– Homer Simpson
Last Thursday, dressed like Minnie Mouse and sick with the flu, I sang the Hokey Pokey song to a classroom full of gawking parents and students. As usual, the students just sat there in silence as I sang slightly off-key to myself. And as the song on the CD got to the part, “Put your bottom in”, I thought ‘I’ll quit before I bend over in front of this room full of people.’ I’d reached my limit of humiliating situations I was willing to endure in the name of being a good teacher. So I shut off the CD player mid-song, and taught the rest of the lesson from the comfortable position of my chair.
And it was in this feverish, dizzy state of mind that the thought occurred to me that perhaps all that effort I was making to be this Cheerleader of an English Teacher wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t encouraging the children to become more involved, the parents didn’t seem impressed and no one was having fun. Me especially.
The truth is, despite my best efforts, I just have no rapport with Japanese kids…and now I think I’ve finally figured out why.
I’m just too rah-rah-camp counselor for Japanese children. I’ve observed Japanese teachers and they take a much quieter, more relaxed approach to teaching and it produces more results than anything my frenzied Tasmanian Devil routine would ever do. And their lessons aren’t boring either. They incorporate games and songs; they just don’t spend so much time trying to get the children excited and worked up about it (“Come on kids! It’s time for Pictionary! Ooooh! Yay!”). And they don’t talk down to the children either. They speak softly yet firmly and they talk to them in a normal tone of voice.
Despite what the title of this post and that Simpsons quote might imply, I’m not suggesting that teachers shouldn’t care about teaching to the best of their ability, I just think there’s got to be a happy medium. If you teach full time (as I do), you’ll know that keeping up with that Disney Cast Member-routine is near impossible. You’ll burn out pretty quickly and cause yourself unnecessary stress.
So I’ve taken a new approach to teaching: I do as little as possible. And I’m quieter, more reserved and I only smile when I feel like it.
And amazingly enough, it works! Really well. The children are actually showing some signs of warming up to me. I think all of the hearty hellos and big smiles and songs were probably just a little frightening and intimidating.
So try these tips out! And let me know what you think.
How to Be a Lazy (Yet Effective!) ESL Teacher:
- Never teach! That’s what the students are for!Have the children take turns playing the role of the ‘teacher’. I do this when we’re playing a game. I’ll assign one student as the score keeper and another to shout out the commands. This gives them some excellent speaking practice: ‘Erase please!’ ‘ Try again!’ ‘ Your turn!’ ‘ What’s the answer?’ etc., etc. More importantly, it gives me a chance to sit down and relax. Naturally I’ll correct their English when need be and won’t hesitate to step in to referee a dispute or if I see a student struggling. But I think it helps the students relax more to have me (the scary foreigner) sit on the sidelines. It’s less nerve-wracking.
- Don’t write on the board or bother with setting up for activities!Instead, instruct the students to write or draw on the board or move the chairs and desks. It might take a bit of demonstration before they grasp what you want the to do, but after a couple of classes, it’ll become routine. This is great for a few reasons: One, it establishes a routine as well as your authority as a teacher (which are both important with young learners!). Two, it gives them practice in listening comprehension (which is a language learning skill that needs to be mastered before any quality speaking skills can be developed). And three, it’s less work for you!
- Don’t smile or praise them… too much! I know that’s an odd thing to say, but I think beginning teachers have a habit of telling their students they’re doing a good job even when they’re not. I used to do it because I was afraid they’d become discouraged if I didn’t. But all the “great jobs!” and “very goods!” just made me seem phony and I think the children could see right through it. So now I only praise them when they’ve actually done something praise-worthy, which makes them work harder and makes my praise actually worth something.
- Most importantly, remember that nothing is worth sacrificing your own peace of mind. Don’t stress, even if your lesson isn’t going as planned.I used to spend quite a bit of time planning these intricate games and then would get extremely upset when the children were too disruptive or hyper to settle down and play the game properly. Now though, even if I have to spend the whole class just getting them to sit down and cooperate, I don’t view it as a wasted lesson. There’s still English language practice occurring, even if it’s just “Be quiet!” and “Stop hitting him!”. I have one crazy class of five- year- olds who may not know their ABC’s but they certainly understand and and know by heart useful phrases like “Don’t eat your boogers!” and “Don’t touch the CD player!” And I mean, that’s something, right? I like to think so…