Our school’s core teaching system – the one for which I went on that intensive training course in Seoul a year ago – is so much fun that I think I possibly enjoy it even more than the children.
It involves telling stories, singing, dancing, and doing action activities in a tightly-packed, fast-moving 30-minute class, with the theme and materials changing every month or so to keep building on the English already learned. It can get inside your head a bit – like when you wake up in the morning singing “I’m a big, big turkey” or reciting “Mother who lives in a boot” – but it’s so much fun to teach that you can put up with the unfortunate side-effects. The children love it, and it really works. It’s amazing to watch the vocabulary and speech patterns taking root in their brains and being spontaneously reproduced in other contexts.
Anyway, the theme of the latest level is “Be Nice”, and it’s about time, if you ask me. Much as I love my students, they are seriously lacking in basic courtesy. Yeah, yeah, I know they’re only 5 and 6, but still – I’m fairly certain that my friends and I all knew by that age that it was rude to sneeze all over somebody, and that you should cover your mouth with your hand when you cough. We would also have got a clip round the ear for repeatedly yelling “Teacher! Finished! Teacher! I’m done! Teacher!” despite the teacher’s instructions to remain quiet and wait. Nothing has changed on that front, by the way!
So it was with great pleasure that I introduced the children to the “Excuse me!” and “Be Nice!” songs – one dealing with involuntary bodily noises (to great hilarity) and the other with why it’s not socially acceptable to beat the crap out of someone just because they’re sitting in the chair you want. I am pleased to report that the first one is going quite well, as I have noticed a few polite “Excuse me!”s after just a couple of classes, and one girl actually covered her mouth to cough yesterday. “Be Nice!”, however, is proving to be an unexpected problem.Don’t hit or kick or pinch your friends! Don’t fight or pull their hair! Don’t scratch or hurt them anywhere! Be nice like Johnny Bear!
Why? Well, when you teach a group of six-year-olds the meanings of “pinch”, “kick”, “hit”, and “pull their hair”, and then proceed to sing a song using this new vocabulary, what’s the automatic response going to be? That they might want to perform actions to the song, perhaps? Hell, yeah. The word “Don’t” at the start of each line might as well have been “Please”, or “Let’s”, for I was only halfway through the song when a full-on brawl established itself. A playful pinch to accompany the word was followed by a less playful shove in retaliation, which was followed by a slap, which was followed by someone being dragged out of a chair by her pigtails and someone else being pummeled mercilessly… you get the picture. It was rather stressful, actually.
I waded in, prying wriggling children off each other and setting them upright in their chairs before doing a stern recap of the word “don’t”. Order was restored. I started the song again.
Pandemonium. There was squealing, shrieking, screaming, and yelling. It was not my most successful class, all things considered.
I don’t think this level is going to pan out quite as well as all the previous themes…