Thursday, October 19, 2006

Well it was always going to happen sooner or later.........

My afternoon class has been difficult. It was designed for teenagers but was actually a mixture of adults, teenagers, and a thirteen year old that could debatably be classed as a kid. The lessons are three hours long which is a drag for the keenest of pupils, and the assigned course materials are not the best either.

Yes I know, a workman always blames his tools. I must be honest, I've been doing little to no preparation for these classes, but I honestly believe I've done Ok in the circumstances. I've taught classes like this before and they've been a disaster. Now I'm more experienced, I've done Ok (so I thought) and some of the students like me.

But these two certainly didn't.

Bow and Pye were their names. Both of them had attended one lesson with me before. Yesterday Bow and Pye were both absent. I had decided to play things light, I even got some of the kindergarten kids from next door in to sing some songs for us and lighten the mood, they did so with gusto.

Today I decided to get down to some work. The subject was food - a sure hit with Thai people - and the question was "What's your favourite food?" It went something like this:

The students walk in. They're a serious bunch it must be said. Not my kind of students but you don't pick and choose.

"Hello Bow!" I say with a smile as she walks in. She's not bad looking so my smile is genuine.

"Uh" she says and sorts of gives me a half nod.

"Hi Pye!" I say as the young teenager walks in. "Hello" she says quickly and hides away in the corner.

The other students enter, chat a little, then settle down.

I ask Bow: "What 's your favourite food, Bow?"

She looks at me as if I was speaking Swahili.

"What's your favourite food?" I repeat, slowly.

"Ally wa?" She says to the other students. That's actually a little rude. The other students start to translate but I stop them.

"What....... food you........ like eat?" I say as I mime the act of eating.

"Eh?" she says.

This is an elementary class, not a starter class. Bow must have sat some kind of placement test that did not include "How are you?" or "What do you eat?" Still, it's my job to help her.

I let the students translate for Bow and she responds by burying herself in her dictionary and refusing to look up for anyone.

I turn to Pye. "What do you like to eat Pye?" I ask. I 've been demorilised into simplifying the question by now.

"Huh" she looks at me.

Oh no. Here we go again.

"" I'm smiling, but I could murder some bastard right now.

"Ally wa?"

Oh no......I'm stuck in some kind of educational Bermuda Triangle!!

I give up and let her friends explain in Thai, which kind of defeats the purpose of learning English but sometimes you have to decide to delay the entire class for one student or sacrifice one spot to save the class. That's the reality of teaching.

I assigned the class a grammar task in the workbook and nipped to the toilet. As I returned, Bow and Pye were walking down the corridor. They mumbled something in Thai and passed on. I went into the classroom thinking they had just gone to the toilet in a pair, as girls do.

"They've gone" said one of the other students. One who actually liked me. my best Kevin Spacy voice...."Like that.......they were gone". They had paid for the course, and after twenty minutes decided they didn't want any part of it.

I've said before, a good teacher looks at his or herself when problems arise in the classroom. I can sympathise with the girls, especially the younger one. She most likely expected a teenagers course with fun and games. Now I can do those courses and do them rather well, but with adults in the room, they like to actually, you know, learn stuff. Classes of greatly mixed ages are a challenge, you have to strike a balance and they'll always be at least one who feels the balance isn't right for them.

I must admit, the rather unsociable and slightly ignorant attitude of the older girl didn't help. Some people think teaching is a one way thing, the teacher can wave his Harry Potter magic wand and turn the student into a party animal that speaks fluent English. That's not the case. Teaching is a two way commitment and like anything in life that takes time to learn, you have to be willing to push yourself and make an effort. If you don't want to learn, you won't get far.

So I hope Bow and Pye will give it another chance and perhaps I can give them the type of lesson they want. I honestly feel in this situation I didn't do much wrong, but there's always room for improvement in a teacher, and next time I'll try my best to spot the "I'm about to walk out" student before he or she does a runner.

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