April 2006 – The benefits of drinking with students

This is a post that did not originally appear on my blog in 2006. NOVA had a strict policy against teachers interacting with students outside of the classroom, so posting this at the time would have been a very bad idea.

NOVA kids was one of my least favourite parts of being a conversational English teacher. NOVA organizes their classes by age group – Kinder is 3-6 years old, Junior is 6-9 years old, and Senior is 9-12 years old. The makeup of a class is determined by demand and availability, which occasionally leads to situations like I had in one of my Kinder groups – a very bright 6 year old in with a bunch of 3 and 4 year olds.

The 6 year old girl, lets call her Momoko, couldn’t move up to the Junior group until the next time the classes were reassigned. The work that she was doing was too easy for her, and she was obviously not enjoying her 40 minutes of English lessons with a bunch of younger kids. She decided to enjoy her class time by getting the other kids to do things like hiding my teaching material, playing with the light switch, throwing around anything that wasn’t bolted to the floor, and generally making my class difficult. She didn’t do any of these things herself, she just influenced the other kids and enjoyed the chaos. I did sympathize with Momoko being stuck in a classroom full of little kids, but as a teacher I was very frustrated.

Momoko was usually picked up by her mother, but on one particular Saturday her father showed up instead. The father (let’s call him Takuya) was a high level student at Mishima NOVA, and was one of the people who would often go out for drinks and karaoke with other teachers. I’ve had a few very fun late nights out with Takuya and others, but I had been unaware that he was Momoko’s father.

Takuya greeted me in English and asked how Momoko was doing in the class. Employing the tried and tested “sandwich method”, I told him that Momoko was the strongest student in the class, she was often causing problems because the work was too easy for her, and I thought she was ready to move up to the next age group. I gave a few examples of Momoko’s behaviour, watching her curious reaction as she saw the teacher and her father speaking English in front of her. This was obviously something she had never considered before.

Takuya had never heard this kind of feedback about his daughter before. He thanked me for sharing, kneeled down to her height, then proceeded to talk to her very sternly in Japanese for a few minutes. She went pale and looked like she wanted to crawl under a rock. At the end he told me in English that Momoko’s behaviour would improve.

The next time I saw Momoko, she had turned from a troublemaker into a model student! My Kinder class suddenly became a lot easier and more productive. A few weeks later when the classes were reassigned, she joined by Junior class and continued to be the best behaved student in the class.

NOVA’s policy prohibiting teachers from associating with students outside the classroom makes sense; they want to avoid any situations that could cause lawsuits, damage to the school’s reputation, and especially loss of repeat business. Companies needs to take measures to protect their business, but at the same time, allowing sensible interaction between teachers and students or teachers and parents can be a huge benefit.

In this case, my relationship with Momoko’s father was a big help in improving the classroom situation for both Momoko and the other kids in the class. Could this have been achieved without hours of izakaya time and karaoke? Probably, but my way was a lot more fun!

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