Turning it around

My First!  I got an e-mail, and the content had me a bit scratching my head on what or even how to answer the questions.

It basically came down to the following (heavily edited!):

I’m teaching at an adult hagwon these days. My problem again and again seems to be that even though I like kids, they don’t like me back. And the mothers’ complaints dog me.

Now, I take my job seriously. I show up early. I try to do “all the little things”. I try to make it fun. Verbally I’ve gotten promises of positive references from past kids’ hagwon where I’ve been let go.

I really don’t get it sometimes: I see good, bad, ugly, and alcoholic teachers who never seem to worry about anything other than being screwed over by their bosses rather than meddlesome moms.

I like kids. I like teaching. I could really use more income. Is there any way I can turn it around at a kids’ hagwon?

I’ve been thinking about this mail on and off to see if I could impart some great wisdom, but I don’t.  I don’t have an easy cookie cutter answer to the problem of dealing with kids.  I can only tell you what I have seen work and what doesn’t work.

FUN! doesn’t work.  It is like playing games, when you do it with the people you like, the silliest game is great, but playing with someone you genuinely don’t care about, could be your favorite game, it isn’t going to work out as well.

Kids work on an intuitive level, and that is how you got to teach.

ENERGY! works.  When batteries are low, my classes go awry, not always in a bad way, but lack of energy will give the kids an edge in controlling the classroom.  Which is a recipe for disaster.  Get your sleep on, don’t watch too much TV and don’t booze during the middle of the week.  Booze saps your energy for days to come.  I hired 50+ in my workforce, and even though they brought plenty of experience to the field, they did not have the energy needed to deal with kids.

EMOTIONS! Works.  Empathy is the greatest thing in a classroom.  Especially in an ESL environment, you have to be able to just read faces.  When I see some negativity in a child’s face, I immediately ask them if everything is OK.  They will probably say yes, but the fact that you noticed, they remember.  It is OK to be angry with kids, kids understand simple emotions, and anger (in a non-violent manner) shows them clearly that you are disappointed in what they did.  It should be very short lived though.   It is really about developing a rapport with children who don’t posses the language to express clearly, or even understand, what is going on.  Put an exaggerated form of your feelings on your face, and communicating with kids becomes that much easier.

RESPECT! Works.  You got to get them to respect your position, and you got to respect their time they spend in your presence.  ”Wow, this is great!  Now, can you do it better.” is something you should use a lot of.  This not alone acknowledges the effort they put in the work, but also the know that you believe they can do better, and they should try.

SURPRISE!  Works.  It’s good to have some recurring type of lessons, so kids get the hang of it, but you got to mix it up a bit.  Sometimes I will use exactly the same type of documents, but do something completely else with it.  E.g. Instead of reading the text out-loud, paragraph by paragraph, get the kids to say one word at a time.  So if you got 6 kids, each says one word, it creates some fun in class, they have to focus on the material, and they have to listen carefully to what is being said.

COMPETITION! Careful with this one.  Competition should always be fun and enjoyable, but it could destroy the relationships between students and turn aggressive pretty fast.

NEGOTIATIONS! Careful!  The negotiations should be used to convey what it is you expect from them, and that anything extra is earned upon completing what is set out for them to do.  Don’t negotiate yourself into doing less of what is expected of you.  My students know very well that if we can finish my weekly lesson plan, Friday CAN be a fun day.  They also know if we didn’t finish my weekly lesson plan, homework is inevitable.  Those are the kinds of negotiations that make everyone’s responsibility clear and understood.

CANDIES! Don’t work.  Nope they don’t, and stop fooling yourself, it simply doesn’t work.

FLOW! Sometimes classes flow into something more, something else.  Let it happen.  It gives kids the feeling they have some control over what is happening in class, it empowers them to pro-actively engage themselves in what is happening in the classroom.  The worst students are those who simple don’t engage in the class.  I make it a point to stop class until EVERYONE is on board.  You leave one kid out, next week, that kid is out of class, and it goes on and on.

I don’t know, does this, in any way, answer your question?