Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Being a teacher at a Language School - one month in.

Mum has told me I should be writing down some of my experiences of teaching out here in Vietnam, and also I have been contacted by a writer to help her out with a book on teaching abroad.. So it’s time for some reflection!

I am still working at the language school, doing about 15hours a week. The main problem with language schools is, because they are ‘extra-curricular’, work hours always fall on evenings and weekends. The positives of working in a language school rather than an international or public school is that it is much easier to get employed there, the turnover of staff is much faster, you have less responsibility and the expectations on your teaching capabilities are less. The negatives being the pay is slightly less (though I am still on about £10 an hour) and the admin and organisation is pretty shambolic. They are also a lot less strict about you having the $300 working visa…

I’ve been at this particular school for over a month and I feel like I’m really getting the hang of the teaching style required of me now. You have 0 preparation time as I mentioned before, you literally turn up and are given a printed schedule of room numbers and book pages to teach and review and away you go.

I’ll describe a few of my recent lessons and classroom experiences:
First timers:

On Tuesday evening I had a class of first timers at the school, this was their very very first lesson at SY and they were terrified. 20 five year olds, most of whom had clearly never had contact with a real life white person before. Bless them, 2 of them had a melt down upon seeing me, and a further child had a hysterical crying fit as soon as I spoke.The TA removed the kids from the lesson and kept attempting to bring them back in, but everytime they saw me they just cried and cried! I don’t think I have ever scared children this much before just with my face!

My task for the hour was simply to teach them ‘Hello’ ‘Hi’ and give them all an English name. Can’t remember if I’ve said this before but as part of ‘English immersion’ the language schools give all students English names, usually the kids pick their own names which can be pretty amusing… I have taught a Batman, Tennis, Cherry, Pebble, Barbie and Pinky..! Most of the kids seem to end up with slightly ‘out of date’ names though, lots of kids called Tony, Linda, Tina, Bill, Kevin, Dolly, etc. So when asked  to name the kids I was pretty excited! Managed to modernise it a fair bit while not going tooooo over the top – got  a Daisy, Lily, Grace, Poppy, Alex, Oliver and Sam before the TA got involved and named the rest of them Tina and Kevin. For this lesson I just had the kids all come up to the board and draw a picture of themselves and practise writing their name next to it. Most of the kids understood the task but one little boy really was quite confused – he kept turning the drawing of himself into a rabbit.. I have no idea why, he was very very serious about it too.

How to teach a song you don’t know the tune of:

For this lesson I opened the book and read through the page numbers I was supposed to teach and it appeared to be some sort of song… I had no idea what the tune was meant to be and neither did the TA. Trying to think of a song tune on the spot felt a bit too much for me on this day… I wasn’t feeling in jolly big purple dinosaur mode. Thankfully I had a light bulb moment and decided to turn the song into a clapping game! Turns out this is not something the Vietnamese kids are used to, so  the whole concept was quite novel and exciting for them. And it worked a treat, they learnt the song and we all had fun too. WIN, one successful lesson.

Failed lessons:

I don’t want to give the impression that all my lessons are fantastic though, far from it! In fact the failed lessons are possibly teaching me even more than the successes – it is certainly a case of you win some you lose some! A recent disastrous lesson went like this…

I was trying to teach the difference between ‘much’ and ‘many’, I was making a lovely diagram on the board and getting kids to come up and add pictures and words to the board, when suddenly the mood changed. I think maybe they only just realised there was no TA in the lesson or something. Anyway they all started getting up out of their seats and just wiping off the work from the board?! Then they started to go out into the corridor and make loads of noise. I was pretty confused and I can tell you I tried EVERYTHING to get those kids back on board… I tried games, distractions, being cross and loud, being cross and silent, ignoring the behaviour, writing names on the board, dropping my book so it slammed on the floor, waiting silently with my arms folded, bursting into song (shock tactic)…literally nothing. In the midst  of me pointing to my face and saying ‘teacher is not happy, you must sit down class, now it is time to learn’ one of the kids just comes up to me and starts stroking and tugging at my arm hair (Asians just don’t have an arm or leg hair which is so unfair, but means the kids find my arm hair very amusing). Lesson fail anyway.

I'll end this post on a more positive note though! With something I'm proud of that is working out well at the moment. 

My best warmer:

I have also recently come up with a really good lesson starter which works well for all abilities and the kids seem to really get into. It’s basically a speech race. I write a sentence on the board like ‘my name is_____, my favourite colour is_____’ and then I time the class as a whole as everyone says the sentence and we go round and round until everyone is saying it as fast as they can – usually a class of 15 will take 70 seconds initially and after 3 goes, we have got it down to about 30 seconds. I am pretty pleased with the little game and have been using it in almost every lesson now, plus it helps get the kids speaking faster and being less nervous  of mispronouncing – so there is an education element to it too ;)

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