I’ve spent the last 8 weeks teaching the 1st graders at my main school, and I can honestly say the time has flown by at breakneck speeds. Teaching them has been absolutely delightful; their enthusiasm is so refreshing. However, next week will be my last with them this year, and then I will switch to my final group of students, the 2nd graders, for the remainder of the semester.
There’s one 1st grade class in particular that I want to talk about, though. Probably the one that will stand out in my mind the longest.
This class is the strangest amalgamation of personalities and ability levels I have ever encountered. From what I can tell, there is an unusually large number of students with extremely high English ability. A few of them appear to be almost fluent. (One has actually lived in the USA and I can have fairly normal-speed, natural conversations with him.) At the same time, this class also seems to contain a disproportionate number of students with ADHD, and possibly other special needs.
This leads to the most exuberant chaos imaginable in every single lesson with them.
Here’s a little rundown of today’s lesson, as an example:
I am greeted in the hallway by one of the most energetic boys. His English level is not high but he makes up for it in energy and effort. We begin walking down the hall together towards Classroom 10.
“Hello! I am going to your class.”
“Teacher, Korean speak. I not English.”
“Class 10. I will go.”
As we enter the classroom, he stands beside me at the front of the room and starts yelling at his classmates to “S*it down, s*it down!” He frequently plays ‘teacher’ like this, and for some reason every time he does so he raises the pitch of his voice to squeaky levels and uses excessive hand gestures. It’s hilarious.
“Okay, you sit down too, please,” I tell him.
The sitting down part can only last a few minutes for some of the boys, including him. They simply cannot contain their energy. My co-teacher and I let them get up and dance/walk around in the back during the class, as long as they’re not disturbing the other students and they’re still paying attention. Sometimes simply standing up at their desk for a bit helps.
The other way the excess energy comes out is through shouting. There is one boy in particular who seemingly CANNOT NOT SHOUT. No matter what the situation, his decibel level is off the charts. Today is no exception. He loves to participate, and when we’re doing choral repetition he drowns out every other voice in the class. The extremely high-level girl next to him wears an expression of patient, sisterly tolerance, as she does every week.
Additionally, one of the girls and two or three of the boys also scream at amazingly high pitches when, for example, there is an exciting or devastating result in the game we’re playing.
To combat this, I’ve taken to teaching in a very low, even, calm, almost monotone voice. It helps a little. Sometimes.
During our warm-up and key expression practice, I make sure to call on the students that are raising their hand silently, not the ones shouting “Teacher me! Ooh, Teacher! Teacher meeeeeeeee!” It takes a good deal of willpower to ignore the noisy ones, because they are really cute actually.
I have a GIF of Pikachu on one of my PPT slides. Squeaky-voice boy raises his hand to inform me that Pikachu is his pet.
We move to the textbook. They have to practice some dialogues with a partner. One of the screamers/back-of-class-dancers (who sits in the back – and he’s actually been given two desks, so that he can sit next to a partner and then go and sit by himself when he needs to) calls over the squeaky teacher-imitator.
“Will you practice together?” I ask him.
“Yes, yes, Teacher. We are couple.”
Finally we get to the part that they’ve been waiting for: the game. Cheers and clapping erupt. There are pictures of Kim Soo-hyun and Suzy in my PPT as part of the game. One of the boys jumps up and shouts, “Me and my girlfriend!” Chaos ensues.
My CT breaks out a call-and-response to get their attention back –
“Three, four!” a few of them respond.
“One, two!” she yells more firmly.
“Three, four!” This time they quiet down.
They are full of laughter, outrage, and of course screaming as we play the game. Some of the boys are dancing around the back in excitement, occasionally skipping up to the front trying to see my laptop screen to see what’s coming next in the game (they can’t, and then my CT directs them firmly back to their spots). When it’s the Squeaky Voice boy’s turn to answer, another boy on his team “whispers” (a.k.a. loudly says) each word in his ear and the squeaker promptly repeats it. On Team 1, the Boy Who Cannot Not Shout keeps trying to say all the answers, and I restrain him as best I can to give other kids a chance.
As frequently happens with this class, we run a few minutes behind on time, so we don’t have time to completely finish the game when the bell rings. I wrap it up and say goodbye to them.
As the post-bell chatter begins, a boy sitting at the front gets my attention. “Teacher, look” – he pulls earplugs from his ears, grinning widely. I guess that just about sums up Class 10.
Honestly, no amount of description could convey how crazy this class is. But it’s a good kind of crazy. They’re all good kids; they’re just very very very energetic and eager. The girls, of course, are quieter, but I’ve been working on giving them more attention and encouraging them to speak more in class, since all of them are usually perfectly capable of answering the question, but don’t get the chance with the boys shouting.
One thing that I think is so sweet about this class is their efforts to help each other. The higher level ones patiently coach and prompt the lower levels. There’s a very family-like vibe which I love.
I will miss this class quite a lot when I switch in a couple weeks.
P.S. In case anyone is wondering, the boy with earplugs wasn’t tuning out the actual lesson; he still participated throughout class. But the last couple weeks, he’s been plugging his ears with his fingers when things got crazy, and I guess this week he just took it to the next level.