One of the things I learned during my first two teacher training sessions last weekend was how important it is for the kids not to speak Korean in my classroom. First and foremost, it forces them to start thinking in English when they can’t even speak to each other in their native language. And also, it makes the class a lot easier to control, since things are going to be pretty quiet if you’re basically cutting out the majority of things they are able to say!
Inspired and enthused by the seminars I’d heard, I returned to school determined to put this new rule in place. It’s not like I’d never tried before, it’s just that about 10 seconds after you say “don’t speak Korean!” they recommence speaking Korean, and before you know it the noise level is painful and you have absolutely no idea what’s going on in the classroom you’re meant to be in charge of. Make a game out of it, suggested the lecturer. Make it seem fun and exciting.
I stood in front of each class that day and bounced around excitedly to get their attention, whereupon I informed them that they had now entered English Land. They were intrigued. After some discussion, we had established that my classroom was a magical place where only English could be spoken, and they were even making up Disneyesque characters that might live in such a place. I got my older kids to make signs (“to help the little ones understand, because you are the grown ups” – they’re 7 and 8), which we stuck on the classroom door:
…and all around the room:
For the first day or two I had to sacrifice a lot of my teaching time in order to be firm about the law of English Land. I said “Don’t speak Korean!” so many times that I’m surprised I haven’t woken up saying it in the morning. But it was worth it. The children now line up at the door, excited about entering English Land, and they even reprimand each other in English (“Hey! Don’t speak Korean! This is English Land!”) and rat each other out (“Teacher! Sally is speaking Korean!”). I was absolutely delighted to hear my first graders having simple but practical English conversations among themselves as they played in the ten minutes before class started. Even the kindergarteners are thinking hard and managing to communicate perfectly well in English, using all the vocabulary they know and mimicking my sentence structures. It’s like a little miracle! They make mistakes, and they get frustrated, and they mix up their pronouns and confuse their tenses, but they’re SIX! I think they’re amazing.
And then this morning I was sitting at my desk having my coffee when there was a knock on the door. One of my 6-year-old girls came in and said “Good morning, Hayley Teacher – this is for you!”, and proudly handed me two drawings.
She then gave me a little butterfly hair clip and said “Thank you for the English Land!” before looking anxiously at me to see if I appreciated her gifts. I don’t think she was disappointed with the delighted smile and heartfelt thank yous I gave her.
Sometimes I really do feel as if I have the coolest job in the world.