To start this blog I thought that I would write about my experience teaching small children. To be honest, before embarking on my teaching career the thought of being in a room with small children only and the task of putting a new language in their brains scared the life out of me. I have no kids myself and beyond my experience with my 2 nephews I had next to no clue how to entertain them, keep their attention, make them like me or most importantly have a conversation with them. You can imagine then the fear that struck my heart when I received a WhatsApp from the owner of the school I work for saying, “How are you with kiddies? I have a 6 and 9 year old who’s parents want them to start lessons twice a week”. “Great” I lied in reply to her and so it began. First date like nerves overtook me in the days coming up to the first class and I called every person with more of a clue than me about kids (that being almost everyone in my phonebook) asking for advice and tips.
When I arrived at the family house and met the 2 girls with my prepared lesson for them and set about the first class I realised how amazing small children are to work with. How open, warm and willing they are compared to groups of teenagers for instance. I still am blown away every class about their ability to absorb information and recall it at will, if only our adult brains could do the same! During the classes despite all of the grammar, games, reading and writing exercises I had prepared I learned how adaptable and high energy I need to be with them to adapt to what ever it is I need to do to keep them interested. It is somewhat of a dark art finding out how to get into the brain of a six year old to keep motivation levels high and stop being that boring teacher.
My Philosophy with all of my students, regardless of age, is to gain their respect and most importantly reciprocate it and show them the respect they need. Particularly with youngsters it seems to be the most effective way to get them interested in English. Never is there such thing as a wrong answer that comes out of their mouths, they either get the answer to the question, or they learn. I believe that no child should be told that they are wrong when learning a language or any other subject for that matter. Building their confidence is equally as important as grammar, vocabulary, or any other element of language learning. Both confidence and a good student teacher relationship should be the building blocks upon which easy learning can be attained. As the great Michel Thomas said, “There should be no stress on the part of the student, if you have stress then it inhibits your learning experience. The stress should be only on the teacher as it is their job to deliver the information in a way that can be digested and understood by the student”.
The classes are completely different to how I imagined them. My youngest student (who has almost no English) needs material that relates to her to incorporate English into her world. Needless to say there is no point asking her to sit down and concentrate as the reaction would be disastrous to say the least. However, to use games and drawings, Simon says, playing music and even something as simple as throwing a ball to each other, chuck into the mix a bit of imagination on my part, it has been possible to build up a decent level in a very short time. To achieve the unachievable in the sense of having amazing classes with a six year old who now considers me as a friend. Whatever mood the kids are in, tired, crying, excited or something else, it is the most important to put them at ease before even attempting any teaching I have discovered. Without this as a basis for the classes it would be so much more difficult to achieve anything with them.
The elder sister who is nine years old has a superb level of English and sometimes it feels too easy with her considering how much effort I put in with some of my private students who are in their adulthood. Through avoiding over use of grammatical terms and incorporating interests from her school and private life it is enough to build a solid grammatical base without her even noticing she is doing anything. As with the younger sister it seems to be a very good way to put them at ease and into a more relaxed and information absorbent state by allowing them to lead the classes. Obviously there is a difference between encouraging them to run a riot and putting the idea in their head that they are leading the class. For example Simon says with them works best when I ask them to do the commands, that way they get a sense of importance through stepping into the teachers shoes and practice their language instead of just me telling them what to do.
Now I am always looking forward to my next class with the youngsters as the rewards from watching their skills develop and how much fun it is to be around great children are better that I could ever have wished for. It has been like learning one of the dark arts to be honest in the sense of getting kids on your side when your are petrified of them. I suppose it would be like someone who is scared of dogs getting a job in a kennel (OK that maybe a bit of an over statement) and then finding out they are mad about dogs. Every lesson I give is a lesson for me as much as them in what I learn about the fascinating and brilliant way the minds of children work. However, more importantly is that whenever I go to work with kiddies now I know that it will be nothing short of a true pleasure. So if you ever receive the same WhatsApp that I did from my boss, before freaking out, or maybe at the same time as freaking out, just realise that you might be about to embark on one of the funnest and sweetest missions of your working life.