Teaching your little ‘bundles of joy’

2019-07-03 16:07
Vuyelwa MtoloPHOTO:

Vuyelwa MtoloPHOTO:

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I have never been passionate about teaching before, but that little chance of being passionate faded away on the first day of teaching.

At first I was just terrified: will my classes like me? Will they listen to me? I mean I am quite small for my age and I do look younger than I actually am. But as time progressed, I just thought well, I guess I’m not cut out to be a teacher.

I mean, I’ve been told before that the first three months are always the toughest, and that statement has proven true in almost every new thing I have tackled. Even my job as a journalist was tough for the first three months.

But perhaps I just haven’t given teaching time to prove me wrong. There are some people I know who were so close to quitting, but stuck it out for a few more months and actually loved it.

Anyway, my first day was horrible!

Firstly, I was only given the teaching material when I arrived at the school; on the same day that I was supposed to start teaching. You’d think that, especially as I was completely new to teaching, that I would be allowed at least a day to prep before I went to teach. But because of the structure of the teaching, all teachers share teaching materials, including teacher guide, etc.

That, to me, is understandable since no one teacher has a specific class they teach; we all teach each others’ classes at some point. So it makes sense that the materials are not taken home, so as to not inconvenience any teacher.

Anyway, so I didn’t prep for my classes until I got to the school, and my co-teacher (Chinese teacher: CT), brought me up to speed with everything I needed to know and do, and how I should go about things.

So I was at the school a good two hours before my first class. I did all necessary preparations ... or so I thought ...

Then class begins ... I am teaching five girls between the ages of seven and eight. I thought to myself, “well, this ought to be easy”. Little did I know that those girls were little devils ...

I’m sorry for calling people’s children devils. And if you’re sitting reading this and thinking how rude/insensitive I am, I won’t argue. And if you’re sitting there thinking how your child probably also has a “not so nice nickname” given by their teacher, they most probably do.

We give your kids all sorts of names. But they get their names from the behaviour and personalities they exhibit in the class.

Take Kid A, for example, he/she is 14 years old, but acts like an eight-year-old, or Kid B, who has a bad attitude, and always talks back to the teacher, saying: “I don’t want to”, when told to do his/ her homework.

That’s where we get all the creativity with naming your precious children.

Also, your kids give us names as well. I mean I used to be guilty of that myself. Like this teacher who was always shouting, we called her Mrs Dragon. It was hilarious at the time and matched HER behaviour.

Little did I know that anyone can become a dragon; you just need to become a teacher and get the most annoying class to teach.

Not all the names are negative, though. Like my CT, he says he’d want to adopt child A, B and C because they are sweethearts: they do their work, listen to the teacher, always participate in class, etc. etc...

So those kids got names like ... oh wait, we didn’t give them names, so I guess the names we give are indeed all negative. But, they match your child’s behaviour in the class, in my defence I say that.

So, with the little preparation I had, I walked into that class and taught. Those kids were just not having it. I was freaking out, and it’s like they could tell I was, and they were worse. But I thought they were just testing me as I am a new teacher; I am guilty of that as well.

But it’s been that way for two months now.

I honestly thought I had a problem with that class, but every other foreign teacher who has taught that class or is still teaching it, says those girls are a nightmare.

And then my second class came. I was already emotionally tired and shaken. This class was worse. It was a mixture of teenagers and some younger kids. The teenagers just completed my death; put me in a coffin and buried me!

They were rude, annoying, did not listen, were on their cellphones ... I could go on. Even my CT seemed to struggle with this bunch.

First of all, you may be wondering why we have teenagers and younger kids in the same class. I’m guessing they set classes according to the level of English the pupils have. The teenagers obviously started learning English a bit later than the younger ones. And yes, there are many problems when it comes to pupil needs as the younger ones love drawing, love colourful presentations and games, while the teenagers obviously hate all of it.

Even with lower English levels, I don’t think any 14-year-old would appreciate being taught like they were eight years old.

Anyway, how the system is structured, is not my focus today. I want to tell you how my first day as a Foreign English Teacher was horrible, and how I immediately wanted to quit.

I obviously haven’t resigned yet, but not because things got better, oh no!

Yes, I have managed to do lesson plans in advance and I have found my footing in teaching, but your kids, your “bundle of joy” (as they are referred to because they bring you joy), have brought misery into my life.

I dread going to teach because these kids are just ungovernable.

And it doesn’t help that we don’t punish them. I know some people may be rolling their eyes and thinking I’m insane.

I don’t mean corporal punishment, heck, I’d be deported in a blink of an eye if I did that. And I also don’t agree with corporal punishment.

But I mean a way to get the class in order, like if pupil A isn’t listening, they get a demerit or something. And yes, I know, some of these punishment systems do more damage than good. But as someone who has to deal with some very rude, ignorant and lazy pupils, I think it’s only fair that a teacher has some sort of way to deal with this behaviour.

We do a lot of positive reinforcement at this school, which is good, but it does not work for every pupil. And yes, no system will work for everybody, I know that.

Anyway, all my classes have rotten eggs; I just remembered how some of my teachers would call us rotten eggs, but we didn’t care, and that’s just how some pupils behave here; they come to class but have this “whatever, I don’t care”, attitude, which makes it so difficult to figure out how to control them or get them interested in the classes.

I don’t dislike all my classes, though. There’s one that I like, and I teach eight different classes. I teach 16- to 17-year-olds, and I absolutely love them. They listen to me, they do their work, they ask questions, they participate ... They are just a delight to teach.

I haven’t yet found a way to deal with bad behaviour and rudeness, but I have found a way that allows me to teach and go home.

All of this has put me in the shoes of some of my teachers. I look back now and understand why my Grade 12 history teacher ended up writing everything on the board and we just had to copy it down and go home. We never did our homework, we never did anything in the class except for copying stuff from the board.

This may sound like my history teacher was just lazy, but she really tried, and we were just never interested. Not because we didn’t know the answers, well, at least I knew the answers, but I just never wanted to answer. Not because I was shy or anything, just because I didn’t want to answer.

I studied for tests and exams, and hence I was one of the top pupils in the grade, but I just never wanted to do my homework or give answers in class.

My history teacher did everything you can think of to get us motivated or punish us, but we would just do the punishment and then shrug.

There are some teachers who don’t do their jobs, I won’t lie, but there are others who want to do it to the best of their abilities, but the pupils are not feeling it. That’s how I was in some of my classes. And I wasn’t like that in classes I didn’t like or with teachers I didn’t like. I loved history, it was my favourite subject after English, but I just didn’t want to answer.

And now, how the wheels have turned ... I am experiencing everything I ever did to the teachers, first hand: the attitude, sometimes I was rude; luckily I didn’t have a cellphone, and talking in the classroom. My word, that is the worst! The pupils won’t talk to you about the lesson, but will talk to each other about whatever it is they are talking about ... I did that too back in the day.

I’d like to take this moment to apologise to all my teachers in high school and primary school, for being a devil and a donkey. Some still remember me, some wish they didn’t remember me (haha). And to those teachers in whose class I was a delight to teach, it probably was because I liked you, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

I will stick it out, I’m not a quitter, no matter how rough it gets with these bundles of joy.

But I am learning something new and adding to my experience. And I think I would prefer to teach adults, and I wouldn’t have known this if I hadn’t taken the leap and tried something out of my field.

I’ll probably find adults to be big devils too, you never know ...

I’m only being this critical of teaching and the kids here because I’d never been a teacher before, and everything is new and scary to me. Teachers with experience may think I’m overacting or want to tell me how this is “normal” behaviour.

But again, this is my first time teaching anything, and I started my teaching experience in a foreign country, with little familiarity.

Is teaching abroad the same as teaching in South Africa? I don’t know, but probably not.

But for now I’ll stick it out and try as much as possible, to enjoy myself. I may end up liking it, but only time will tell.

• Vuyelwa Mtolo hails from Pietermaritzburg and, after a year interning at The Witness, she is teaching English as a foreign language to pupils in Taiwan.
Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  opinion and analysis

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