Noilly Prattle: Are We Communicating yet?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Are We Communicating yet?

Teaching is a theatrical art. It mesmerizes, controls and manipulates the audience. Teaching is an authoritarian dictatorship. It issues commands and expects to be obeyed. Teaching is clinical psychology. It listens to the feedback and reads between the lines.

my beautiful 96-yr-old Mom
Soon after I returned from a summer trip to visit family and friends back in the USA, I was scheduled to teach some 4-hour summer classes at the language school I began working part time for after I retired last March. I had been working three evenings a week for two hours and found that to be comfortable. The director of the school asked me if I would teach a week of summer school classes after my return from the States. Without thinking too much about it, I agreed. But, as the time drew nearer I started having second thoughts about doing such long hours for five consecutive days in the full heat and humidity of the Japanese summer. So, I was delighted when I got a telephone call (while I was soaking in the bath) from the director informing me that I would only be needed for two days.

brownie batter and mugs to pour it in
Where my classes are concerned I'm something of a control freak. I like to be fully prepared for any eventuality. Unfortunately, the summer school planning and schedule was outside of my control and I hadn't the slightest idea of what I was expected to do—a situation which, for me, is unendurable. I did, finally, get a sketchy idea of what the day consisted of and prepared as best I could with a few tried and tested techniques in my shoulder bag to supplement the material that was to be used for the theme of my first day—Ecology and Rainforests. That seemed a rather broad topic to me and included making brownies (cacao grows in tropical climes) in a microwave oven. You only need to imagine 10 kids involved in the process of mixing batter, putting it into mugs and inserting one at a time for 1 1/2  minutes—time consuming, milling around with a range of impatience waiting to microwave the brownies. Finally decided to speed things up a bit with two mugs for 2 minutes at a go. Eventually all the brownies got “baked” and eaten with spoons. Amen!

young artist in the raw
After lunch I decided to have the kids draw a “rainforest” animal in keeping with the ecology theme. This is a technique I developed as an Art teacher during my previous employment. Many kids often complain “but I can't draw” in elementary school Art classes. Consequently, I developed a technique to teach simple structural drawing using basic lines and shapes. It proved to be quite popular with the kids and got some good results and boosted confidence. In this technique I draw on the whiteboard while issuing drawing instructions and the kids draw on drawing paper. For this class, I chose to draw a monkey swinging on a vine with the summer school kids.

The next day's theme was Communication and introduced the concept of secret codes. This sounded like a workable topic that kids would like. The class was smaller this time, only five kids, all of whom I had had the previous day. But, all three of the boys were ones I had been warned about as being behavior problems, one of whom, the youngest, I already knew since he is in one of my regular evening classes. The previous day, after four grueling hours with his limited self control, he had pretty much lost it and erupted in a prolonged crying jag. He seemed in better control this morning. The two older boys had caused no disruptions the previous day, although I had never had them in my classes.

after we "communicated"
The second day, however, they decided to “test” the new teacher and started right in pretending not to understand and making intentionally wrong responses—all pretty obvious techniques designed to get the teacher's goat. I obliged with one of my best acts—controlled fury. Works like a charm, catches them totally off guard. I banged the table melodramatically, ordered them with scowling looks and loud voice to stand up and get out and wait for me outside the classroom. Amid looks of shock and dismay and “what-did-I-do?” they marched outside. I let them stew for a few minutes, then walked out, slammed the door, and, aiming my remarks directly at the boys, gave them an ultimatum: cut the crap or go to the office and explain why I threw you out—and no nonsense for the rest of the day. Decide, now! Best disciplinary technique I know—do the unexpected—works like a charm.

I decided to make a “teaching moment” of the incident. Talked about communication and the different ways people communicate through not only words, but gesture (bang the table), facial expression (scowl), tone and stress of voice (shout). The kids, subdued, readily agreed that I had communicated my anger very effectively and were a delight for the rest of the day.

Would I do summer school again? Ask me again next year.

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