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  • Dealing with 55 Students by Chris MacInnes 2010

        Fifty-five faces.  Fifty-five youthful, judgmental brains picking you apart.  One hundred and ten eyes staring at you from the second you officially begin your job.   As if moving to another country where customs differ dramatically from your own wasn’t stressful enough; now you’re faced with this trial by fire to greet you as you start your new career.  Walking into that classroom may be the bravest thing you’ll ever feel you have to do.  In reality, things are not as they seem.  That is, as long as you have the right attitude. Fifty-five is a scary number.  Back home, fifty-five in a classroom only happens during very successful Parent/Teacher interview days.  Fifty-five students back home is an anomaly, a fluke usually reserved for a combination of lack of facilities, lack of teachers, and lack of luck.  In Thailand it’s the average or normal amount of kids in a regular classroom.
    I’ve had the privilege of teaching three Prathom 2 classes (The equivalent of North American Grade 2) five days a week for the past three months.  All three have at least 54 students.  All three are different handfuls of English ability, maturity level and attitude, and must be treated accordingly.  But that’s no different from any other class.  They were very scary at first, but I came to love teaching those classes very shortly after starting here.  This article is written to try to prepare a new teacher for this experience as best as can be before actually seeing the class full of students.
     It’s easy to be intimidated by this.  I know when I first heard of the class size, I felt like it was an understated problem to say the least.  But there are a few things that I didn’t realize before I walked in.  First, the attitude of Thai students toward a new teacher is vastly different from the Western perspective.  I expected to be treated as substitute teachers are back home: Hassled, teased, taken advantage of, and mostly useless.  On the contrary, Western English teachers are respected, listened to and enjoyed by the Thai audience.  The attitude children have with us is shocking if one has spent any time with Western children.  Thai students have respect compared to back on the mainland.

        The main thing that works in our favour is that we are farang, the foreigners in a very local city.  You’ll be constantly reminded of this as you travel anywhere, and are greeted by the locals shouting “Hello!” at you, as you are a somewhat rare sight to see.  Businesses will flock to have you as a paying customer.  People will want to hang out with you, sometimes for the sole basis of being seen with you.  And students will fight each other off to give you a high-five.  Being the only one in the classroom with Western features makes you the celebrity.  This advantage is easy to use.  If your attitude is at all enjoyable, the class is yours.Beyond that, I can’t sugarcoat that fifty-five is a big number.  They take up the vast majority of the space, so you feel like part stand-up comedian and part teacher most of the time.  Their desks are touching, one against the other, from left to right, making a little impenetrable fortress of the middle students, so access to them is always nigh impossible. And if they feel like taking a classroom over from you in a verbally violent coup, they can, and will.  Save for your secret weapon…

        The Thai teachers.  Each class is supplied with one, and sometimes has two Thai teachers, who are in charge of the class when you’re not teaching them.  They know the kids better than you do, and they can keep the classes in check much better than a first year teacher can.  Although many speak very little English themselves, they have a lot of knowledge on class management, and it always helps to befriend them to get the little details of the class that you may miss.  Just a warning however: Keeping an unruly mob of fifty-five sometimes calls for some drastic actions, and don’t be surprised if you witness a hand slapped by a ruler, or other like events.  All you can do in this case is to keep moving on with the class.  It seems heartless to some, but it is the way of Thai teaching.  Just think that only one or two generations ago, it was also commonplace in Western schools as well.  It’s just another moment of cultural adjustment.  And, as much as you hate to admit it, it keeps the students behaved.

        Fifty-five limits the activities you can do with the children.  Team games where everyone plays an integral part become near impossible due to sheer numbers and lack of space.  Getting everyone to answer a question would take up too much time, and so only a quarter of the class can be confirmed as getting a certain lesson.  In these conditions, with these huge numbers and only an hour to work with, it’s difficult to keep everyone’s attention, and teach everyone the lesson without leaving one or two quiet ones behind.  There are some strategies to help achieve the maximum learning potential from each class, however.  First and foremost, don’t take yourself too seriously in there.  You must be fun, active and energetic.  Super English puts these on the top of its job requirements list for a reason.  Going into a class with your hands in your pockets would get you shunned before your first piece of chalk screeches across the blackboard.  A big smile, arms moving like a game of charades, a loud and goofy voice, and an air or unpredictability will get you through these classes almost better than the lesson itself.  “Mock” the students’ hand-waving gestures in the name of good fun.  Slide across the floor if your shoes allow you to do so.  Walk like you’ve got something sharp in your underwear.  Make faces.  I once asked Peter what to do during the inevitable moments of silence where I’m out of ideas, and don’t know what to do next.  He replied “When in doubt, dance.”  That strategy has yet to let me
    down.  That’s the type of job this is.
      Secondly: Do your best to learn a little bit about every student.  Due to the numbers, even someone who is good with names will only be comfortable with them all after months of practice.  Personally, I’m horrible with names, and can only name a few off the top of my head for any given class.  But I have learned the personalities.  Learn which students are good for what, and exploit them accordingly.  This is nicer than it seems.  Should the students have trouble following the class, invite the student you know has the lesson in their back pocket to the front of the class.  Have them act out a goofy skit involving the lesson’s vocabulary.  Then, get the goofballs of the class to come up and do an even goofier version.  Once you have everyone’s attention, many times, everyone will be interested in continuing this game, and will learn subconsciously through the trickery of entertainment.  It’s at this time you’ll be able to call upon those who won’t do anything in the class otherwise.
      Thirdly, use randomness.  It’s easy for a child to drift through the year without even having to answer one question in a group like this.  Usually, you’ll have a decent amount of whiz kids who won’t actually put their hands down all day, and that only masks the shadows in the class further.  So, make sure that you use random choosing strategies to keep the rest of the students on their toes.  It’s also easy for a teacher to play to the best students, who know the answers, and forget that there are some kids who haven’t learned a thing.  Try to get those kids interested, or at least scared into learning in case they get asked.  Otherwise, they’ll float into the next grade knowing just as much English as they did two years before.

        You should always try to keep the class entertained, regardless what lesson you’re teaching, and games will become an integral part of your itinerary.  Make the games short, involving two to eight students to play at a time.  Try to get the children who know the lesson well go up first, to make sure the game in understood in practice.  If they pull it off without a hitch, then most of the class will hopefully learn by example.  If they don’t get it, then you may have to try looking at another explanation, or even another game.  After they finish their go-through of the game, and if the class seems eager, then have as many short games involving as many different people as you can.  Always try to involve as many kids as you can, but don’t forcefully make everyone go if they don’t want to.
     If you’re interested in getting everyone in the class involved in a game, don’t make it an active one.  Make it a chain game, where each kid needs to answer their question, down the line, from their desk seats.  For earlier grades, simple numbers are a good start.  Have the kids say their number in order, going down each row, or in teams, whatever you decide.  The best way is to time them, so that with one team, you can beat your own time for the replay factor, and with two teams, they can play at separate times, and the opposing sides won’t have to scream over each other.  Even the slightest of murmurs in a group this size becomes deafening, so picture what all fifty-five students yelling and screaming can do.
     These are a couple of ideas of ways to use the class size to your advantage.  I don’t claim to be the most qualified to tell you about these, but I hope these help you out with starting, or at least quell your fears a little bit about it.  With everything at Super English, your best guide comes in the form of your co-workers.  Within our staff are many different ways of handling each classroom, and many different little hints, tips and pointers that can turn you from a good English teacher to an amazing one.  Should you need help, anyone on staff will be willing to help you.  You will have an amazing supporting cast behind you every step of the way when you are part of the SE team, which I hope will help you achieve my last bit of advice....
     DON’T WORRY.  Only a few minutes into your first class, you’ll realize how lucky you are to be in this
    position.  Nothing makes your day like a mob of fifty-five running up to you for high-fives and hugs when you enter a class.  And nothing makes you want to come back for more than seeing your little army of young learners singing, dancing and enjoying themselves while you teach them their daily lesson.  There’s something about it that you’ll cherish, and you’ll wonder why you ever felt you would have trouble dealing with fifty-five.

  • ADVENTURES IN BABY TEACHING by Tristan Rentos 2011

    You might not think so considering the simplicity of the material, but teaching young students can be every bit as challenging as teaching teenagers, even more so. After spending one year teaching grade three and this semester teaching grade one, I am not without my tricks in the classroom. Here’s how I do it:

    1. The Method

    Remember when you were young and your parents tried everything to get you to eat your vegetables, going so far as to ‘disguise’ them with gravy or the like? You have to do a similar thing when teaching 6 year olds English. Think of it this way - you are a foreigner speaking a weird language they can’t understand, and the average 6 year old has the attention span of a mosquito. To make things even more complicated, you have to keep these kids attentive for 1 hour a day (if you are teaching our English Programme classes). The easiest way to keep a young child entertained is to dance around and act up, but you can’t focus too much on the entertainment because your job is to teach and you are expected to keep up with the syllabus. What do you do?

    The best way is to structure your lesson in the most interactive way possible, and believe it or not the best way to do this is with games. If you try the ‘old fashioned’ method of teaching, grade one students will switch off in an instant if you stand in front of them and lecture in English.  You can’t do this, nor
    can you just open a book and start reading to them. When I say games, I don’t mean games such as monkey in the middle or heads down thumbs up – these games have no educational value. The educational games that we use focus on some facet of the English language, usually reading or speaking. My favourite is a game I call flashcard retrieval, which involves the students collecting flashcards from around the room, reading what’s on the cards and the placing the cards within sentences I have written on the board. The students must then read the complete sentences and tell me if they are correct. This game does have educational value because it contains reading, speaking, and sentence structure comprehension.

    The kids love these sort of games because it gives them a break from how they’re normally taught (Thai teachers conduct their lessons the ‘old-fashioned’ way, as I described earlier). These games should not take up the entire lesson, maybe 10 or 15 minutes at most, but are invaluable when you need to get the kids to participate. This is how I structure a typical lesson:

    1. First 2 minutes: Do something funny to get the kids laughing and relaxed.
    2. 5 minutes: Review yesterday’s lesson (very important for young kids). I always ask many questions to
    keep everyone on their toes.
    3. 10 minutes: New vocab target. Explain very slowly and as simply as possible. Ask Thai teacher for
    assistance to enforce target. Demonstrate physically if possible. Total time spent speaking at the kids:
    15 minutes.
    4. 10-15 minutes: Educational game
    5. 10 minutes: Book target (from textbook)
    6. 15 minutes: Writing task for the day.
    Total lesson duration: 1 hour

    One very important thing to remember is not to go too fast. I spend 2 weeks on any given target, I start out very simply then increase the difficulty when they are ready. For example, I would start with ‘Do you like _____?’, an easy question with a yes or no answer, and work my way up to ‘What/Who do you like?’, a more complex question with varying answers.

    2. Interacting with the kids

    It is important to find a balance between being a fun, caring person and an educator who is in charge of the classroom (it is your classroom - the Thai teachers are there to assist you, not the other way around). For new teachers, Peter will teach you the techniques we use to keep the students under control and focused when you are training. I try to be as fun as possible in my classes, because I have developed an excellent rapport with most of my students and I know what works and what doesn’t. Each class is as different as the person who teaches it, but your students need to know that you always have their best interests at heart, especially the young ones.

    One crucial thing to remember is that under no circumstances should you ever lose your temper in class, for two main reasons. Firstly, if you show anger then you will lose face, which is a big deal in Thai culture – you may lose the respect of your Thai teacher. Secondly, your kids will get scared and they will not contribute anything to the class. If you students do act up it isn’t because they don’t like you, it’s because their other classes are so strict and rigid that they see their English class as their fun time away from the ‘iron fist’. Also, these students are too young to understand why English is so crucial to
    their future, and they don’t care that much about school results.

    The bottom line…..

    If you can teach young students without them realising they’re being taught, you are most definitely a
    Super Teacher!
    by Tristan Rentos