Lessons from the Classroom

I have been living in Vietnam and teaching young learners for four months now, and as much as I would like to say that I’m a complete natural at it and that I’ve adjusted seamlessly, the truth is, it has been a tremendous challenge so far and I still find that I struggle with many aspects of teaching young learners.

I find that teaching children is a completely different universe from teaching adults. A typical young learner classroom is filled with little humans running around shouting, playing, laughing, fighting, and crying. Oh, the crying. They will cry because of the most natural things, such as being hit by a classmate playing rough during break time, or because of some other reason, such as their group mate isn’t playing the game properly and/or is cheating. Since I started here, I have seen so many tears, so much snot, a fair amount of boogers, too much spit, and I’ve heard enough pencil cases crashing onto the floor to last me an entire lifetime.

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned so far is that an effective classroom management system is key. I never used one for adults because, well, they were adults, and they held themselves accountable for their learning and their behaviour in class. With children, though, monitoring their actions and behaviour with a good reward or incentive system to ensure control of the classroom is imperative. The other challenge is that it isn’t only about finding the one perfect formula because what could work flawlessly for one class may have absolutely no effect for another. It’s about finding what works well for a particular class then using it and tweaking it in the most effective manner to get the best results.

Another thing I need to adjust to is energy levels. Adults are mostly fine with sitting down for long periods of time talking to their seat mates or occasionally getting up to do an activity or switch groups. Children, however, need a good balance of both, especially the younger they are. They need activities. They need to be active. They can’t sit still for extended periods of time. They will start to daydream and you will lose them.

I always knew that coming in to teach kids would require some form of myself having to leave my comfort zone of being a quiet and properly composed teacher. Kids need a teacher who can be active and silly and funny. The teacher’s mood does rub off on the learners. I have spoken to my academic manager about this and she told me that it isn’t necessary for me to change my entire personality to successfully teach kids, but that I do need to find some kind of compromise or balance. It will be a challenge.

My course starts in two weeks. I have a lot of work ahead of me and I need to balance full-time hours with the coursework. If the last four months has taught me anything, it’s that I need this course and I really want to do well in it. It isn’t just my inner overachiever saying this, it’s the part of me that knows I still have so much to learn and that doing this will enable me to become a more capable, competent, and confident teacher.

It’s like one really big puzzle. I love puzzles. But puzzles that I can’t seem to solve eat away at me until I get it, and this is one of those puzzles. It has a solution and I want to solve it, and I can — it will just need time, patience, and a lot of work.

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