In my current teaching job, there are 7 classes, each with 12 kids. Many of the kids have been given the same English names and are mostly 4 or 5 years old, with one being as young as 3! Yeah, a child, 3 years old, quite fluent in Chinese and learning English... This is one night during the week, and 1.5 hours on the weekend, beyond their typical schooling. Most 3 year olds in Canada are still at home sitting in their own crap half the day.
The kids are, on average, pretty good; likely better behaved than children this age in North America (and older), especially when you have them in a classroom roughly 28° (government controls when AC can be turned on, and it should be any day now, temperatures this far North have been steady in the high 20's and low 30's for several weeks now).
There are several different types of kids in each class:
- those who don't know what's going on because they don't pay attention
- those who don't pay attention because they already know what's going on
- those who struggle with the content
- those who actively pay attention and engage
- those who excel at the content
- class clowns (some know the content, others don't)
- those who do nothing but sit there
Some students definitively fall into a single category, others into multiple. It's hard to not play favourites, and at times it may be deserved.
For example, say you're practicing a particular word with your class, with the smartest child sitting beside the student struggling the most. Do you give more praise to the kid who has proper pronunciation, good volume and easily gets the word correct or the struggling kid beside them who barely says a word, doesn't get the pronunciation fully correct and doesn't often engage but makes a significant effort?
Offering additional praise/reward to the polarized thriving student(s) or struggling student(s) tells the opposing end of the spectrum their efforts aren't as equally rewarded, potentially demoralizing their participation efforts.
Further adding to the layers of complexity here, each class has a camera and parents (of all 6 simultaneous classes) can see what's going on. Or even harder, when the parents participate in the class (roughly every 2-3 weeks).
And what about the 80% of the kids who advance at the same pace? They'll notice this additional attention to the statistical outliers and wonder why. Treat all equally some say! However this eliminates rewarding students based on their contributed effort and end results.
For the kids who make an average effort but are often not paying attention in class (there's always at least one), are a) almost exclusively boys, and b) I think behave this way because they operate on different types of intelligence than most. It's also worth noting that the top student in each of the seven classes is a female.
This one kid comes to mind named Toni. The kid is so cool and pretty smart. He likes to play a little aggressive with me, and often won't remain seated, always jumping around and talking in class. One day, instead of getting annoyed or having him sit somewhere alone, I started giving him tasks. Move a small table, bring me a chair, get my flash cards (or pick them up) etc.
As soon as I started doing this, he followed instructions like a robot and was diligent in his execution. Should another kid try and help, he'd become insistent on performing the task himself because I request because he do it specifically. Having tried this a few consecutive weeks in a row, I keep having him perform tasks. He continues to behave better and still knows his content. The technique works with the others kids, who behave like him without being assigned tasks, and likewise perform equally well as they become more comfortable.
The first few weeks most of the kids are slightly nervous. They don't know me, the school, other students or the content. It's been an enjoyment observing them become comfortable and even care for me, as I them. Doing so requires keen behavioural observation!
There is one girl who is in a class which recently begun who's been really comfortable with me since the first day. Typically during break, this little girl will approach me and want to talk. I squat down so she interacts with me at equal eye level (as I do all my kids), she grabs my face in two hands and rubs my beard. Her facial expression indicates the sensation is new to her, and she promptly kisses me then whispers something in Chinese into my ear. She does this each week and her mom thinks it's adorable.
I make it a special point to engage the kids when they are with their parents before leaving, in the common area. It builds credibility with the kids and rapport with the parents. They enjoy it when I tickle them, chase them, give high fives, or otherwise playfully engage them. They'll often reciprocate, wanting piggy back rides, me to pick them up, crawling between my legs and the like.
Thankfully it's mostly mothers who bring the kids to class as many are near the same age as me and like seeing a tall foreigner who is good with kids, teach theirs.
Im glad to have the kids I have. My classes are fun, the kids are mostly quite well behaved, the parents seem happy with me teaching their child. Having grown up with young kids around has definitely helped my ability to interact with and manage them. Who knew all the babysitting would bare fruit? Obviously this is extremely unlikely but it'd be interesting to see where these kids are in 20 years. What they're doing for work, how they've grown and if they remember me.
Aside from the basics like being paid more per hour, working less and it being easy work, I feel fulfilled after leaving work. Don't get me wrong, there are times classes can be challenging, but I feel I've helped these kids in their life, and that many see me as the big brother they'll never have.