Posts Tagged teaching English to kids

September 29, 2006 – Please don’t spit on the teacher

Today my experiences teaching English to children hit a new low: a 4 year old girl spat on me in the classroom.

Most kids that I have taught are pretty good, if uninterested. However, over the past few years I have been hit, kicked, kanchoed, and had a variety of objects thrown at me, most notably a marker which bounced off my face. I have also had kids call me terrible names in Japanese: I usually let this go for a few minutes before telling them in Japanese that I can understand everything they are saying. Today was the very first time I have ever had someone spit at me in class.

At first I was shocked, then disgusted, then occupied with trying to find something to wipe it off, then back to disgusted with a bit of angry.

Teaching English to children is a very effective form of birth control.

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April 22, 2006 – Zenbu wakatta yo

The month of April has been a busy one for group kids classes. After two and a half years as an English teacher in Japan I would consider myself to be a “good” or “very good” teacher for adults. I enjoy most of my lessons and feel like the students are both enjoying themselves and learning something.

I can’t say the same things about my kids classes; they are the hardest and least enjoyable part of my job.

Today in one of my group kids classes, I had a young girl who decided it would be fun to throw a marker at my face. I wish I could say that I made a matrix-like dodge, impressing the class into respecting my teaching authority. Instead they laughed as the marker bounced off my face while making a smacking sound.

The same little girl decided to up her game later in the class (after I had hidden the markers) by calling me a bunch of nasty words in Japanese. One of the big selling features of NOVA is that the classroom environment is supposed to be English immersion. Even if teachers can understand Japanese, we are supposed to use English at all times. However, after about a full minute of her using every awful word she knew I was getting tired of the abuse. I smiled, leaned in, and told her quietly but firmly “zenbu wakatta yo” (I understand everything). She was shocked, turned red, and immediately stopped the name calling.

English immersion or not, everyone living in a foreign country should make efforts to learn the local language. It might come in handy one day!

Author’s note: I recognized most of the names she was calling me because the “bad” words in a new language seem to be the most fun to learn. This backfired on me a few years earlier which you can read here.

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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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December 12, 2005 – Best class ever!

Today I was working at my old branch in Mishima as part of a shift swap. I has a kids class that was scheduled for 5 young kids (3-6 years old). However, NOVA has been running a promotion where your child can bring a friend to a NOVA kids lesson for free. In addition to the 5 paying children, I had 3 visitors. This should have been a recipe for total disaster, but I somehow managed to give the BEST kids class I have ever taught in my entire time being an English teacher. I have no idea why things went so well, but the whole experience was fantastic.

There was no crying, no throwing stuff, no attempts to kancho the teacher, and no fighting. The regular kids all tried to help the visitors by showing them everything from what to say when they entered the classroom to helping them write their names in English on the workbook pages.

I will never have a better kids class than this one. The bar has been raised. And for all the complaining I do about NOVA kids, this was one of the few very pleasant surprises.

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June 23, 2005 – Missing: the good kid

I spend a lot of time complaining about teaching English to children on this blog, but don’t get the wrong idea: there are some really good kids in the classes. I was even lucky enough to have a good group when I worked at Kawasaki NOVA.

Today, one of my favourite NOVA kids students didn’t show up for class. Why is it that the good ones miss class, but the difficult ones always show up?

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June 19, 2005 – Team teach

I teach several group kids classes, and one of my classes is a problem. Fortunately NOVA sent out an experienced kids teacher to do a team teach with me today. I got to see what a class should look like, and learned a few new techniques for classroom management. They have asked me to try out the new techniques next week and see if I can manage on my own, and if not they will try to reassign the class.

School teachers back home often get training days where they learn new techniques and exchange ideas. I think that would be a great idea in the conversational English school world as well. However, teachers in training are not teaching lessons, which means they are not making money for the school. Given that teachers usually stay for a year and then return home, I can understand why they don’t invest more time in training, although as a teacher it would be really great if they did!

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June 15, 2005 – Breaking up fights, round 2

A few weeks ago I had a kids class where I had to physically restrain one of the students to keep him from beating up another student. I often have some issues with my kids classes, so I don’t think people really understood how crazy the situation was when I tried to explain it.

It happened again today, in full view of parents and staff. The student was upset for some reason, and totally flipped out, trying to attack another student (again). The staff and parents couldn’t get him to calm down or leave the classroom. I ended up doing my best to work with the other kids on the other side of the room.

I would have preferred if nothing like that would ever happen again, but at least this way other people witnessed the situation and hopefully something can be done.

I love teaching English in Japan, but would probably enjoy the job more if I could just teach adults. Teaching kids is a great learning experience, but not always in a good way!

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