The Kids Are Alright
September 9, 2011 10 Comments
In fact, the kids are mostly pretty awesome.
I realized that in all my postings, I haven’t said much about the actual students that I teach and I think I’ve been remiss. Today I had some enormous, storming-out-of-the-office, silent-treatment-inducing drama with one of my co-workers. I’m still annoyed, but the day wasn’t a total write off, and that’s entirely because of my students and how much fun I have teaching them.
I teach three levels of proficiency–Crawl, Walk and Gallop–and each level is broken down into beginner, intermediate and advanced. The levels may have age ranges of up to four years in them but mostly you get kids around 7 or 8 in Crawl, 9 or 10 in Walk and 11 or 12 in Gallop.
The challenge with kids in Crawl is that they are young, they’ve already been at school all day and then they come to me at 4:30 in the afternoon for more information to be crammed into their brains. In another language. They can be at school until 9:00 or 10:00 if they’re cursed with a detention. They’re obviously tired and getting restless, but what makes them easy to teach is that they are still wide-eyed and curious and just a joy to engage with.
Since I’m still learning names, I carry around a class list. On the first day of term I wrote next to the name of a Crawl student, Larry, “instigator.” I know, terrible. But I was trying to figure out the dynamics that were going to play out in the class. What I quickly discovered with Larry though, is that while he has a hard time staying quiet when he’s asked to do so, he is probably one of the most engaged kids in the room. When I was trying to explain the word “different” to the class, and said “opposite of same,” he stuck up his hand and said “Teacher, what is same?” And it turned out, no one in the class knew the word “same.” Because of Larry the whole class learned “same” and “different” and I’m sure we were all saved a lot of frustration in the ensuing activities. Also, when he understands Larry does this adorable thing where he says, “Ahhh, Teacher, understand.” When Larry gets something, it melts my heart.
The intermediate and advanced levels of Gallop classes are pretty much a pure joy because the kids are relatively proficient by then. At that point we can get into some really amazing discussions. We’re forced to do these awful debate classes that are really kind of make work and we have to choose our topics from a magazine that we get every month. It’s almost always a slog for us teachers to pick topics from the magazine (and we nearly came to blows about it this week) but we muddle through. This week, we had to read an article about the American Civil War and in the course of explaining the vocab words that the kids didn’t know in class, we ended up having a lively discussion about discrimination, mostly spearheaded by this girl Jinny. I had Jinny in another class briefly last term and I never realized what a curious kid she was. The other kids got engaged in the class because she really moved the discussion forward with her questions.
When it came time to do the debate topic, we teachers had chosen the dry “Should other countries get involved in civil wars” but my group wasn’t having that. We talked and decided on something even closer to home for them–the re-unification of North and South Korea. We were short a student so, with only three kids in class, I had them form a team to prepare one side of the debate and I did the other side. Mostly when I’ve had to sit through the kids’ debates, they’ve been patently awful. The arguments are weak, the kids mumble their way through presenting them and it’s a pain for all of us. I’ve mostly hated debate class. But this time, it was magic. The topic was relevant to them, they put forward really smart arguments for having done no real research on it and it was one of the most successful classes I’ve run.
There’s one boy in that class, Andy, who literally says everything in a whisper. He’s super bright, his grasp of English is good, but he does not speak above a whisper. I hear he’s quite loud in Korean though. All the other students in that class are girls so he’s usually pretty disengaged, but he was laughing as they worked on their debate points and it was just so cool to seem them all enjoying class.
Walk level is like the puberty of the proficiency levels. Some of the kids have been “leveled up” too quickly. Others are not sufficiently challenged. The girls in that level tend to give a lot of attitude and the boys can really be smartasses too. I don’t know what it is about Walk. However, in one of my Walk class there is this absolutely *tiny* little girl named Cathy who brings up all my maternal instincts. She honestly looks like a cross between a Korean fairy and a field mouse. I have never seen a child who looks so much like something out of a Disney drawing. I have a feeling she is either new to the school or has just leveled up because she has a bit of trouble with the material in a way that makes me think she’s not accustomed to the drill yet. Watching her little brow furrow is just about the cutest thing on earth. She works hard though and I think she’ll be fine. Sometimes she even shouts the answers with the boys and I can see a competitive streak in her that will probably help her go the distance.
In that same Walk class, there are two Kevins. Because asking Kevin 1 to answer question 2 or Kevin 2 to answer question 1 starts to get confusing and annoying, I now call Kevin 2 by his Korean name. I can tell you the class got a good kick out of trying to teach me how to say his name. The poor kid gets chosen for answers more than his share now, just so I can learn how to say his name properly. He’s a great kid though and he really took the ignominy of my butchering his name well.
It ain’t all roses. My other Walk class makes me crazy. There are three girls in the class who I have to give many a stern stare. I had to give some kids detention today because of undone homework and I felt terrible because I know they were mostly just confused about the due date. On the other hand, I don’t see myself feeling bad the first time I give those three girls detention for disrupting the class. It’s a mixed bag, but mostly, the time flies when I’m in class.
Not a bad way to make a living at all.