Letters from an Anonymous Friend are emails my long-time friend writes me that I get permission to publish on Screwed Up Texan. With the promise that I’ll keep her anonymous. Well, when she’s not giving herself away.
This school year, for some crazy reason, I felt the need to add a body to my classroom. No, not another student, but a teaching aid. Over the summer I had met a fellow language teacher who uses a giant soft doll named Pedro to ease her students’ fears about speaking a foreign language. I mean, if you speak incorrectly to the teacher, there’s that underlying fear of failure; but if you speak to an inanimate object… well, who really cares if you screw up your words?
So, I found Pepe.
His full name is Jorge José Jalapeño, but we call him Pepe. I tell the kids he’s from México, but I actually found him for $9 at K-Mart.
I don’t know why I chose a sock monkey (personally, I think they’re the ugliest things alive… well, not-alive), but a sock monkey is what fits the bill.
It turns out that this monito (little monkey) is a sassy little booger, but he rewards the kids with ‘air-fives’, accompanied by a sound effect which they imitate every time. And the best part is that they talk to him, they practice their Spanish with him willingly and they aren’t afraid to make a mistake.
My 7th graders love him. They love him so much that they insult him, calling him a “cashmere sock” and “freaky looking” (see, I’m not the only one), though they secretly enjoy his returning jibs.
Much to my delight, I can use Pepe as leverage. Almost every day, my 7th graders ask if Pepe “will be there”, or if he can sit on their desk while they take notes. I say, “maybe/we’ll see” and the talkers shape up. It’s the weirdest thing, this sock-monkey attachment.
And goodness knows a lesson is always more interesting if it’s coming from the sock monkey. I was trying to explain a grammar concept to them and the kids kept distracting themselves, so I decided to try an experiment. While Pepe is leverage, he is also more interesting to listen to than I as the teacher, I discovered.
He talks (saying exactly what I want them to learn, just an octave lower and in a Spanish accent) and they’re spell bound; and they participate!!!
Who knew my salvation would come through the ugliest child’s plaything in the world: the sock monkey. ¡Viva Pepe!