An important thing to consider when teaching kids would be what their parents expect from you. Whilst all parents have different tastes, they all want the best for their child. This is quite apt in China, where so many families have only one child, and the pressure they put on success is possibly more concentrated. Obviously, turning up and doing your job to a required level should satisfy the parents. It is also likely that the fact you look different, and have travelled across the world to teach their child, will be enough for them to like you. But there are a few other things that would have you held in even higher regard.
On Saturday and Sunday, I teach in a weekend school, with classes of between 4-8 kids, ageing from 4 to around 12 years old. There is lots of contact here (compared to middle schools, where there is none) between myself and the parents (or grandparents), who arrive with the kids, wait in the school during lessons, and pick them up after. This means there is opportunity for them to not only talk to me at the start or end of the lesson, but also to peek in and observe the class.
So, any parent would want the best for their child. However, it is unlikely that a person in his first year of teaching, whose primary reason for coming to China is to travel, will be the best. But the parents don’t have to know that. Enthusiasm, confidence, rapport with students, and generally being nice and showing that you care about their child, will go a long way. Play to your strengths, and be natural. One of my worries before I started here was that I do not have the energy or personality to sustain a whole day of being loud, singing songs, and acting crazy. This isn’t my style. Originally, I thought that was the only way to teach kids. I understand that sometimes this is necessary, and I tend to just feel the energy in the room, then direct it in an English-speaking direction, instead of trying to completely control everything. And, whilst being the teacher who lectures a class full of fun-loving kids will not be productive, nor will an attempt to gee-up a class who like to be more relaxed. It’s about finding the right balance. This, I think, is what makes the best teachers.
Probably the easiest way of impressing the parents is having the kids produce the language on arrival, or at the end of the lesson. I try and stand at the door, as a kind of entrance, to greet them and their parents, on the condition that they can only enter the classroom if they answer a question correctly, typically using the language from the previous lesson. Similarly, at the end of the lesson, as the parents are waiting, watching and listening, the students are only allowed to leave when they have answered a question using the day’s target language.
A sneak peek
It is very common at my weekend school for the parents to sneak a peek through the door and watch some of the lesson. This could be to check that they’re child is happy, fitting in with the other kids, or, more likely, to check that the money they’re paying you to teach is worthwhile. Either way, when this, happens, the incentive to impress is slightly higher. So I usually make sure, at the very least, the kids are behaving, and are interested in their learning. We play a lot of games in my classes, which the parents enjoy watching. For the sake of variety, sometimes the games are just to burn off some energy before a more boring writing or speaking task. If this is the case, I let them get a bit crazy and just let off some steam, and the focus momentarily drifts from English. If, however, I spot a parent at the door, the game can continue as long as there are some English phrases thrown in for good measure.
Understanding the dynamics of each class and student is imperative to building a rapport, and I think this is the key to really impressing those parents. Obviously, if you get along with them, it doesn’t automatically mean you’re a great teacher, but it makes for a more healthy learning environment. The kids enjoy the classes, will be interested in what you do and say, and be more responsive to questions and instructions, which, in theory, makes for a perfect lesson!
Once a semester, the parents of each child will sit in to watch a part of the class. With the sneak peekers, it’s best to act as if they’re not there. With the presentations, you can go either one of two ways. You can try and ignore the fact that there are an extra 10 or so fully grown adults in the room, and just teach a normal lesson. Alternatively, you can embrace the extra material that’s been handed to you and involve them somehow. I try and do the latter, as it’s always a little awkward, and I’m not sure the parents really know how to treat the lesson, so it’s worth making them feel a little more comfortable and involved. Where it’s different from just peeking, is the fact it’s specifically to observe you, and it can be a little stressful (my desk is usually at its messiest pre-presentation as I prepare and practise a multitude of games and back-up games, and back-up back-up games). The end of a semester is a time when parents decide if they will pay for another block of lessons, or not. Whilst, I imagine, some parents have already made up their mind, these lessons are for those who have not, and so you’re basically trying to sell the school to them. So, yes this adds a bit of pressure, but it’s also an ideal opportunity to teach the best lesson. Firstly, there are more people to involve in games, and watching an adult participate in a children’s game will always lighten the mood. And secondly, the kids will be eager to impress their parents, and make other parents jealous, so behaviour and enthusiasm is heightened.
I’d say these presentations are easier with the younger students. The language is easier, the expectation is lower, the games are more straight forward, and most doting parents are more than happy to just fuss over who is the cutest, and are impressed by any English their child can put together. With the older, higher level students, the games are usually more complicated, to challenge them and make them think on the spot. The times of playing the easier games are gone, and their English needs to be spoken more accurately. The language taught in the presentation is always a review of previous modules, so, in parents’ opinion, there is probably no excuse for mistakes. With the higher level learners, I try to set up a task that will last for around 20 minutes, then take a back seat and, hopefully, the kids will take over and steal the show by running the class with their own questions and answers. I will occasionally highlight any common errors, but I’d rather treat it as an uninterrupted chance for the kids to show off their conversation skills.