ESL: Teenage Boys & Freudian Obsesesions

Little Kids Rule; Teenagers Act Like Fools

Lego Teacher Jeff: A portrait in ink done by a student and aspiring artist of the Lego school of yours truly, Jeff ChappellAs for the teaching ESL thing, it continues to go reasonably well.

I seem to have gotten a handle on my two teenage classes, although they still continue to be challenging, in terms of maintaining discipline and keeping the majority of the students engaged. The academic director of my school actually filled me in on one of his techniques for managing teenagers that works quite well; I’ll have to write about it at some point in the near future.

I still enjoy teaching the younger kids the most, however. My two favorite classes consist of a class of 18 kids with an average age of seven or eight years old and another class of 14 who average about nine or 10 years old. The larger class are on their second course of study – not beginners, but not quite intermediates – and the other class are on their third, making them more or less solid intermediate students, for their age group.

Eighteen students is a bit much in terms of class size – not ideal, but still manageable – certainly a lot easier than 34 Thai six years olds, lemme tell ya – or 40 Thai six graders who’ve never had a foreign teacher before. The class of 14 is just about ideal – well, as ideal as one class can get. All of the students are intelligent and outgoing, to one degree or another, and are almost always fun to teach.

It’s a good age; essentially they are young enough that discipline is easy to achieve – they will actually listen to what you say. Their level of English is such that I don’t really have to grade my language too much, and can communicate with them easily, which makes teaching easier and certainly more fun. Furthermore, a lot of games that would make my teenagers sigh and groan and whine, my 9-year-olds find endlessly engaging and fun.

If I’d Only Known About Teaching Teenagers

Fiona, one of my Vietnamese teenagers that is actually a delight to teach. Back in 2009 when I began to seriously consider moving abroad to teach English, I had figured that if I had to teach children – and knew that I would be asked to teach children, being a noob – that it would be teenagers that would be the least problematic. After all, I’m reasonably hip for a middle-aged dude, or so I thought – maybe by Western standards, perhaps. Furthermore, what the hell did I know about dealing with kids? Diddly squat, or so I thought.

Ah, I was clueless to the point of naïveté back then; now I can say with authority that I’ve found the opposite to be true. So for anyone out there considering an ESL career who has stumbled upon this via Teh Google or Bing, take that under advisement. Avoid the teenagers if you can – although there are teachers that love their teenage classes – if you have to teach kids, go for the younger ones, if you want my advice. Even my beginner class, with an average age of six or seven, I find are more enjoyable to teach than my teens – challenging, sure, but fun.

Although when a five-year-old kid says he has to go to the bathroom right away — he tends not to be kidding. You can take it at face value and let him go. Doesn’t matter if class is over in five minutes anyway. Trust me on this one.

Of course, I can’t help but think at times that my teenage classes are a bit of karma. At times I’m sure I was every bit of a pain in the ass to my high school teachers as my worst teenage student is too me. I was probably as sullen at times as the most sullen of my teenage students. On the other hand, I don’t think I was as obsessed with bodily functions as some of my teenage students are – boys, naturally.

We played a game of Truth or Dare in class recently – or rather tried too. Between the lack of creative thinking, which often gets bred out of students by the rote education system prevalent here and throughout much of Asia – and the fact that my teenage boys seem to have a near-Freudian-level of obsession with urination, defecation and passing gas, and delight in the use of the related English vernacular – peeing, pooping and farting, etcetera – well, it didn’t go so well.

Live and learn. Next time I try that game, I’ll be composing the questions myself.