I’m an English teacher, I teach students who come from all around the world and want to study at University in the UK. I teach them English, Academic Skills, and a bit of Business English.
Term just started, so I was ‘breaking in’ 6 groups of students. This is always the most wearying time, as any issues with discipline need to be dealt with immediately (you wouldn’t think it was an issue with 18-years old+ students, but a bad attitude in the first class is only going to lead to more problems later on), you need to get to know the students and they need to get to know you, you need to explain all the basics of how the school works, how your class works, how it all goes.
You’re setting a positive routine, like blazing a trail. It’s tiring but fun too, as getting to know the students a little can be fascinating. For example, I’ve got:
- a semi-pro soccer player
- a semi-pro volleyball player
- a saxophonist in a jazz band
- the national dance champion of a South American country
And others. We do simple name games and I get them to tell me the most interesting things about themselves. I start by saying (these days) I write zombie novels. That gives everyone a bit of a laugh (“You can buy them on amazon *wink*,” extends the laugh a bit) and they relax a little. It’s offering a bit of sincerity and asking for some sincerity in exchange.
Almost always it works. and if someone resists, like the guy who answered- “Yeah I wrote a book too, it’s about the history of China, it’s 100 words long,”- then I just pummel them until everyone’s laughing at them rather than with them, and sincerity wins out.
ie- “You wrote a book, really? Stop copying my ideas. Get your own. And 100 words, that’s barely even a tweet. You’re from China right, is the history so unimpressive you can write it in 100 words?”
The guy after this guy, before I’d done some pummeling, said his interesting thing was- “Oh yeah I read his book.”
“That’s pathetic,” I probably said, pummeled a bit back and forth, until finally this second guy admitted he won a basketball championship in elementary school. As soon as he says it his attitude changes. I ask my usual not-joke-but-always-gets-a-laugh: “Oh yeah, can you slam-dunk?”
“Ha ha, I was in elementary school.”
Nonchalant shrug. “Lots of kids can slam-dunk in elementary school. I could.”
All students goggle. What? “Ha ha, no I couldn’t.”
It doesn’t really deserve a laugh but it gets one. We all relax. Guy number 1 realizes now maybe he is missing out. This class is a place for sincerity where sarcasm by anyone except me gets shrift, and I only use sarcasm when I’m fighting fire with fire. Folks have to feel safe and sincere in a language class, or they (at least certainly the less confident ones) will never speak.
Of such brimming wit are my early classes made of. I make mis-steps at times, in my efforts to make not-jokes out of student’s information. One student was from Kazakhstan. Of course I asked- “Have you seen Borat? That’s about Kazakhstan.”
He wasn’t amused. Ah well. In fact in a later class he approached and said- “You shouldn’t ask Kazakh people about Borat, they will get very upset.”
“Ah right, are you upset?”
“No, but I’m different.”
I Googled ‘Kazakh angry Borat’ to check out the true feelings. I found this website- http://stopborat.net/about.php . It says:
“We are a collectiv of common conscientious citizens of Kazakhstan who can’t tolerate when someone puts mocking on us. We demand that everyone on the world takes us seriously and knows that we are serious peoples, like Uzbekistan.”
At first I thought it might be serious, then cracked up at the comparison to Uzbekistan. I guess Sacha Baron Cohen put this little beauty up too. It made me think, is it cruel? Are they over-reacting, to get upset? It is funny though. I probably won’t mention it again.