I’m worried that yeterday’s post reads like I’m bragging about my incredible teaching abilities, so I just want to point out that when I share little victories like that with you, it’s because they’re events worth remembering. They make up about 1% of the amount of time I spend at school and thinking about school.
More common, on the other hand, are the failures. I just don’t generally blog about those because they depress me, and I don’t want to be depressed!
Take Adam, for example. Adam was in one of my main kindergarten classes last year, and I loved him. A bit disruptive and restless in class, but very friendly and bright and keen to chat in English. He was this boy. Now he’s gone to ‘big school’ (i.e. the equivalent of our P1!), and he’s in one of my afternoon English classes three times a week after school. And he’s gone from “disruptive” to “absolute pain in the ass”. He will not shut his mouth. He sits there making random animal noises or whistling, refuses to listen, and causes so much disruption that even the other kids get irritated by him and tell him off. At first, I tried to be his friend and coax him into working. Then I tried being strict and standing by his side instructing him to write each and every word. Then I tried giving him warnings and sending him out of the classroom. Then I tried ignoring him completely and pretending to not even notice that he’d done no work (which, I note, worked for a couple of days, making me think that he simply wanted attention – he realised that it wasn’t working, and quickly made an effort to catch up. But then it was back to his old tricks.).
Nothing works. I’ve lost interest in teaching the boy, which pains me, because he has (or had) real potential. Now I just want him to go away. His attitude frustrates and angers me, and I don’t like feeling angry with small children. I don’t shout at him, I don’t punish him, I don’t do anything, really. He doesn’t want to work, and I no longer try to make him. The amount of time and energy I was expending on him was unfair on the other children, who are actually excited and enthusiastic about learning English.
So his latest trick is pretending to be sick. Being a bit of a gullible fool, I believed him the first couple of times and sent him down to the office, where his parents were called to come and pick him up. But there’s only so many times even I will fall for that, so on Friday I just shrugged and told him to put his head down on the desk and sleep. He looked a bit put out, but at least I wasn’t forcing him to do any work, so he did it. He wasn’t a bit sick. He hummed and whistled and jostled his neighbour’s desk and caused just as much disruption as ever, and I ignored him and made a big show of having fun with the other kids. Then, really pissed off with him, and feeling sorry for the other children who were really getting annoyed with him too, I announced that we’d make a poster for the last 15 minutes, “because you’ve all worked so hard today”. There were cheers of “assahhhhh!” (Korean for “yesssss!” or “yay!”) as books were put away and crayons and scissors and glue and glitter were produced.
Guess who suddenly felt better?
I felt a little mean doing it, but I hoped it would teach him a lesson. And so Adam had to remain in the corner where he’d chosen to be, not participating in the class, as he’d chosen, while we made a poster and coloured in and got covered in glue and glitter and all those sorts of things that are ridiculously good fun when you’re 8* (or 28). And then, after class, they asked if they could go and play in the playground before their class with their Korean English teacher. I said yes. Heck, it was 5pm on a Friday, the sun was shining, and I was going home. They could have gone and played in the principal’s office for all I cared. Off they ran, whooping and skipping. Adam leapt to his feet and – yes, I am evil – I stepped into the doorway, blocking his path.
Aren’t you sick? I asked in OTT concern. If you’re too sick to do your work, you’re definitely too sick to go to the playground! He looked torn. Little sick, he said eventually. I patted his shoulder sympathetically. Well then, come on, sit down and put your head down for a while.
I steered his reluctant form back to his desk, and then he had a brainwave. But now feel not sick no more!
Oh, really?! Great! I said in my most relieved tone of voice. Then let’s do the work you missed today. Open your book.
He appeared to have a sudden relapse at that point, poor soul, and, full of concern, I told him to sit and put his head down again. He sat there looking completely traumatised and trapped.
And you know what? I felt smug.
See? Not such a model teacher after all. Would you want me teaching your little darling?! ;)
* By the way, I doubt that anyone actually cares, but I think I’m going to start referring to their ages in Western terms from now on. Which would make these first year elementary students about 6, not 8. And it means my daily main 7-year-old pupils are really about 5, and the newest kindergarteners 4. Just for the record.