On my first day in the classroom 2 weeks ago, I made a promise to both myself and my ESL students: I will do absolutely everything in my power to be the best damn teacher these Korean kids have ever had. Period. Now, I want you to take a second to understand the ambition behind this pledge. Screw good. I want to be the best. I want to be the love-child of Robin Williams in 'Dead Poets Society', Richard Dreyfuss in 'Mr. Holland's Opus', and Denzel Washington in everything he has ever done. I want to inspire, educate, entertain, and if time permits, shrink the school bus to the size of an atom and explore the human body or outer space. The best.
Take a moment to think about the teachers who most affected your life. What did they all have in common? For starters, they more than likely spoke the same language as you. To the outside observer, this plain fact would appear to confound my dream entirely, but I insist that it is every other common element that made that teacher special: passion, hard work, and resilience. These qualities transcend language, or at least are transferable through the non-verbal cues (read: miming and sound effects) that I use daily to survive. It's an uphill battle, but a manageable one.
Here are the facts. I teach Middle School in
anguage flows and sound development and you have a recipe for kids who are terrified of speaking English. Check-mate.
My solution is stubborn and masochistic, and I call it Guerrilla English. We begin with institutionalized failure and allow for no comfort zones; we are all going to make mistakes and take risks together, and while it may not be pretty, we are going to shake the stigmas, have fun, and ultimately learn together. The teacher is the class clown in my lessons, and I like to use the full space, inject a ton of energy, and make myself look far dumber than the students ever could. I let the class teach me what an English word is in Korean and then unintentionally butcher it (see? even I fail...), or we play competitive games that require English speaking and writing and transform the winner into an idol. I make boy/girl pairings a rule, and if they refuse to interact, I come right at them and mediate a 3-way introduction complete with handshake. We sing, we clap, and we stand on desks. There is a lot of positive interaction, and my hope is that they are learning throu
gh osmosis and embracing the activities. Worst case scenario - they get a break from endless tests and laugh for 45 minutes a week.
Today my classes played 'Never Have I Ever,' which came out of a recommendation from a fellow UWO grad whom I hold in high regard. Just in case the adults reading aren't up to date on their inappropriate University drinking games, this is an 18A game that should be kept as far away from G-rated situations as possible. I worked on it this morning, and with a wave of a magic wand and some clever wordplay, this game is a classroom gem that has kids competing to see who has experienced the most 14-year-old friendly activities. A rowdy edition of "Sean Says" was also in order, as students struggle to keep up with my direction until I get tired and decide to just decieve the rest of the group and win the game. I am like Adam Sandler playing basketball in Billy Madison; I will let the kid get a jumpshot off, but don't be surprised if I slap it right back.
As an aside, here is how you can win any game of 'Simon Says' without ever breaking a sweat. You get the group warmed up and feeling confident, then proclaim "Simon Says Jump!" only to shout "
To summarize, I am trying my best here but the circumstances don't make it easy. My classes are full of good kids and I truly believe that they will learn if they commit themselves to giving their best. Every day is a learning experience for me as well, as I realize that some methods work better than others, and the students constantly teach me about themselves, their language, and their culture. I came to