As you know, I teach English to kids in the neighborhood. I have four classes of three to five kids in each at different grades. Most of the classes are fun and noisy and I really do enjoy teaching. BUT... I have had one class that I just cannot get any life into. They've been coming for more than four years, you'd think we all jive together pretty well, and at first we did. They were cute 1st graders and embarking in the new world on English, eager to learn, eager to get praise, eager to try new things (we sometimes make cookies, crafts, play American games, etc.) But as they got older, this particular class got quieter and quieter and I wondered what had happened to my smiley, noisy students.
Actually, this is not limited to this one class. There are always kids, mostly girls, who are shy and sweet and can't speak above a whisper. After kindergarten there are rarely any hand waving, jumping-in-their-seats kids who want to let you know that they have the answer on the tip of their tongue if you'd just choose them. Japanese kids are more cautious, they don't want to stand out, they don't want to make a mistake. I know, I'm blatantly stereotyping , but this is something I've noticed for a long time. Is it personality? Is it behavior? Whatever, I have five of this type of student in one class
Shall I go off on a tangent? When my kids were little and I took them to the States, I remember one time at church I introduced them to some of my old friends and their children. My kids (I think it was Takumi) responded to the introduction by looking at his feet and mumbling and when asked a question just cocking his head without answering. Of course, adults would make excuses for this kind of behavior. He's shy. He isn't confident in English. He hasn't been trained well. (That was true.) But the child of the other family turned to his mom and asked "Is something wrong with that boy? Is he retarded?" What a lot of shushing and apologizing that ensued. On top of that, Takumi who actually had excellent English comprehension, was shocked that his behavior could be taken as "something wrong". From then on, I taught my kids to look at people in the eye, answer clearly, smile and when at all possible make the first move in conversation. And they realized that at least in America if they behaved shyly and didn't take part in the conversation, they were certainly misunderstood!
Back to my class. For the past year it got so that I could not get any of the kids in this class to answer me. I understand that they might not know an answer to an English exercise but even things like "Do you want to play SET today or UNO?" was met with downcast looks and cocked heads. Before class, when they'd come in, I'd ask (in Japanese) "What did you do this week?" No, answer. Not even acknowledgement that I'd ask a question. "Tell me in Japanese, it's ok." Nope. Nothing.
You know. That's rude. When someone is talking to you, you look at them. You let them know you know they exist! But I'd get nothing and that's even before the English lesson! You can imagine when I'd start asking them to do an exercise. Silence. Easy stuff too! Ok. No volunteers, pick one child and ask him by name. Nothing. Look at the table. How long can I wait? Go to the next child. Same thing. And the next, and the next. It was contagious. Over the months, of course I've talked to the kids about how this makes me feel, about how this isn't going to work in society. How English is a verbal language, you have to used it. I'd ask if this is how it is in their class at school. Silence. Do you not like me? Silence. Are you afraid of peer pressure? Silence. I'd talked to the parents and suggested that maybe these kids really didn't want to be taking English. No. The parents insisted that the kids wanted to come. That they'd been properly reprimanded and they promised to try. Not much change.
I fully expected to start a new season with these kids yesterday when they showed up. I was eager to show them American pictures, give them the presents I'd bought them, do a bit of review and get into the new book we'd started. I got zero reaction from the pictures (they barely looked at them), no thank yous for the presents, and silence from questions about their own summer. I just stopped. I just said I really didn't think they needed to come anymore, ever, and that I would talk to their parents after class. I didn't particularly get angry though I think in trying to make them understand that their behavior wasn't acceptable I did ramble and my voice shook. They never said a word or looked at me. I said the rest of the time we could play a game, what would they like to play? Nothing. I finally pulled out a couple games and we played for a half an hour. They played grudgingly.
Ok. Do you know how I feel? I feel like a lousy teacher. I feel like a failure and a quitter. I feel like I've given up a good chance to be a positive influence in their lives. I feel like because of me and my final ultimatum they will go through life with a bad taste in their mouth for English in general.
The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.
~William Arthur Ward
~William Arthur Ward