I needed a plan for the future after coming home from traveling, otherwise I’d be returning to a similar life I left behind. I had originally planned on teaching English in China as I had fallen in love with the country, and at the time it felt like the right step to take; Not only was it a route out of Scotland again, but teaching would be something new and fresh for me and the job didn’t involve smelling like a deep fat fryer. Of course, not everything you plan comes to fruition and it only takes a roll of the dice to change your path around the board.
Before flying back to Scotland, I had said a teary goodbye to a girl, who in turn flew back to Germany. My plans were very much in the air and I wasn’t sure if I would be moving to Germany or putting some serious thought into China. During this time of contemplation, I thought It would be wise to cover all possibilities and I decided to crack on and take a TEFL course (Teaching English as a foreign language)After a fun and interesting two day classroom course, I now had 80 hours of online work to do in order to gain my certificate. Fast forward three months, and I had weighed up my options and made the decision on my future. I was going to move to Germany. China could wait for now.
The Summer in Scotland came and went and after I had saved enough money, I packed up and left for Germany. The difference and the the irony being I now needed to learn a language as opposed to teaching the one I already knew. I had found work in an Italian restaurant – which I went onto despise – washing my soul away in the sink night by night and losing the will to live little by little. During the days – apart from moping around feeling sorry for myself – I began working through my online course whilst keeping an eye out for any teaching opportunities, but there was little on offer for a rookie teacher without a degree and a certificate that in Germany, wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on.
However, my fortune was to change and one day I received an e-mail from a company called ‘The little English house’. The job was to teach English to kids from 4 to 7 years of age, and I was asked to meet at a local coffee house for an interview – I liked the thought of going for a job interview at a coffee house – Informal and less sterile.
“Hey, Vivian?” I asked as I approached a woman at an outside table who matched the description.
“Hello Darren, yes I’m Vivian” She replied.
We sat down and became acquainted before she went inside and ordered a couple of coffees. I sat in amazement staring at a dog lying at my feet, that was literally the size of a small horse. As we began chatting, I soon clocked on that this was more of a feeling out process as opposed to an interview. I had zero teaching experience but it didn’t matter. In short, she wanted to know if I would be a good, fun and reliable teacher for the kids; I wasn’t sure if I was any of those things… We spoke for around half an hour as I consciously tried to act as animated as possible and not say things such as “Well Vivian, ideally I would like the kids to know English so they can be adaptable in many roles within my new child army.” I based my purely fabricated performance on the cast of Blue Peter, and used generic sentences such as ‘I don’t take myself too seriously’ as often as possible. I had no idea how to act in this kind of interview so I threw myself into it to see where it would take me. Rather surprisingly, I had pulled it off and we began to discuss class plans.
I was given a bundle of kids books, word cards and props and was told to go home and come up with a class plan for teaching breakfast. I did as instructed and went home to drink coffee all afternoon and come up with a practical but entertaining lesson. As there was no real set instructions apart from ‘stay within the time limit’, I had a lot of room for creativity for my lesson plan. A few days later I sent in my lesson plan and it was approved by the office. I was good to teach and although it wasn’t going to be how I imagined my first lesson to be, – I was expecting a whiteboard and a bunch of exchange students playing on their smart phones – I was quite excited for it.
The day had come and I felt fairly self-conscious and anxious as I hunted down the building where the class would take place; about twenty minutes on the bus from my flat. I arrived pretty early and had problems getting in, until I was eventually let inside by a cleaner. After climbing the stairs I was greeted by an empty corridor lined with neatly organized colourful wellies and raincoats along the far wall, and a long wooden bench presumably for the parents to sit on when dropping off/picking up their kids. There was a square window at the top of the door, looking into the classroom. I decided to have a peek in to see for myself what awaited me. Vivian was inside, sitting on the carpet teaching a lesson. She spotted me and I was given an acknowledging head nod. The kids noticed this and they all turned round curiously to see who was at the door. When they seen it was not a parent, they quickly lost interest and turned back around; It was then I got nervous. The class I was about to teach was all about breakfast and I was ready to throw up mine. I had already disappointed the children but they didn’t have to wait long to see their parents as mums and dads started to trickle through the corridor.
“Hey! How are you?” I said directed at any parent that would listen.
I didn’t get much in return bar accusing stares and noticeable pre-judgement. One dad looked like he wanted to punch me. I can only imagine why. I could tell he wasn’t a fan of Blue Peter. I felt like saying “Don’t worry mate. I don’t want to teach your daughter either”.
It was soon time for the old kids to stream out and for the new batch to stream in; the kids I was about to teach. They were tentatively followed by myself sporting the fakest ear to ear grin I could muster. The kids – who were all girls – ran around the room, reaching for toys and books as I stood in the middle of the whirlwind waiting for the storm to die down.
“Who wants a sticker?” I asked.
They all did and they were loving the smiley faces I was drawing on them – that of course bar the one little girl who told me she was sad so I gave her a frowning smiley that didn’t go down to well with her – Still, I thought it would be a good idea to give them all name tags and kids love stickers right? Or is it iPhones now?
Vivian was on hand to keep an eye on the lesson and give some friendly advice when needed but for the next hour I was on my own, teaching my very first English lesson.
So, how did I kick things off? With an all time classic of course: Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. With one deep breath and to overcome my nerves and self consciousness, I threw myself into it. As predicted, the kids all knew the song and it garnered their focus straight away – apart from one that was still sulking because I spelled her name wrong on her name tag – and It went down well with Vivian and the class.
Warm up over, it was time to sit down on the carpet and get into the lesson, armed with a stuffed toy type creature that I named ‘Breakfast Boris’, flash cards and other various colourful props and text.
As we (as a class) got into it, the first twenty minutes flew by and it seemed to be going well. The class were involved – contributing well to the lesson and not giving me too much of a hard time – and generally on good behaviour to the delight of Vivian who had warned me prior that they can be a handful sometimes.
But as I rushed through some of the tasks (flash cards with various breakfast items, bingo etc.) I started to feel I was losing their attention and I was running out of things to say. The clock seemed to grind to a stand still and I was soon losing focus and control. I also found myself doing the cardinal sin of talking to them in German, to the dismay of Vivian. At times I found it tough to juggle basic English so strangely reverted to a language I barely knew myself just to find common ground and be understood. The students were at all different levels so it just felt natural, however not a word of German can be muttered which is harder than it sounds. In relation, I started to realise how hard it was to do a lesson entirely consisting of basic, proper and straight-forward English. Stripping the language down to the bare bones is a challenge in itself, never mind the accent I carry with it.
Have you ever been to a family party where one of the kids takes a shining to you because you kicked a balloon around for 5 minutes? Well you know that awkward moment when the balloon has burst, you want to go to grab a beer but you are stuck talking to this kid with no idea what to say and how to say it in a kid friendly way? That’s what it’s like accept you can’t say “go see what your sisters up to.”
As the class became more dis-interested, I decided to get them on their feet again to do something more active: A game of British Bulldogs which I was told they like to play; basically a dart from one end of the class to then next without getting tagged. Nothing like the brutal game I played as a kid which resulted in clothes lines to the face, rugby tackles to the gravel and phone calls to concerned parents.
After killing another few minutes it was time to get back into the lesson; finding out what the class ate for breakfast with help from Breakfast Boris, whose name changed constantly as the lesson went on. The contribution by the kids was still good but I had yet to reel them down from the previous activity and I was starting to lose control a little again; The whole lesson was a juggling act. If the class had ended there it would have been a success, albeit, nothing spectacular but as it stood I had a chunk of lesson to go and wasn’t quite sure what to do. I had revised my lesson plan but timings/structure seemed to go out the window and I was running short of inspiration; not through lack of ideas but through lack of practise.
Berty Breakfast or whatever he’s called had failed me and was in the arms of a kid that wasn’t sharing him with anyone else, despite my efforts to pry him back. He had betrayed me in my hour of need. I knew my lesson wasn’t a disaster but I also knew that there would be better candidates on the way with experience ready to walk into the job. As a last gasp effort to impress, I grabbed my iPod from my jacket pocket and turned to the only thing that I knew could win back the class.
It was time for my wild card; SpongBob SquarePants; Yes, that’s right…
The idea was to show them a clip from an episode to set me up for a song based on the intro with the lyrics changed; And yes, a song. Cue embarrassing moment in front of the class, waiting parents and Vivian:
Who speaks English to people we see?
We speak English!
Who teaches English? Well that is me!
I teach English!
I teach English, you speak English, we love English!
Total fail. I sang it alone. Where is Arnie’s whistle and ferret when you need them? Even at four I would of thought my teacher was a dick head for doing that. It just left the kids confused and wanting to see what else I had on my pod. I was going to make an idiot myself regardless of the outcome, but If I was going out, I was going out in style, riding out in a blaze of glory on board a pineapple under the sea.
The lesson was over.
As the kids waved goodbye I even got a hug from a couple of the girls which was a nice touch. It felt like my efforts didn’t go to waste and to be appreciated as a teacher by a 4 year old was touching and a nice moment. The girls gave me minimum hassle and were all charming in their own little ways, but I was pleased the class was over.
“You did really well” Vivian said in a way that sounded sympathetic as opposed to encouraging.
“I liked some of your ideas and for your first lesson that wasn’t bad at all”
I appreciated the compliment but I already knew I wasn’t getting the job by judging her tone and body language.
“That was hard going! That hour feels like forever!” I replied.
We talked for a couple of minutes before the next class entered and it was more of a mutual goodbye as opposed to a ‘see ya soon’.
I walked home high as a kite with Breakfast Boris in hand, thinking about one of the most surreal experiences of my life. On the way I bought a packet of cigarettes and smoked around half a dozen, stopping on a park bench down by the lake, taking in the beautiful views of Constance.
It was my first and last English lesson and I didn’t hear back from Vivian which I found a bit unprofessional. I saw her in the pub I worked in weeks later but she blanked me but it wasn’t as if I was looking to strike a conversation up either. Never the less, experience is experience and at least I have another story to tell.
Maybe one day I will teach English again. Or maybe I’ll just stick to speaking English to people I see.