No more Mr. Nice Guy

As a teacher of adults, there are probably about a million differences in moving to teaching children. Some of these differences are good, some bad, some neutral, but even after almost 2 months at this job, I am still discovering more every day.

For example, I’ve learned that children have absolutely NO patience. Whatever they are thinking, whatever they want, it has to be said or done IMMEDIATELY. I can’t tell you how many times I have been speaking with a student, or teaching a class, only to have another student come up and say “Teacher!!!!! Teacher!!!!!” to me right in the middle of my sentence. I’ve become convinced that the greater part of the point of elementary school is to teach children to have patience, to delay their wants, and to persevere until the end of a task. As with all things, some kids have mostly gotten it by 5th or 6th grade . . . and some haven’t.

Children also don’t have any sense of how they are perceived by others. This makes elementary school both an exciting and frustrating place. Exciting because most kids won’t balk at doing the most outlandish activities; the auxiliar from last year made a movie with her after school class called “Zombie Attack in Alcalá City”, in which 2 boys played the parts of “Superfly” and “Super Bee”. These boys are TERRIBLY proud of their movie, and they talk about it all the time. It doesn’t even occur to them that it might be silly to dress in Spandex and pretend to be superheroes for a school project. However, kids don’t think about their actions in relation to others in normal, everyday situations either. I have one student who CONSTANTLY talks with his voice at a volume that I would call ear-shattering. Every time I tell him “Jorge! Baja el volumen de la voz, que todavía no soy sorda!” (Jorge! Lower your voice, I’m not deaf yet!) he is always surprised that I am having to say this again.

Kids don’t think you can see them if they are wishing really hard that you won’t. (As a matter of fact, I have noticed this with my adult students and texting . . .). In class the other day, we were doing a listening exercise, the answers of which were in their textbook. One girl had her textbook open, and the English teacher asked her to close it, since copying the answers would completely defeat the purpose of the exercise. She closed the book, but kept her thumb in the book at the page with the answers. I gave her the Look that said, “You’d better not be thinking of copying the answers”, and she focused over enthusiastically on her workbook and hid her textbook, with her thumb still in it, under her workbook!!! So I went over and took the textbook from her. She spent the rest of the class looking at me with a mixture of sullenness and surprise, as if to say, “How did you know I was going to copy???”

Children don’t really understand fairness completely yet, but the smallest things have enormous ethical import to them. If it was their turn to write the date on the board, you’d better not skip them by accident. If you are doing an in-class activity, bet on half the class tattling on the other half of the class for copying their answers. Same goes for students who are talking when they are not supposed to; they will be tattled on almost immediately, followed by angry recriminations from the talking student, and general chaos. Most teachers I have talked to actually find this quirk of children to be the most difficult to deal with, and if the Internet is any indication, there are as many strategies for dealing with this issue as there are schools.

Another way that teaching kids is different from teaching adults is in the realm of punishment. With adults, if they don’t study, or if they don’t do their homework, or if they fall asleep in class, you just give them the F and move on. It is different with kids. Not only are their reasons for not studying/not doing HW/sleeping in class completely different from adults’, part of your job is to help the student grow, learn, and change. This means that misbehavior has to be met with some sort of consequences, immediately, and in a way so as to teach them. Which brings me to the title of my post.

During the school day, we have “The Box” in English class, where your name goes if you are talking out of turn, didn’t do your homework, aren’t paying attention, etc. After putting your name there and getting 2 tick marks next to it, you lose recess time. But I have been hesitant to use this method in my after school classes, partly because I don’t have any recess to take away from them, and partly because I don’t want to make my voluntary classes seem like just another chore. But today I punished my first student. Now, know that I really do love this student, but every class it seems like she can’t sit still, won’t participate appropriately, doesn’t listen . . . Today I told her she had one more chance before I kicked her out, and then when she got up out of her chair again I sent her downstairs. Of course she didn’t go, but I ignored her knocking on the door, and when she was brave enough to open it and try to talk to me, I just said, “You need to go sit downstairs and wait for your mom. You can’t come back in today.” and closed the door again. She got tired of the game soon enough and went and sat on the bench. Success!


No more Mr. Nice Guy! I may be taken aback by children’s behavior every day, but, like them, I can learn too.


One Response to No more Mr. Nice Guy

  1. Pingback: An update or five « An Academic In Spain

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