Friday, March 9, 2012

First day.. hooray! (Class Reflection)

I really enjoy the first day of class, though it was not so in the past.  Even though I find it necessary to have a more rigidly planned lesson on the first day, as there's plenty of things to get out of the way and less room and/or need for improvisation, the really enjoyable part is getting to know a new batch of students.  In introducing myself, going over class rules, and jumping into the first activity, they're getting a taste of my teaching style and I'm ever watchful to see how they react to it.  Right after class, while the new faces and names are still fresh in my memory, I scribble down their names into their initial groups and note things about their personalities if it seems necessary.  The first day is also a time to set precedents, so while I try to be fun and free to a certain extent, it also has to be clear that I'm to be obeyed and the first day is never without a reprimand or two.

I teach at a private elementary school, which differs from public schools in some positive ways.  For the purpose of English education, each homeroom class is broken into 3 groups of 12 students, grouped by ability.  This is an effective system which allows foreign teachers to focus on individual students and get full participation from the whole group.  I'm at a loss as to how public school teachers who don't speak Korean are expected to get anything done with 30+ students of mixed English levels.. I would never put myself in that position.  Anyhow, the first two weeks of the school year are a bit different because the students have not yet taken their English aptitude tests and are not broken up by ability.  

As a fifth and sixth grade teacher, I was happy to see some familiar faces in this year's sixth grade classes.  There was, however, an issue to which I saw no clear solution at the time, but I believe it worked out constructively.  

In this particular sixth grade class, there is a student I'll name Johnny.  I taught Johnny last year when he was a fifth grader in the lowest-level English class.  His class was smaller than the others, all boys, and all generally averse to learning or participating without considerable encouragement.  Their apathy and reluctance to learn struck me as premature for fifth graders, but it was what it was and I did the best I could to teach them.  I quickly discovered that the class dynamic was largely created by Johnny and that the other students' behavior improved significantly when he was not among them, be it because he was absent or because I had removed him from his peers.  I don't want to imply that I don't like the kid, because the opposite is true.  He's funny and I enjoy seeing outside of class, but IN class.. well we've probably all had a student or two like him.  Anyhow, the important thing about this class was that I had to adopt a much looser teaching style in order to keep them motivated enough to do anything at all; if I had enforced rules in my usual way, I think I would have become the students' enemy and they probably wouldn't have contributed voluntarily for anything.

Monday's class went very well and I had enthusiastic participation from almost everyone.  We played an introductory game called "Murder" which I like to play with the oldest kids and which they seem to enjoy immensely.  I give each student a sheet with about five personal questions ie: what's your favorite color?  what animal scares you the most?  what kind of animal would you like to try eating which you have never eaten before? (Zebra!) .. for some, that last question requires explanation.  While they answer, I give each student a little piece of paper with a 'secret number' on it.  They are then given five minutes to go around the room learning their peers' answers.  During the game, one student will ask another student a question about a third student, eg: "Jason, what is Tanya's favorite color?"  If the question is answered correctly, then the answering student has an opportunity to "murder" another student by guessing his/her secret number.  (Being 'murdered' simply consists of the kid sitting on the floor and becoming a "zombie".. who can still participate in the game and take revenge!;) I'll also write the names and numbers of 'attacked' students on the board, so the game becomes easier as time and guesses go by.

My problem with Johnny arose during the period in which the students had to walk around the room, learning each other's answers.  A minute or so into this phase of the game, I noticed he was sitting at his desk instead of walking around to memorize answers.  He was speaking in Korean with the other student from his class last year.  I told them to use English, if they could, and to participate in the activity, which they readily did.  A minute later, however, I noticed Johnny was back in his chair when he yelled something in Korean to a student across the room.  Not wanting to be too strict and ruin the positive atmosphere in which the other students were operating, I gave him a second warning.  This time, he began to stand up and immediately sat back down, in dismissal of what I had just said to him.  

So I faced a problem.  Should I reprimand him and risk changing the atmosphere of the class on the very first day?  Or should I ignore his behavior since it did not seem to be affecting the other students, who were participating enthusiastically?

While some breaches of classroom etiquette can and should be overlooked, I felt there was no alternative but to be strict since Johnny was given very direct instructions and a teacher must be obeyed.  So I calmly and sternly removed him from the activity and had him spend the rest of class (15-20 mins) as an observer.  The other students noticed this, but they seemed more concerned with the game and we had a great time playing it for the rest of class.

The next day, I was worried that Johnny may have held a grudge against me for how I treated him, as he often feels that others treat him unfairly.  In his defense, the way I was running this class was not how I ran his class last semester, but he would have been reprimanded for that kind of behavior last semester, as well.  So I wasn't feeling guilty so much as concerned.  

To my surprise and delight, he was a gem that day:)  He participated in all the activities, refrained from using Korean as per my rule, and contributed to an even more positive class than on the first day.  So, I suppose I handled this situation well.

Wow, this is a pretty long post, so I'll end it here.

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