Tuesday, December 9, 2008

How to Teach on Camp

Last week was spent, not in Moscow, as all of my other weeks have been since I arrived in Russia, but in the countryside (I say last week, when in fact, by the time of posting, it has been about a month since I got back). I was on camp, or, more accurately, I was teaching on a BKC English Camp. Essentially, I signed up to teach three different classes throughout the day: a group of 9 and 10 year-olds, an group of 10 and 11 year-olds, and a group of 13 and 14 year-olds. What was I thinking? At best, I hold children in disdain. Let's not get drawn into "at worst".

Some students were more memorable than others. Regrettably, the most memorable students were typically the ones who were the least well behaved. For instance, I had one 9-year-old who had two volume setting: yelling and maximum. In addition, he said (yelled) only two sentences in English over the course of the entire week:

"She needs to pee-pee!" Honestly. This is the first thing that he said to me in English. And by this point it was Wednesday. His follow-up utterance was:

"Serge is a super super super super super super super [breath] super super super super super FAT PIG![maniacal laugh]" To his credit, his delivery was so impressive that even Serge laughed. Plus, we had been studying animals in class, so at least he was using target language.

Another student of mine evidently had difficulty discerning the difference between his chair and everywhere else. Any activities that we did outside the classroom typically involved him running laps of the hallway like a cricket player, and most in-class activities amounted to him playing Fort under his desk. In addition, he smelled distressingly of rotten play-dough.

If I were to offer some advice to the camp time-tabler, it would be this: review the following excerpt from the daily timetable:

4.15: snack (invariably super super super sweet cookies)

4.30: English lesson. (Note: my youngest class).

I feel confident in attributing some of my classroom management problems to this.

By Thursday I had devised a solution. I would hold the lesson in the eighth floor lounge. Having a dozen hyper-active 10-year-olds run up seven flights of stairs does help to re-calibrate their energy levels, although only slightly, as it turns out. It was rather like trying to empty a bucket with an eye-dropper. As an extension to the solution, I didn't tell the students that they would need to bring all of their books and pens upstairs with them; ergo, most of the students would then have to run back down seven flights of stairs, and up again. And, finally, for the most hyper-active, off task students, a special mission: "Oh no! I've left [arbitrary object of trivial importance] downstairs in the classroom! Can you quickly run down and get it for me?" Even this wasn't always sufficient.

Intermittently, the class behaved well, and for minutes at a time, was genuinely fun to teach. I especially enjoyed the Design Your Own Superhero Lesson, in which the students designed their own superhero (I also love titular instructions). As we were brainstorming various superhero names, all of the students but one ran out of ideas after Spiderman. One kid took it upon himself to single-handedly filled the rest of my board with progressively obscure super-heroes, some of which I had previously only heard of in passing. Then, when it came time to design super heroes, he created IronHulk: The Incredible Hulk, but in a IronMan's suit of armour. Is that not simplistically brilliant? IronHulk could practically take on Superman. If I had to pick odds, I would say that this student will loose his virginity during his first week of university.

My teenage class was somewhat different. In fact, I had very few issues with them, by and large. The same can be said for positive experiences too. Essentially, in typical teen style, they didn't do much of anything. There were, of course, notable exceptions.

On day one, I gave the class a "Getting to you know you" speaking task, and left them to speak in pairs. Walking past one student who was speaking in Russian, I cleared my throat assertively. He gave me a bewildered look, then said:

"Oh, do you want me to speak in English?"

Did I need to specify that? You are on English camp! And right now, you are sitting in your daily English lesson! I gave you instructions in English, and a handout written in English! Forgive me for assuming that, as I gave my instructions, it would be an insult to your intelligence to specify the language that you should employ! . . . "Um, yes, please."

Additionally, I had two students who kept arguing with each other. One of them even started crying once.

Hey, I've got a solution for you: one which doesn't require my intervention every ten minutes! Don't sit next to each other! This isn't an airplane, and there isn't assigned seating! This should not be a lesson in basic initiative!

Additionally, they told me that I look like Pushkin. I take as a welcome change from being told that I look like Art Garfunkle.

By far, though, my most memorable student also made me the most uncomfortable. She was ten years old, and had the most un-subtle crush on me I have ever encountered. I'm not especially quick on the uptake when it comes to this sort of things, but she made sure I didn't need to be to understand her intentions. It would have been adorable and endearing, were it not for the fact that, in the absence of the necessary English skills, she kept grabbing out at me whenever she wanted my attention. Given her four foot stature, I found myself having to always be ready to leap backwards at a moment's notice.

I'm weak on drawing long posts to a satisfactory conclusion.


TheRevFincham said...

I enjoyed reading this! I hope one day that you might teach /me/ english.

Fifi said...

Today I opened the Ngaio for a rehearsal for the graduation of effectively the ESOL college and was surprised that, despite having learnt English, they preceded to present the whole ceremony in Japanese. The only exception was the choir number (Alleluja).

Cage said...

Out of curiosity, do the russians have an assume-all-males-are-pedophiles policy similar to NZ and the UK?

(i imagine it being policed by a russian fur-hatted guard standing by the door sholdering an AK and swigging vodka from a flask. he serves the dual purpose of executing the teacher should a child walk too close to him, and also enforcing the hall-passes)

theflyingnerd said...

*At least* you've got game.
That's all i'm sayin'

O Graeme Burns said...

Russians don't have the view that all male teachers are evil. Quite the opposite, in fact. Because male teachers are such a rarity here, they are viewed as being quite good, and people seem to think that they are much better at imparting discipline (in my case, not so true, though). As for interacting with students, anything goes. We can physically move them if they're misbehaving, or lock them in the bathroom if we want, (not that I ever did, but nobody would complain). We're even allowed to HUG the students.

Incidentally, I think I would appreciate it if ALL women expressed their intrest by yelling my name in a Russian accent and grabbing at my balls.