Not all those who wander are lost.

Miss Katie vs. Italian 3rd Graders – Round 1

I have absolutely no background or experience as a teacher. What I do have is a TEFL Certificate (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) and a desperate need to earn some money before I can continue my wandering. So when I arrived in Rome in August, I was determined to learn how to play the role of English Teacher. I’ve devoted the majority of my days (and nights) to studying English Grammar and watching YouTube videos of ESL teachers around the world; I picked up tips and techniques for classes of all sizes and students of all ages. Being the obsessive organizer that I am, I created my own library of lesson plans, vocabulary flashcards and worksheets on my computer, sorted by level (beginner, intermediate, advanced, etc).

Work was not difficult to find; the demand for “Mother Tongue” English teachers is ridiculous. I started three weeks ago as an English tutor, working 1 on 1 with kids (ages 6-18). The downside is that I spend an incredible amount of time on the bus getting to/from the lessons; but the pay is good enough that with only  11 lessons each week, I earn enough to pay my bills and survive in Rome. Though it should be noted that “surviving” in Rome is hardly what I was hoping to accomplish; but hey, it’s a start.

Anyway, when my company told me about the opportunity to earn 50 euro teaching a class of 3rd graders once a week for an hour this year, I couldn’t say no.

My first lesson was last Friday, October 14th. I did not know how many students were in the class, nor did I know their English level. I was advised to assume that the kids knew nothing and simply start at square one. My first lesson plan was to go over basic introductions. By the end of the class, I wanted them to say “Hello, my name is ____,” “I am _____ years old,” and “Nice to meet you.” Pretty standard for ESL Day 1. I also wanted to assess their knowledge of the ABC’s and numbers; I had prepared a number of activities, games, and songs to keep them engaged. I was armed with a backup plan in case they were more advanced than I assumed.

I walked into that classroom with my head high, determined not to make the same mistakes other ESL teachers make and confident in my ability to manage the classroom.

That all lasted for about 10 minutes.

What happened over the next 50 minutes is a bit of a blur. I distinctly remember looking at the clock and thinking, “dear god, I have gone through everything and I still have 25 minutes left. What on earth am I going to do?!?!?” It was a nightmare. There were paper airplanes and aluminum balls flying across the room. The girls were fighting over markers and the boys were erasing what I had written on the chalkboard. I was outnumbered 17 to 1; by the time I got the attention of one half of the class, the other half was wreaking havoc.

I had lost complete control of the classroom and I had NO idea how to go about getting it back. At that point I abandoned any hope of teaching anything. My goal was simply to make sure nobody got hurt; I am happy to say I could at least accomplish that much.

When the bell rang, I walked the kids out to the playground to meet their parents. I left the school in a state of shock. I was just eaten alive by 17 third graders and I had no idea where I went wrong.

Think back to Elementary School and think about how you treated a substitute teacher. It’s a “Play Day,” right? Now imagine it is Friday afternoon and you are tired from a long week. Your teacher has gone home for the weekend. Half your class has also left; but your parents signed you up for a “supplemental” lesson in a foreign language and you’re stuck for an extra hour. Under these conditions, no child would have the least bit of interest in listening to some American girl teach them how to say “My name is _____.” I was basically set up for failure from the get go.

I went home, not sure how to even start planning for Week 2. I cooked myself a steak and drowned my sorrows in a bottle of Italian red. This is going to be a ridiculously long year.

Third Graders: 1   Miss Katie: 0

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4 responses

  1. Tracy

    Oh Katie! I’ve had days like that! Try a reward system. Get a jar and some marbles and create ways that they can earn them for the jar. Then when the jar is filled they get a party. Good luck!

    October 21, 2011 at 11:20 am

  2. Sally

    Try telling them you are going to teach them American “slang” !! This ought to make them interested !! You can’t find that in the books. Music slang, friend slang, phrases we say that make no sense to someone who does not know English……

    October 21, 2011 at 11:38 am

  3. Sean Harvey

    That sounded like a nightmare!! Luckily you have another opportunity next week and I know that you will figure it ou! You are amazing and brilliant! Those kids dont know it yet but they just met tge best English teacher they will ever have!! Go Katie!!

    October 21, 2011 at 11:47 am

  4. Aw! Miss Katie! Im not going to say Im sorry to hear it, because you have clearly learned something new and you exercised patience and understanding rather than anger and frustration. At least that how you make it sound. 🙂

    I remember something similar happening to be once in Kenya during a creative writing class. I kinda flipped. Then I was sick and they were all wondering where I’d been. I asked them to guess and they got all into it. So my advice: Ask them about things they already know – or THINK they know about English. Or Americans. Appeal to their interests, in other words.

    Pitting them against each other in competitive activities and bribes work, too. 🙂

    If you need to vent with someone who’s been there, you know where to find me. xx

    October 22, 2011 at 9:23 pm

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