I've read the warnings about how what you tweet, blog or post on Facebook can very possibly come back and bite you on the bottom later in life, most probably when you really don't expect or need it to. I understand the dangers, and accept them.
I also understand that certain readers may have high expectations of me as an ELT professional. If that applies to you, it might be a good idea to stop reading now.
It is time for English Raven to confess. To raise a wing and reveal some of the less savoury feathers squirreled away beneath.
I haven't always been a model English teacher.
Right. Let the airing begin, in the hope that cleansing and healing may follow...
I have taught with a hangover before. Okay, I've done it several times - though admittedly only really in my first couple of years of teaching, when I was stupid enough to let my own boss drag me out on the town, thinking I was "doing as the Romans do" and following the local customs. Which I was. But I shouldn't have.
On one particulary (un)memorable occasion, I had to teach a group of kindergarten students with an absolutely shocking hangover. One little girl eyed me shrewdly for a while, then told me it was cooler on the floor and I might feel better if I lay down there. Another little girl, eyes wide with empathy, told me to go to the restroom and have a good heave. "That always makes my daddy feel better," she concluded wisely.
I've deliberately made fun of a non-native co-teacher. I was teaching a class of late elementary school aged students who were preparing for a speech contest, and they were all memorising a short version of the Daedelus and Icarus story. During one lesson, I noticed suddenly that all the students were mispronouncing the word "feather" (they were using a long "e" sound so that it sounded like "feether"). No problems, fixed that little pronunciation issue, and had them all saying "feather" properly by the end of the lesson.
I came in to teach them the very next day, and they were ALL saying "feether" again. Actually, it was even more pronounced and was starting to sound like "feeether." I chortled a bit, thinking they were having a bit of a joke with me, and then told them to please go back to using "feather" correctly again.
"We're not allowed to," one student confessed. "*Nicky Teacher said it's feether, not feather." Well, *Nicky's just made a little mistake - just a very small one, mind you, because I think *Nicky Teacher's English is excellent, you know. But the kids were adamant. "She said you're wrong," they said, squirming a little, "... because you're from Australia and sometimes you don't say words right."
I managed to retain a sense of humour about this, and went to see my non-native teaching partner. The all-wise, all-knowing, dialectal expert *Nicky Teacher. Without batting an eye, in front of several staff members, she said it straight up. "You're wrong. You come from Australia. That's NOT how 'feather' is pronounced. I think you have to swallow some pride and admit you are wrong. Don't be ashamed, just teach them 'feether', okay?" A small argument developed, and eventually she turned her back on me and just walked away.
I stalked back to my class, wondering how in the blazes I wasn't going to cause a massive "loss of face" incident (not including the one I was already experiencing myself - and oh so unjustly). This was the so-called senior teacher of the non-native staff. So I arranged a little surprise for the expert *Nicky Teacher...
The next class, when it was her turn to teach, the students had some questions ready to ask her.
"How's the weether today, *Nicky Teacher?"
"Are you weering leether shoes today, *Nicky Teacher?"
"Do you want to eat some breed, *Nicky Teacher?"
Unbelievably, *Nicky Teacher still didn't believe I was right, but the sentences from the students at least convinced her to call up her Canadian friend and check it out.
"Mmm, guess you were right," she said later. "Hehehe! It's not my fault if I can't say some words perfectly, you know. I'm NOT a native speaker!"
Yeah, yeah, I know, I know - should've found a better and more sensitive way to have handled this. Give me a break, I was a first-year teacher...
I've been thoroughly thrashed in a battle of wills with a 3.5 year old kindergarten student. We had a little girl in our kindergarten section called Jennifer. She was too young, technically, for the program, but was let in because she was "a genius." I think that was putting it mildly. She seemed to have an IQ of about 400. And like all young geniuses, she exhibited her intelligence by making trouble, inciting kindergarten bitch fights, and occasionally leading all out revolts against the establishment. Teacher after teacher tried and then demanded to be released from her class.
It got to the point where I, the most qualified and most experienced teacher at the time, and also the school's Academic Coordinator, had to step in. "Don't worry," I said soothingly to the troops in the staff room. "I will take care of this class personally. Jennifer will be a model student by the end of the week."
By the end of the week, I was seriously considering taking valium.
I tried everything in the little brown basket of non-lethal classroom management strategies for very young learners. Then I tried some stuff that worked more for young learners. Eventually, I started using techniques that were generally more appropriate for problematic teenagers, and while I did start to make some ground, Jennifer was still very much a Feral Sheryl with the capacity to win a Nobel Prize for Science (or perhaps Psychology).
Eventually, I went for the final method, the Big Cohuna. I marched Jennifer out into the hallway (okay, she sauntered out there), made her stand against the wall, leaned down, hands resting on my knees, and attempted to stare her out.
She stared back at me for more than 3 minutes, without flinching or blinking. After a while, I realised she was actually having a conversation with me just using her eyes. It went a little like this:
"This is the part where you try to psych me out, isn't it? It's a bit of intimidation mixed with kindness, and it's all about asserting that you are stronger than me, and yada yada yada, but - and please understand, I am awfully sorry to have to tell you this - you have all the insight of a blind badger... in a bag. Compared to me, you have about as much willpower as it takes to cover a very small and pathetically thin water cracker biscuit. Have you heard that saying about Big Mountain: Deep Valley? Guess not... Okay, shall I explain why the sky looks so high in autumn? Not getting anywhere here, are we? Is that a bead of sweat on your forehead? It's okay to blink, you know. You know you want to. Look, let's just admit that I've already been to all the places you're going to, and I'm going to all the places you'll never be. Want to go back into the class now? I think I hear the principal coming down the corridor, and you know how unseemly it would be for you to be seen getting totally stared down by a toddler..."
I cracked. I blinked. Defeated. By a toddler.
"Right," I said, somewhat shakily. "Yes. I'm glad we've sorted that all out. Now let's go back into the classroom."
She nodded sagely, followed me back into the class, and - very interestingly - was a model of good behaviour from that moment on. Once I'd admitted she was stronger and a hell of a lot smarter than me, she appeared to be satisfied, and made no more fuss.
I've laughed myself silly at students breaking wind in my class. On one particulary memorable occasion, a 3rd-grader let an enormous beef go in the middle of a test. As the other kids recoiled in shock and disgust, he looked around and said, nonchalantly, "What?" - with tone and facial expression exactly replicating the man's behavior at the end of this clip here.
I laughed so hard I had to leave the classroom. When other teachers couldn't understand why I thought it was so funny, it made me laugh even harder. I was actually crying by the end of it all. Hilarious little guy...
I've isolated students in small rooms before. Two teenage students in one of my classes - a boy and a girl - were so nasty to each other and so hell-bent on disrupting each and every class with vitriol-laden insults to each other, that eventually I took them out of the class, down the corridor to the small(ish) storeroom, shut them inside (but not locked, mind you) and told them they weren't allowed to come out until they'd sorted out their differences.
They remained inside for about a minute, I'd say, making no noise whatsoever. They came out looking mildly horrified. I won't say they suddenly became nice to each other after that, but the insults and disruptions ceased altogether. Perhaps it helped them sort out the 'tensions' between them. Perhaps they were just completely horrified at the thought of being shut up in a room with that many English coursebooks stacked up around them...
Yeah, yeah, I know - wrong, wrong, wrong. Again, I was a first-year teacher at the time. Just because stuff works doesn't mean it's right...
I've abused positive reinforcement policies at schools for my own entertainment. A sterling example of this was at a school that insisted the teachers give stickers out to students at the end of each class - theoretically if they'd done well, in practice no matter how they'd behaved because the general idea was for the kids to go back home to their parents and talk about what a fun and cool school it was.
I quickly discovered that the children would do anything, anything in the world, for extra stickers. I didn't believe in the practice (at that stage in my teaching, I was all blustery about intrinsic motivation and all that), but was constantly berated for not being as generous as the other teachers. I decided to see how far I could take it...
At the end of one class at the end of a particulary frustrating week with the school's owners, I offered the class a challenge. I wouldn't give out three stickers today to each student, nor even six or nine stickers. I was going to give a whole sheet of stickers (100 in total) to whichever student agreed to do whatever I asked them to do, on the spot. One girl quickly volunteered...
One minute later, in the busy foyer of our school, crowded with parents either waiting for their kids or waiting to have their kids leveled into our program, a 5th grader suddenly dashed in, ran around in circles, waving her arms wildly, singing "I'm getting stickers, I didn't do anything, but I'm getting stickers...!"
Thank God none of the parents understood a lick of English... My self-indulgent protest against the Stickily Stupid Sticker Policy quite possibly backfired completely, as parents and kids saw an obviously happy girl dancing around with stickers in her hands.
Terribly immature on my part, I know, I know. What? I warned you at the start of the post, did I not? I was young... I needed the money... I didn't know what I was signing, swear!
I've used the PPP Method in my classes. Actually, both of them. Presentation, Practice, Production and Pretense, Procrastination, Pleading.
* Certain names in the this account are entirely factual. If they ever come across my blog, I want them to remember me, and know that the whole world now knows exactly what they did!