Out of all my classes, the only class that I see every week (it never changes) happens to be my last class on a Friday and consequently- my hardest. When my lesson finished last week, I left foul and disappointed. Why was it so damn hard for them to listen? Why was there so much disrespect? I worked hard to make my lessons fun and engaging. Shouldn’t that be enough? But as most people who studied education, or have any experience working with children, will tell you, the answer is no. An engaging lesson is never quite enough.
Feeling lost and seeing as how I am not the actual teacher (but rather a mere assistant), I e-mailed my professor for help. His response- “Kick them out. Too bad. They had the chance. Give me their names and I will kick them out.”
Maybe it’s the sappy teacher in me that sees the potential in all my students, but I just couldn’t bring myself to hand over the names. True, as a whole, the class can be unfocused, rambunctious and as of late, disrespectful, but when it comes to each student, they’ve all had their shining moments. I wasn’t ready to just expel a big bunch of them and be done with it. Maybe if I didn’t have a passion for teaching, my life could be a little easier. I could say fuck em. If those little shits can’t be respectful, then they can leave. But I’m not just an assistant. I like to teach and *nerd alert* I leave elated when I know that they’ve learned something. So even though I wasn’t ready to expel them, the question became- What should I do now?
Many conversations and even a little research later, I devised a solid plan. I would come in firm but somehow still leave as the “good guy”.
My plan of attack was this.
1. Come in early. Open the door by myself. I have had the hardest time with my keys and have never actually been able to open room 129 on my own. One student has somehow mastered this skill. How can I have respect, if I can’t even open the damn door?
2. Change their seats. I conveniently had slips of paper with their names on them and arranged them around the room so that 1. they were no longer by their friends and 2. were closer to me.
When they entered the room and sighed in disappointment, I asked, “Do you know why I did this?” to which one student replied, “Because you hate us?” Oh how wrong she was. If only they knew…
3. Have clear classroom expectations. This was linked to the be early part of the plan. I wrote my expectations on the board.
1. Come in, sit down and wait for your name to be called
2. Respect- do not talk while I am talking and do not talk while your peers are talking
3. If you have questions or problems, raise your hands. I am here to help
4. Listen to your classmates and participate. TRY
5. 3 strikes and you’re out.
The last one particularly amuses me as it is a policy I use with my elementary kids. Normally I wouldn’t think such a thing would be necessary with high schoolers, but with this class it seemed to resonate. Especially after I told them their professor wanted to kick them out.
4. Be Reasonable. Give them some input- Seeing as how the professor presented this class to me as “make it fun for them. make it fun for you” I didn’t want to leave as the crazy strict American Assistant. So I wrote some questions on the board for them:
1. What makes a classroom work?
2. What do you expect from your teachers?
3. What do you want from this class?
Their answers impressed and amused me:
“The teacher speak with a student and joke with us”
“I would like to learn English in a good ambiance”
“A teacher who is interesting and learning us”
“A good ambiance, a good and nice teacher, students who participate”
“A class works because we have an exam to pass at the end of the year and for our personal culture. This exam and the marks you have can give you a school and also a work”
“Pupils have to be nice and respect the teacher. A classroom works when there is an exchange between pupils and teacher”.
It’s so wonderful when they get it. ‘Good ambiance’ was a common theme in their responses and by the end of the lesson, I’m happy to say that good ambiance was achieved. The class ran smoothly and we even had time (and focus) to try the adjective game I’d invented. I regained respect. I established my expectations and we still managed to have fun at the end. Teacher 101: It’s always good to shake things up and amazing to see what happens when you stick to your guns.
But we’ll see what next week brings….