In the interests of being positive, I’m not going to write about the Demon Child who has been making two days a week a living hell for me since September. Granted, I could probably make it quite entertaining, but I’m not quite ready to laugh about it yet, and would probably spiral back down into the depths of despair if I attempted it!
I’ve decided instead to write about some of the positive things about my job here in Prague. It’s hard to highlight them when you’re feeling miserable, but when I do, I realise that it’s not so bad!
I do really miss my Korean students. That’s not going away. Having my own classroom, all cheerily decorated with works of art created in my own classes, by my own students, who I saw every single day… I didn’t realise how lucky I was to walk right into that set-up as my first ever ESL job. It’s rare. What I’m doing now is much more common: splitting my time between more than half a dozen different schools, and only seeing most of the children once a week.
It’s harder for me to get invested in their learning and progress, or even to see it. It’s harder to form bonds and attachments, which are very important to me as a children’s teacher. But there are some moments that make me smile, as I’ve realised over the past few days!
My Wednesday pre-school, for example. It’s just perfect. Ideally, I’d love to just work there, every day, and I’d never want to leave. It’s a bright, cheery place, with a big classroom divided into a large play area full of the popular kids wagons, all kinds of toys and books, and a “work” area with all those little miniature tables and chairs.
Like most of the pre-schools, they have the structured day that I’ve mentioned before, but this one has an incredible teacher who really sticks to the routine, disciplines the children, and loves them unconditionally at the same time. As a result, it’s a pleasure to teach there, and the kids are full of enthusiasm and affection. I walk in at 7.55am once a week and have a group of excited 5-year-olds hugging my legs and mispronouncing my name while I’m struggling to take my coat off in the cloakroom – a faint and welcome reminder of my Korean babies.
One part of their daily routine is when the Czech teacher nominates two of them (she keeps a list, so each child regularly gets a turn) to update the colourful felt information boards. What day was yesterday, what day is today, what’s the date, what’s the weather like… as an added bonus, I can now have flawless conversations in Czech about those matters. ;) I join in their classes with all the eagerness of the kids, often a bit lost, but with the teacher seeing my desire to learn Czech and helping me out when I look confused. She speaks no English, to the extent that she generally waves and confidently says “hello!” when I’m leaving – another thing that makes me smile! (A couple of Czech greetings can be used interchangeably for hello and goodbye.)
One little boy is desperate to be able to communicate with me, and has discovered that he can do this by pointing at random objects or pictures and asking “English?” – he remembers most of them, too, so each week when I arrive I have to spend increasingly long periods of time upon my arrival being led around by the hand while he proudly tells me what various things are and I go “yay!” like it’s the only word I know.
Snack time, as in all the pre-schools, happens just before my lesson, and the children are encouraged to be independent and careful. No plastic plates and cups – they have proper crockery, and warm tea in heavy mugs, which they carry to their desks with both hands, tongues sticking out of the corners of their mouths in concentration. When there’s a spill, the teacher quietly stands back as they deal with it – someone making sure no one steps in the puddle, others getting a cloth and helping each other clean up. It’s refreshing to see!
Snacks usually involve some kind of bread and spread (cheese, meat, or fish), or yoghurts, and fruit or raw vegetables. They feed me, too, and I have as a result become addicted to a particular children’s yoghurty dessert thing which I buy ashamedly in the supermarket, hoping they assume I have children.
I spend the first part of my lesson in the playroom, doing vocabulary revision games, action songs, and story time. I spend the second half helping them with colouring/drawing worksheets related to the day’s new topic. The Czech teacher sits quietly at the back to ensure everyone’s behaving, and helps me when someone doesn’t understand what to do. It’s an effortless, fun, perfect class, and I truly love it. I think that would be my ideal job – to have my own class like that, to establish routines with them and teach them every day, and to watch them develop. I’m genuinely sad when it’s time for me to go home!
The other thing that really makes me smile is at the huge school where I teach 5 classes every Thursday. I’m gradually getting used to the set-up – my first experience of co-teaching, with the classes’ regular English teacher in the room with me – got to say, really not a fan of that at all, and I begged to be transferred after my first few weeks. My request wasn’t granted, so I’m now trying to Just Deal With It. It’s getting better, but I’ll always vastly prefer being in charge of my own class.
However, what delights me about this school is that instead of bells ringing between classes, they play music. There’s a quick “ding-dong” alert a few minutes before the class, which is when everyone’s meant to get to their next classroom and be ready for the
bell music. The start of class is marked by what I can only describe as Disney-style music (think of the sounds in Under the Sea) playing instrumental versions of music in no particular genre. Today we had Barbie Girl at the start of 2nd period, followed by When I Need You at the start of 3rd period. It’s hilarious. I’ve heard several Beatles numbers, a few Elvis ones, and one day I swear they played a Disney-style version of I’m Too Sexy by Right Said Fred.
It’s strange how the little things can really brighten up your day, but that’s one small detail I really do love, no matter how much I dislike teaching at the school. Oh, and the children stand up when the teacher walks into the room, and wait to say good morning and be told to sit down, which is a nice touch. We did that at school, too, but I’d forgotten all about it. It’s so much more better than walking in to find them running around, yelling, and completely ignoring you as you try to get their attention and start the lesson!
So, there. I can be positive. Discipline and hugs and respect and weird instrumental versions of random blast-from-the-past songs… no, I suppose it ain’t all bad!