … he seemed to be flirting with me! This is just something so far from the possible, from the acceptable, from the expected. I mean, I am more than old enough to be Jorge’s mother (he’s 17) … and, in some really unfortunate story of ‘tween pregnancies, I could even be old enough to be his grandmother … he should not be flirting with me!

And, really, he’s not. Not intentionally. At least, I don’t think so. More, I get the feeling that he’s trying really hard to be more outgoing and I’m a safe person to talk to in our class … and he doesn’t really know how to talk to girls other than to be flirtatious.

Not that students don’t come on to their teachers. That happened when I taught high school a thousand years ago. I was fairly close to the students’ ages, and they had a hard time seeing the clear line between us. I could laugh off and tease away any overly attentive students simply because I was so close to their ages (still callous enough not to think I was hurting anyone’s feelings, not to think their crushes needed to be taken at all seriously). When I started teaching college and then adult ed, it happened a lot more, but it was easier to deal with then because we were all adults. A lot of times those guys were my age or older, and when they were younger, they weren’t painfully younger, so it was easy enough to handle them the way I would have if I’d met them at a party or a bar.

So maybe it’s not impossible that Jorge actually means to flirt with me, but I really think his behavior tonight was coming more from a place of just not knowing any other way to interact with a woman.

But what do I do with that? A student at my day job commented that it’s up to us, the staff, to teach him the social graces, that he really just didn’t know how to be with people and he needed our help. Well, ok, I guess. I mean, that makes sense to me … but how do I do it? I don’t want to create any uncomfortable situations for myself or for Jorge. I don’t want him to go back to not speaking at all. Most of all, I don’t want to be in any way encouraging, just in case he really is flirting with me!

Rod Stewart’s big in China. Who knew?

I have three Chinese students — Laila, Tom and Jessie. They are primarily in my class because they want to improve their English. Tom really doesn’t need his GED. He’s already got a year of university under his belt. Laila’s got a similar situation, but I’m not entirely clear about her. Jessie started his freshman year but then left to come to New York. They all need to build their vocabularies, to strengthen their pronunciation and to broaden their knowledge and understanding of American culture, but they don’t need GEDs. I don’t have any problem with having them in class, of course, because they are lovely and funny and smart, and they all get along with Josefina, which pleases me because other students kind of keep their distance from her.

The American culture thing shows up in the oddest ways. We were doing some math word problems the first week of class and one problem mentioned G.I. Joe. Jessie called me over. “What is this?” I told him it was toy, a doll who’s a soldier. He stared at the words on the page a moment longer. “People know this?” he asked. “It’s a pretty popular toy,” I said. And he shook his head and went back to work. I imaged that last head shake came from both bewilderment and frustration at the realization that, even if he could read the words, there was going to be a lot of stuff he just wouldn’t understand.

Tonight Tom brought some CDs to class to play during the break. When break started, I headed for the office (just on the other side of our thin classroom wall) to start collating and stapling handouts for our homework … and then I heard it: “I must’ve been through about a million girls/I’d love them and I’d leave them alone.” Yes, it’s the Elvin Bishop classic, Fooled Around and Fell in Love … as presented by none other than Rod Stewart.

Rod Stewart? Yes. And then there was Crazy Love, Love Hurts and even Bread’s Everything I Own. All sung by Rod Stewart. Really.

Maybe I shouldn’t be quite so shocked, but come on. Rod. Stewart.

I poked my head into the room. Laila, Jessie and Tom were rapt, quietly singing along. Jamila caught my eye and smiled. Desirée gave a tolerant shrug.

Tom reached for the volume knob. “Too loud?”

I assured him that it wasn’t loud at all, said I was just surprised by the selection.

“But I love this singer,” Tom said. Laila and Jessie nodded in support. “In China, he is so famous. His songs are all special, all with ideas about love.”

Ok, then. I’ll just shut my mouth … but it’s Rod If-You-Think-I’m-Sexy Stewart we’re talking about here. I am as caught off guard by this as by the news that Iraqis love Lionel Richie.

Yes. Of course. You’re right. Who doesn’t love Rod Stewart? But I’m talking old-school Rod, raunchy, Tonight’s-the-Night Rod. Not this crooning, I-put-out-an-album-of-standards Rod. Yes, yes. Of course I’m a snob. You didn’t know?

Tom, Jessie and Laila go back to their music. I go back to my office … singing Everything I Own under my breath … ’cause you know, who doesn’t love Bread?

I found the Everly Brothers version, but you know you were waiting for Nazareth:

And for you karaoke lovers …

Tom’s right, of course: full of ideas about love.