mercredi 25 mars 2009

Teaching beats me

I'm a lousy teacher and one of the girls I tutor in English is a lousy pupil.

The trouble is that I'm supposed to teach her and her little sister "English through games". It sounds fun, but it can be quite a nightmare, because it means coming up with interesting games that make the kids use the language. But, since we're only three players, we can't play big group games like tag, or musical chairs (adapted for language use, of course). And the games must be suited to both girl's ages and interests (the young one is 7, the old one is 10). Other problem: the two girls don't have the same level. The younger one is a total beginner whereas the older one thinks she's bilingual but never actually answers me in English.

Other added problem: the older kid is a stubborn brat when she wants to, and she's allergic to effort. And she lacks curiosity. Or she's too self-conscious to express her curiosity. She's in that in-between age of 10 years old. Pre-teen or whatever. She's a sweet kid, I desperately want to believe she is, but she seeks attention only through negativity. By belittling her sister, by complaining, by refusing to cooperate. Sometimes, when she deigns show enthusiasm, everything is okay. But if you ruffle her feathers, you can say goodbye to "teaching English with games" and opt for "teaching English through tears".

My last session with those two little girls didn't go so well. At some point I stopped being all perky and patient. We were making a paper village, and my aim was to finish the village so that we could then invent a story with paper characters. While making the paper village, I was hoping the girls would learn a bit of vocabulary. How to say "house", "street", even perhaps making sentences. But as much as I want to teach them, if they don't make the effort of talking, it's not going to work. I can talk my way through hell in English (not sure why I would want to do that - is the right expression "talking your way to heaven"?), if they keep on answering in French then they won't learn Shakespeare's language or Mika's language for that matter - that's the singer they listen to these days.

The younger one was at least making the village, even though she wasn't talking that much. But the older one had clearly expressed her lack of interest and was not going to do anything while I was there. So I told the older one to make an effort, otherwise I would stop coming every wednesday. And I actually meant it, it wasn't blackmail. I'm getting paid so that these kids get a bit of English inside them, and I'm totally failing in my job. I'm actually feeling pretty bad about being paid too much for babysitting.
I explained that to her - the fact that I was tired of trying to instill knowledge in her little brain without success (I tried to be diplomatic).
She didn't scream or yell. She tried to counter my arguments b y manipulating my words, but it didn't work so well. I think she knows deep down that she doesn't make an effort. And I think she knows that I wasn't kidding this time when I said I would stop coming. And the odd thing is, I think she doesn't want me to stop coming. They enjoy their time with me, but they're not learning anything! I feel like such a fraud after a session like this one.

I better have a great lesson plan for next week in case both sisters are willing and ready to learn. If the older one is still giving me an attitude, then I'll talk to their mom and see what'll happen next. I can't help still thinking about this. Education is so important, but so bloody difficult! How do you know if you're saying the right things, if you're not scarring the kid for life? How do you know when they're pulling your leg? When they're sad and won't tell you what happened? How do you know what really scares them?

Kids are complicated little creatures. And they don't give a shit how they make us (adults) feel sometimes. That's for the best. We don't want them worrying about us. It's our job to worry about them. Not always such an easy task.

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