Noilly Prattle: A teaching moment

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A teaching moment

One of the greatest rewards of being a teacher is when you break through and establish a personal contact with a student. Each becomes a person to the other, not just a label—I teacher, you student—a la Tarzan.  No, I am me and you are you. But that doesn't come as easy as you might think, unless you are in the game yourself.

I recently retired from full time teaching at 70 (well beyond the normal retirement age), but still felt I wanted to keep my hand in the game part time. So, I arranged to work at my friend and colleague's language school a few evenings a week teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) to elementary school kids. I started there soon after we returned from Prague.

One of my classes was a little unruly and seemed to be led by one certain boy—Ko-kun. His name is Ko, the “kun” is added to boys names—it is the child's equivalent of “san” for adults. For example, I am Joe-san. He was obviously the most outgoing and brightest student in the small class of four. Unfortunately he lacked self control. After a particularly exasperating day I decided to apply some behavior modification techniques I had used as a special needs teacher. (I had worked with emotionally disturbed children in a school in Massachusetts in the early 90s.) Of course, this kid isn't ED, just lacks self control. Boys will be boys, especially active ones confined to a classroom.

This week I announced and explained our new “Class Rules”. Rules are all well and good, but you need consequences for when they are inevitably broken. I had developed a 3 strikes = OUT! policy in my previous school, so I reinstated it here. It is useful because it gives the teacher a consistent disciplinary tool and it gives the kid a choice. Japanese kids know and love baseball and all understand that 3 strikes means you're out. I made two posters: one listing the class rules and consequences, the other a graphic illustration of a player making three strikes. 

The first strike out gains five minutes time out. The second, 10 minutes. The third loses the kid his break if before break time, or homework if after break. During the lesson my target kid, Ko-kun showed very good self control when shown the limits.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief, while quietly self congratulating myself. 

Naturally I praised the whole class for good behavior and staying on task, but singled out Ko-kun for extra praise. He was clearly tickled pink and started drawing happy faces on the whiteboard. I said: “I'm happy, too; I'm going to draw a happy face, too.” Ko-kun then drew happy faces for all the other kids and wrote their names under them, including mine, but misspelled it. “Hmm,” I said, “if you're going to write my name, spell it right.”--and corrected it. I then asked him to erase the board. He told me that he couldn't reach the top so I told him I would take care of that.

As I was leaving Ko-kun comes up to me and says: “Joe, I'm giving you some of my snack,” and hands me something junk foodie and cheesie. “Hey, thanks, this is very cheesie, isn't it!” says I.

No pun intended.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Feel good moment!!!