TEFL Success Stories – Part 53

Simon – China

I think it is too easy to lump kids into separate camps of ‘good’ and ‘evil’. Remnants of a former foreign teachers’ reign may give you some indication as to which way the child sways e.g. finding out a child’s English ‘name’ is ‘Tinker’ or ‘Satan spawn’. But I also think this divide comes down to a teacher’s failure to isolate talent. As a teacher it is your job to identify and then nurture (exploit) a child’s talent. By adopting this mode of thought even the most migraine-inducing child can become a veritable asset to the class.


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Take Sam, for instance. Sam belonged to the worst behaved class in the school, my Thursday-morning class. It was not a rarity to see my assistant teacher weeping quietly into her green tea by 9.30am. There seemed to be absolutely no means of subduing them long enough to teach them anything. After an unusually successful game of ‘Simon says…’ I was enjoying the momentary silence that is ‘Simon says be quiet’, when there was a loud gnawing sound. As I strained my neck to locate the source, I saw Sam bent down under his desk chewing the table leg. His metal table leg.


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It was early one morning as I was watching Sam repetitively educate one of the other kids in the ways of sharing your stationary, that it suddenly dawned on me what Sam’s special talent was. Seizing the moment I announced to the class that I needed a ‘helper’ and asked for volunteers. To everyone’s surprise I chose Sam. Placing his seat at the front of the class facing everyone else, I explained to Sam and the rest of the class what his role would be. His role was to sit and watch his friends – if they were talking or messing around while I was talking, Sam would have a word with them. If it happened a second time Sam would take them to the back of the classroom.

There was no arguing with Sam’s decision. I told him to write his name down on the board under the title of helper and to take his seat at the front of the class, all the while talking to him as I would the assistant teacher. Now, and this is the important part, if any of the class started acting-up, it was Sam who would receive the punishment along with the warning “Sam – control your class!”.

I’ve often wondered how the Gestapo worked … My worst class rapidly became my best class using a careful rotation system of fear i.e. allowing Sam to pick next week’s helper (inevitably a Tinker or Satan spawn). I left my classes with a giddy sense of well being. Had my assistant teacher not still had the delights of child birth still fresh in her mind I dare say she would have asked me to be the father of her next child. Unfortunately, she failed to see that a successful class was due to the appropriate application of talent rather than the ‘helper’ system itself. By choosing children whose talents lay in listening and being attentive, she reopened the world of pain Sam’s talent had previously laid to waste.


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