I’ve always been a bit of an odd case – a cross between the serious, debating, thoughtful type, and the goofy, ridiculous, and childishly curious type. It’s extremely hard to embarrass me, which might be why I’ve come to find that working as an English teacher/assistant with primary students has been the perfect fit for me. Though my students’ tricks would easily get to many other personality types, they just amuse me. In fact, I’ve been known to dish what’s been given to me, to teach them some tricks of my own, and act as more of a teaching-friend than a teacher. Luckily, it’s worked quite well, and I’ve noticed many of my students – who previously spoke in only Spanish – now automatically communicate to me in English. The best part of my job? I get to actually do my job whilst having fun.
One thing that’s been especially amusing to me, as of late, is how easily confused my kids will be in regards to me. At the beginning of the term, I was told to give a short presentation about myself to each class, and allow them to ask me questions about my life and country. Although every question about me has been answered – including the typical “tienes novio” (“do you have a boyfriend”) one – my kids like to pry more and more information out of me as the days go by. As a way to keep things interesting, and to keep them intrigued (and thus more keen on practicing English), I’ve used the following things in my daily routine:
1. Insist you only speak English… at first.
To force my kids to speak to me in English, I spent the first couple of months shrugging when anyone said something to me in Spanish. I played dumb – very dumb – although I sometimes slipped up when I responded to a question said in Spanish. However, I’d always make up an excuse for it, and got to seriously use my acting skills. As I also teach French at my school (which, oddly enough, I teach to them in Spanish), some of the kids found out I’m actually multilingual. Despite that, I tried my best to keep up the act… and still do. In some classes, though, I’ve started letting them know that I understand them completely. One day, a teacher at my school told me I was allowed to tell them instructions in Spanish as I had to supervise them alone, and so I did. Not only did the kids all gasp when I said my first Spanish words to them, they all applauded and decided it made them want to practice English even more. The funny part? They’re definitely even more confused about my origins now, with many insisting I’m Spanish (having my ambiguous look doesn’t help), though I’ve had to reassure them that I’m really who I say am. All in all, the experiment’s been going well, and now all the “why don’t you speak Spanish?” questions have been put to rest.
2. Play along.
I’ve never been the tattletale type. In fact, even at times when it’s been warranted to tell a tale, I’ve usually brushed things off. Sometimes, this doesn’t work in a school setting, but I’ve found myself being a little harsher on the students who truly deserve some discipline. Most of the time, though, infractions are minor enough to not get too upset about. I’ve seen some English assistants get extremely riled up over silly things, whilst I believe it’s in everyone’s best interest to not be overly dramatic. If a kid says something a little stupid to you? Take it on the chin, and say something ridiculous back. As the goofy and weird person that I can often be, I’ve found this to be easy to do, as is laughing most things off.
3. Don’t get weirded out if you find out a 9 year old loves you… or thinks the teacher loves you.
Schools are an extremely weird and confusing place to be, sometimes. The walls are thin, and as everyone sees each other so often, things can get a little wild. So far this year, I’ve heard of multiple little boys in my classes supposedly liking me (with some displaying that with constant hugs), and on the other end of the spectrum, thinking me and their teacher are dating. Think it gets any weirder than that? Well, it does, when the kids all start asking you extremely personal and inappropriate questions. In the end, it’s not as horrible as it sounds, and really just comes back to one truth: your students think you’re cool enough to talk about.
4. Speak in an American accent without actually being American… then wear something Americana.
This one’s a bit of a sore spot for the anti-American English speakers out there, but as someone who isn’t against the USA, I find it amusing. I’m Canadian, which means I’m really not that different from Americans – this is especially true when it comes to my accent. I’ve been told I say a total of two words very differently from the “standard American”, and that in general, it’s assumed that I’m American before I mention anything about being Canadian. When my kids make the mistake of calling me American, I immediately correct them, to which they always apologize. To make things fun, though, I showed up to work one day in a sweater with the American flag stamped on it. Their reaction? Several asking me if I was actually from the US, specifically Hawaii and California (as I had mentioned living in California before and that I had an interest in surfing). End result: it keeps them talking… in English.
5. Always say hi, especially when you see them outside of school.
If I were to begin counting how many times I say “hi (insert student name, followed by a wave)!” a day, I would probably be up all night. One thing I’ve always known is that kids appreciate being seen, and want you to know their name. Even more importantly, you must say hello to them every time you see them. Bonus points for when you see them on the street, and loudly acknowledge their presence. It makes them feel special, and makes heads turn (literally).
Regardless of the tools you use, it’s fairly easy to have fun at the “teaching English” gig, especially if things aren’t taken too seriously. It helps to get to know the teachers, though I know that at many schools, the staff isn’t as friendly as mine. The experience is what you make of it, though, and why not make it the best it can be?
Are you an English teacher/assistant?