Dec 12, 2006

The Hideous Joy of Teaching Children: "Oh boy, it's phonics time!"

So, I mostly teach adults. Well, mostly college students, actually, but every weekday I also have either one or two kids classes. I think that the phrase "love/hate relationship" was coined precisely to describe my relationship with these classes. I love them because, really, they are quite simple. But my job as a Hired Tongue For Kids is pretty straightforward. I hate these classes for reasons that I'm about to elucidate.
I had no idea what to do with the kids when I first got here. No idea. I think my forehead alone sweated a good quart when I realized that I supposed to teach the writhing mass of prepubescence before me, and that I would have to do it on my own. There was a very small voice in my head that said "run," and a very large feeling in my gut that said "ow," and I strode into the classroom and decided to just sort of wing it. You know in School of Rock when Jack Black tries to act like a real teacher? It was kind of like that, but without guitars or Jodie Foster.
Initially, the kids had two reactions to me- utter brattiness, and sheer terror. I remember, very clearly, meeting one of my meekest students, a rather small girl who I think is younger than the other members of her class. Her English is not that good, and I remember saying "Hi," to her the first time.
"Hi," said me.
"Hi!" I told her my name, "What's your name?"
Silence, but this time with shirking into a corner. Also, attempts to become much smaller.
"Hi!" I said again.
It was here that I noticed that big, wet tears were welling up into her eyes, and that I should probably just back off and move on before I had a screaming, crying child on my hands. Still, she said a grand total of nothing the first lesson. I thought about how her parents had paid a goodly sum of money for their child to sit there and be scared witless.
Another little boy actually did cry, loudly, when he saw me. I asked the mom into the classroom with him, and he spent most of the time curled up in his mother's lap while she tried to get him to let go and talk to me. The mother spoke barely any English, but I managed to make some smalltalk with her for a while, and the kid eventually disentangled himself himself from his parent. In the remaining time, we counted to five, played with a ball, and learned that "R is for Rabbit."
For the most part, though, the little 'uns have learned that I am not, in fact, some sort of hideous tentalcle monster which slimily desires to force their squirming and screaming forms into one of my several teeth-betstrewn maws. They've warmed to me, and even if some of them are still very shy, I don't think tears are a problem anymore. Brattiness, however, is.
Last week one of my students (a boy) kicked another (a very small girl) in the face. The week before, three rather rambunctious boys got in a three way punch fest with each other. The week before that, this one girl decided that it would be fun to empty my bookshelf.
Now, in my initial training in Vancouver, we were given this nice little primer on How Japanese Culture Is Different From Ours. The two trainers went on and on about collectivism vs individualism, and all sorts of stuff that would probably make Samuel Huntington grin like a Cheshire Cat.
One thing in particular that they mentioned was how Japanese kids are instilled with a sense of behavior and duty from a very young age. The man who talked about this (and, funnily enough, was Canadian) described how in Japanese schools kids as young as three all line up in neat rows and bow to their teachers, are obedient, etc. This man (who, by the way, was from Canada- a country well know for not being Japan) was full of what I like to call "shit." Japanese kids, methinks, are just as self-centered, rambunctious, violent, and shrill as children anywhere else. Not that that's a bad thing, mind you. In a way, it's sort of comforting to know (in a sort of We-Are-the-World/Kumbaya sort of way) that kids are nasty little snots no matter what country or culture they're from.
But I digress, ever so slightly.
As they've gotten used to me, and as I've settled into a teaching routine, things have gotten much, much better. I think I give a pretty stern "No!" face when I want the kids to knock a given thing off, and I've come to love, absolutely love, phonics time. Phonics time is when they listen to a CD which sounds things out and they try to spell words. It usually takes up about 15 or so minutes of class, and during that time, my brain goes somewhere else. It's a good mental health moment, something that thoroughly de-irony-izes my somewhat tongue-in-cheek exhortations of phonics.
It's not great. I prefer teaching adults to children, and I prefer teaching high level students to low. But, the kids are no longer the daunting pile of expecations that they were when I first got here. In fact, I think that some of them might even start to like me. Last week I got a hug from the little boy who at first wouldn't stop crying. It was cute. So, it's nice to see something that seems initially unmanageable and daunting sort of unravel itself and become routine.
It certainly is (as I said) simple once you get the hang of it, but the whole enterprise does require a fair amount of focus for me. I'm sometimes winded at the end of a kids class, and have to fight the urge to undo my tie. Sometimes, I have tell myself to be very, very patient in class, and to mentally check out for a moment or so. Sometimes I need an extra coffee before I start a class. But it's good, it's workable. I'll probably talk plenty more about kids here in the future.
Yay for phonics time.


Kori the tomorrow lady said...

ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
f says phonics! uh, no it doesn't ha ha ha ha ha ha.

it's all about the inner monolog to stay sane.

small child responding to the rabbit card

"llllaaaaaaa(intensily high pitched)it"

kori's inside the head voice
"you look like a bug and I would have flushed you down the toilet if you were mine"

kori's out loud voice
"well done Aki!"

no, shit, that's what I do in adult classes too....
it's all about keeping yourself amused man. that's the whole trick of it.

I prefer adults too, but there are some kids I absolutely fell in love with. there are a few I really miss. a few I miss more than I will ever miss an adult student because of the way they grew to love me.

and there are a few I grew to hate. like the 10 year old I made cry three weeks ago and am still proud about.

Kristin said...

Yeah. Teaching little kids is really hard. I tutored several young spanish-speaking kids in Wyoming for a while and it was always very trying, but often rewarding as well. I'm sure it will only improve with time. Glad you're doing well. Talk to you soon!

Eric said...

Hooked on phonics worked for me.