Day 1, I was handed some chalk, a text book and 37 wild students and asked to teach them English for 45 minutes.
My days have changed very little since then, and while I wonder if the kids are learning anything some days, I feel a whole lot more comfortable with the chaos.
My school day starts at 10am with an assembly outside. Sagar (one of the cool boys in my main English class), grabs a drum out of the staff room and smacks it to death for a good 5 minutes. The kids all line up, do a bunch of stretches to the drum beat and then sing their national anthem. Their voices are a funny mix of tuneless noise and chipmunk sounds as they sing with such pride and passion, their hand on their heart.
The day is split into 7, 45 minute periods. As there are no electric bells, the start and end of each period is announced by a metal lid being smacked with a hammer. The gong reverberates all around the school grounds (and probably halfway round the neighbourhood too!)
My 37 wild students have become my favourite class now. They are 11-12 year olds who are easily distracted, hypo and yet still keen to learn (sometimes). I’ve got kids who yell out answers at the top of their lungs, desperately trying to outcompete the others. I have a bunch of girls who sit down the back and shyly smile at me, hoping for some attention. One girl gave me a bright pink rose yesterday and she was over the moon that afternoon when she saw I wore it in my hair for the rest of the day.
There is the class monitor who patrols the room like an army general, just waiting for someone to step out of line so he can inflict his punishment on them. There are a few shy, quiet kids who understand very little English and are being left behind in the system. Often these kids are taunted by their classmates and the only way they know how to respond is physically. While I have fewer fights to break up these days, there’s always at least three fights every class! And then there is Sagar who I can always rely on when I need a volunteer.
The kids have mostly learned their English by rote and repetition. So there are plenty of things they can say but they don’t comprehend the meaning. I’ve spent the last 3 lessons trying to teach them the difference between ‘how much’ and ‘how many’ and when to use each phrase. Think about it…what would you do??? I raided the teachers resource cabinet, pinched a bunch of dice, sticks and pens and got the kids to buy them off each other. ‘How many pens do you want to buy?’ ‘How much will it cost?’ I hope something will stick!
My class of 5-6 year olds is much smaller, only 16 or so, but just as much work. These kids speak only a smattering of English but have become so cute, it doesn’t really matter. On my first day, one girl slapped another so I made her stand in the corner facing the wall. She kept turning around and I kept turning her back and mimed facing the wall. Somehow, she got hold of her pencil and must have thought I meant for her to practice writing her alphabet on the wall… She got to F before I noticed!!!
I’ve been revising the days of the week with them and was stoked at how well they could say the day names and write them. So I made up some cards, mixed the days up…and realised they weren’t reading. They have the days all memorised perfectly…right down to the spelling, but most kids can’t read. They’re smart though and I think with a bit more time, they will learn to read.
I was going to leave the 7 cards with the days of the week in the class. Until 7 kids grabbed one each and fights broke out…again! I felt awful but I had to collect the cards up and take them away before someone lost an eye! I realise now if I ever want to leave anything behind, there has to be enough for one each.
My most challenging class has 50 kids, aged 10-11! It’s impossible to teach them as a class when there are at least 4 fights or arguments happening at one time. So I’ve taken the position of writing the exercise on the board, sitting down with groups of about 3 at a time, going through it with them and moving onto the next group. I ignore the fights, even when there are tears, as talking, yelling and moving kids to corners hasn’t worked! (There are no corners left with 50 kids anyway!)
All the kids I teach are totally stoked when I draw a star on their work, and almost beside themselves when 2 stars come out. I’m almost ashamed to say that I’ve bribed kids with 3 stars if they sit down and do their work…but it works! Much like the cards I nearly left behind in my young class, the kids are craving attention, praise and something tangible from me (no matter how small). It’s fabulous to see their faces light up and I reckon I get more of a buzz knowing how little it really takes to make someone else’s day.
What I find most amusing is the kids that cause me the most grief in class, regardless of age, are the ones that come up to me after class to say, “thank you miss! Bye miss! See you tomorrow!” They are also the ones who want to hold my hand, carry my books and escort me back to the safety of the staff room! It’s hard to stay mad with them when they turn into such angels afterwards. I suspect the chaos they provide me in class is more that they don’t fully understand the lesson so they do their own thing. As well as kids being kids and seeing how far they can push the boundaries with a new teacher!
It’s been years since I was at school and I have no idea if my experience here is normal in other countries and schools today or not. Regardless, I take my hat off to the teachers who turn up day after day, somehow control their classes, teach the kids and retain their sanity!
Watch this space for loads more antics to come