They keep you on your toes…

My fifth grade class, the ones I’ve taught since my first day (when they were about 8 years old) are getting bored. It’s that horrible time when they’re about to morph into teenagers and go all Kevin on me, and I have no idea how to deal with it, having only taught young, smiley, happy kiddos up until now.

The thing is, they’re still children. The devastation of puberty has yet to hit, so for the most part they’re still sweet and polite and enthusiastic. But you can sort of… sense it. In the air. Hovering, circling, creeping up stealthily like a lioness on a wildebeest. The signs are growing.The chorus of excited chattering about their day’s adventures when they arrive each afternoon is still there, but is increasingly punctuated by the odd sigh of “I’m in a bad mood”, “I’m tired”, “I don’t want to study”. Most of them still work hard and try their hardest to join in with conversations, but there’s always someone intent on maintaining a listless, too-cool-for-school expression, or slumping over the desk looking perpetually bored. There are groans at everything: get out your books, sit down, let’s start, homework, spelling test, listening practice, roleplay time, speaking class… groan, groan, groan. It’s starting to panic me. I mean, I’m a kindergarten teacher. My 5-year-olds would cheer excitedly if I told them they were going to spend an hour picking specks of dust off the floor.

The problem is magnified by the fact that our school has never had students above the age of about 9 before. Mine are now 11. For one reason or another, the elementary kids drop out over the three or so years after kindergarten, some due to lack of interest or ability, some (far too many, in fact) due to stress, some due to changes of address, etc, etc. Our reputation and experience are therefore solely connected to little children – beginners. This little class is the only one that has kept coming year after year, and the powers that be don’t have a clue what to do with them. They present me with books that are far too easy, and then offer me replacements that a native-speaking university student would struggle with. There’s no curriculum in place, and no structure. We are flailing around cluelessly, and the kids – as I started to say at the beginning of this typically rambly post – are getting bored.

I realised today that I was starting to dread that final class of the day, the one that used to be my favourite, full of laughter and jokes and conversation. The glassy stares, the long silences, and the groans and complaining are getting me down and taking away my own enthusiasm along with theirs. Then it hit me that I didn’t have to keep fighting them like I have been doing. I could do whatever the hell I liked. I’d probably get permission to take them all on a field trip by myself, if I wanted (but my nerves would not survive the experience). So why was I still ploughing away through this book that they didn’t want to study?

I sometimes need to remind myself that I finally have a job where I really can do it my way. And all I really wanted to do when I was their age was… well, watch Friends. So… we watched Friends. Oh, sure, I spent time selecting the right scenes, making a previewing vocabulary list, writing a few discussion questions and suchlike. But basically, we watched Friends. We watched the same scene over and over and over, with new discussion points and exercises between each viewing.

For 50 minutes they worked harder than they have in ages, listening, concentrating, thinking in English. The beauty of it is that they genuinely didn’t think they were working. Bahahahaha! They thought they were having the afternoon off. To them, we were hanging out and watching a funny TV show. As far as I was concerned, they learned a couple of dozen new words, expressions, and contractions, practiced listening to normal-paced conversation until they understood it, and got a grasp of the concept of sarcasm for the first time.

For the first time in weeks, I left work buzzing with job satisfaction instead of feeling tired and defeated. I love how my job is all about staying on my toes, adapting to change, rolling with the punches, and being creative. I’m still relatively new to it, and I’m constantly learning.

That’s why, every time I get an email from a reader considering moving abroad to teach English, I always respond with a whole-hearted “Go for it!” – because I can think of no more valuable and rewarding experience than this one.

2 thoughts on “They keep you on your toes…

  1. Very sneaky – and it *is* a hard age! I taught middle school for years and there’s definitely a bizarre mixture of child and adolescent in that age group. Another thing that they (and everyone else for that matter) love is music videos. You can teach them vocabulary, ‘cool’ phrases, etc and they don’t even know it. Obviously you have to screen for content, but there are tons of things out there that you can use and that they will find ‘cool.’ Another thing that my high school kids absolutely loved was the ‘miniscule’ series of animated short films about insects, worms, snails, spiders, etc. They are hilarious, and the kids loved them. We watched together, practiced narrating, I even had them rewrite and illustrate the stories, reading them to each other, and they really did love them. Maybe this won’t solve your whole problem, but it might be a nice activity either weekly or for a short unit. You can take this in any direction you want, but it’s great for encouraging speaking and practicing narration, and it’s something a little different. Here’s a link to one of my favorites, but the rest are easy to find:

    • Thanks for this, it’s perfect! I love “the quest for the pink lollipop”, and have just showed it to that class. They loved it, too! I had them answer questions, narrate, and then write out the story, and they didn’t complain once. Thank you!! :)

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