I teach my first lesson to a group of eight; five attractive young women, a guy about my age, a middle-aged woman, and Ivan.
Ivan arrives early and wanders the classroom, only taking his hands from the pockets of his tight-fitting highwaters to prod items of interest; a smudge on the wall, the electrical cord attached to the ceiling light. He is about 5’ 6”, 120 pounds, in his late seventies or early eighties. The hair he has left – wispy, off-white strands on the back of his head and around his ears, a few stragglers on top – is pressed firmly into his scalp and neck. The skin on his face is stretched tight around his large brow, and seems to almost swallow up his small, round mouth. My Swedish roommate, Mete, remembered him as “the one who looks like a drunkard.”
When he speaks – only when I force him to by calling on him— the words are raspy, and they come out fast, like an excited Godfather. After a few of his remarks, I decide to keep track of what he says.
When asked his name: “My name, how you pronounce it in English, is Ivan.”
When asked how to pronounce it in Czech: “Eh, it does not matter. I am not here to make problems.”
On what makes a good teacher: “A good teacher must speak fast, for the faster he speaks, the more you gets!”
On what makes a good student: “A good student never asks questions!”
On a movie that disappointed him: “I did not like Titanic because it was very long and I used to be a sailor and I was hoping for a movie about lots of ships and sailing.”
Discussing past teachers he enjoyed with other students: “I cannot answer because I have Alzheimer’s disease.” The group laughs – not at him, he’s clearly trying to be funny – and he points at the middle-aged woman, and says, “You just wait a few years!”