Tales from the classroom – The complainers

complain

 

There is nothing more terrifying than a cold audience.

That horrifying feeling of talking to students and getting….. NOTHING!

Or worse: getting nothing but complaints!

I can still remember – with shivers on my spine – a certain group I once had that no matter what I tried, they remained unsatisfied.

They would constantly complain about everything. And I mean EVERYTHING.

The class is too slow. Now it’s too fast. Your accent is too American. There are too many windows in this classroom… The list is endless.

I thought that they would never go for playing games in the classroom since they liked NOTHING about the course: and I was right.

But, as I am a terribly stubborn human being, I decided to insist on it anyway.

I remember the first time I proposed a game to them. They looked at me with a ‘what the hell’ face and, as I insisted, they did it in a very cranky way.

And so it went for the next month: me insisting on the games, they doing it out of obligation and ‘good will’.

I only kept doing it because, honestly, they would complain about anything anyway, so I decided to make the classes a little more lively, even if just for a few moments.

And you know what happened? They complained!

But this time, in English!

And that right there was my reward.

They might not have noticed at the time, but the games were actually helping them improve their fluency – and I could notice!

I just kept saying to myself, ‘They complaining in English now! In ENGLISH!!!!’

So one day I did something sneaky: I recorded the whole class.

Afterwards, I sent them the video via email and asked them to pay attention to how much L1 and how much English they were speaking. And that changed everything.

They still complained about the classroom, my accent, the textbook, the coordination, the duration of the class…………….. But they were happy they were speaking English.

That was one of the most difficult groups I’ve ever had, but of one thing I’m sure: there is nothing a very stubborn teacher who insists on getting their students to learn can’t do!

Tales from the classroom – Do teachers matter?

teaching-wordleI was just 16 when I was first asked to assist a teacher with his duties. A bit too early, some might say, to carry such a prestigious role. Though somehow I felt I was ready.

It was my Drama teacher at the language school I studied at: also quite young, energetic and somehow adventurous. He was the one that, after two years of helping me with my English, suggested I helped him manage the theatre groups he was responsible for.

At first I thought he was kidding, but then I realized maybe I did have an interest bigger than just learning a language twice a week and rehearsing a theatrical play once a week – maybe I genuinely felt curious and excited about the idea of helping others. And I guess he saw that in me and gave me a chance.

Rehearsals began in March and we were looking after around 30 students ageing from 9 to 15 every week for three hours. My Fridays were never as fun as those. I looked forward to Fridays like those kids did to Christmas!

I learned so much from those two years I spent assisting my former teacher: work ethics, dealing with students, dealing with parents, planning classes, time management, classroom management and – what would become my professional life’s obsession – drama games.

I first came into contact with drama games as they were traditionally meant to be used: as a means for the actors to prepare themselves for rehearsal and presentation. And for a long time I lacked to see the connection between those activities that helped us rehearsal and the language class I had twice a week.

It took one book and a very special person to open my mind to that possibility. The book was Theater Games for Classroom – A Teacher’s Handbook and the very special person is a dear friend that unfortunately is no longer with us. He also had started as a student and then decided to become a teacher – a path I myself would choose later on – and he had figured out the connection between drama games and the classroom. Not only figured out, he perfected it bearing in mind the syllabus, demands and requirements of the school he taught at.

He got so good at it and he was such an inspiration to so many around him, that in a few years he became a teacher trainer. And guess who had figured out she wanted to be a teacher and was his pupil by then? Yes, yours truly. And that was when I got a crash course in drama games in the classroom for the first time.

He gave me the book; he ministered the training course; he gave me a path and a passion. And every time I think about him not being here anymore it saddens me that the world can no longer benefit from his great ideas. Though his legacy endures.

Lots of us lucky enough to have been taken under his wing at the time still work with drama games in the classroom and believe in its effectiveness as a tool to facilitate language learning.

If it hadn’t been for these two very important teachers/colleagues/friends that life was kind enough to have put in my path, who knows if I would be where I am today.

Teachers matter. What we say and do have meaning and can affect our students deeply. So if we affect them, let us affect them affectionately. And as I learned from these two very affectionate teachers: drama games can help us do that.

So once again, see you guys next time and have fun with the games.

Michelle Schirpa

(ESL Drama Queen)