I think that, as an English teacher, you’ve got to accept the fact that some of your students will simply never be able to speak English.
However, as an English teacher, you’ve also got to continue to teach them English.
This makes for some frustrating, trying, and generally exhausting classes – even if it’s just one student who’s struggling. You can’t let them get left behind, and yet you can’t wait forever for them or you end up with a class full of bored, impatient pupils who finished their work ages ago.
Case in point: today’s first class. To be fair, I got roughly three hours of sleep last night, and was suffering from what can only be described as ‘holiday lag’ – having been off work since Wednesday for Lunar New Year, I fell into a most unhealthy habit of staying up late and sleeping most of the day, which resulted in my not being able to sleep until around 5am this morning. Ugh. On some occasions, coffee really doesn’t seem to help as much as you’d hope.
But there we were, all the same, learning how to describe animals by saying things like “It has long ears and a fluffy tail” and “It has a long trunk and big ears”. They had to make up a new animal each – some weird and wonderful creature born of their own imagination – and then draw it and describe it to the class. 80% of the class understood this instruction after my first explanation: Draw a new animal. Not a real animal. Pretend! Imagine! Maybe it has 7 legs and 1 eye! Or green fur with pink spots!
Ahhh! went the 80%, and excitedly started upon their creations.
Everyone else got it after my second, slower recap, with actions and a couple of example illustrations on the board.
Ahhh! went everyone else, also starting to draw.
Everyone, that is, except Kevin, who looked wonderingly at me as I pranced around pretending to be an orange and purple winged creature with two trunks. Not real! Think! Pretend! Imagine! Make up! YOUR animal, funny animal, silly animal!
Tiger? he asked hopefully.
No, Kevin, not a real animal. NEW animal. Many legs, silly colours, no eyes! Pretend!
Rabbit? he mused.
No! Look at your friends’ drawings. Look! See? Funny animals. It has three eyes and a giant tail! It has wings and a long trunk! Do you understand?
Yes. He looked confident now.
Great! So, can you draw your animal now? I prompted.
Kitchen? he queried.
He meant chicken, but this was really no consolation to me at this point. I broke my own classroom rule out of sheer exhaustion and despair. Alvin, please can you explain to Kevin in Korean?
Alvin obliged. The others contributed to the explanation. Everyone showed Kevin their pictures. I gulped down coffee.
Kevin drew a dog.