Saturday, 30 November 2013



Kids’ classes are the answer to a school manager’s prayer come true. First of all, kids don’t drop out, no matter how much they’d like to. The kids are there because their parents have decided they need to learn English – no other reason. The kids themselves would far rather be at home playing video games. Second, kids stay for the long-haul. The parents keep on sending them, term after term, year after year. Third, kids don’t complain. They don’t complain about the crowded classrooms (20-25 per class), the teaching quality, or the sub-standard school management. They accept it all without question. And the parents pay good money for the tuition, looking on it as an investment in their children’s future. Fourth, the classes can be conducted in the mornings and afternoons, in time-slots that are difficult or nigh-on impossible to fill with adult classes.

Weekends are the prime time for children’s classes, from early morning until late afternoon. Thus, weekends are the big money-earners for teachers. And earn their money they do. Teaching children is hard, hard work. It tries the patience, saps the energy, and in many cases drives the teachers to near distraction. Two hours in a kids’ class is the equivalent of four or more hours in an adult class.

Let us now take a minute or two to examine exactly why kids’ classes are just so damn grueling. Firstly, misbehavior rules the day. One misbehaving child is unbearable enough, but get 20 children together in one room for two hours, and the increase in misbehavior is exponential. The kids feed off each other, they egg each other on, they compete to outdo each other in the misbehavior stakes. So Johnny’s naughty and loud? Fair enough, I’ll be naughtier and louder. Freddy pulled Jane’s hair? OK, two can play at that game. I’ll pull Lisa’s and Sally’s and Emma’s hair. Jack’s showing off his karate moves? Right, I’ll show him some moves I bet he doesn’t know. 

Meantime, the harried teacher is trying to establish a semblance of order in the class, trying to keep the noise level down to less than that of an Airbus at takeoff, and trying to stop Jack and Sam kicking each other unconscious. The class will have a local Teaching Assistant (unless the girl didn’t turn up today, or the school is too stingy to pay for one). The Assistant’s role is to keep the children in order. It’s a tall order. Some classes will comply to a degree; others will run wild regardless of the TA’s best efforts. Oh yes, there’s one other thing. The teacher is expected to teach the kids some English in the chaotic two hours. 

Back in the West you probably looked forward to the weekend. Here you dread its arrival, and breath a long sigh of relief when it’s over.

One Sunday evening at 9:30, I was wearily packing my things ready to go home. In the past two days I’d taught 17.5 hours, 14 of them in children’s classes. As I trudged toward the door, a staff member said to me, “Have a good weekend, Mr Don.”

“What? Oh, um, thanks. You too.” She wasn’t being ironic. She wasn’t trying to be funny. She just thought it was a nice thing to say, that’s all.

Have a good weekend, You-all.

In my book, EFL minus the B.S. (now on Amazon) I have touched on this theme, along with many others. In the book you’ll find answers to these questions: How can I get an overseas English-teaching job? Why in the hell would I want to get an overseas teaching job? How can I survive that job once I’ve got it?

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