All of my students, without exception, are very cute and very bright. Some simply can’t get the language. It is beyond them. No matter how hard they try they can’t possibly make the sounds in English that they need to to make words. One of my students, an older boy named Leo, can read some words but not others. He consistently makes the mistake of using a hard C like in the word cat, instead of a soft c like in the word cycle. He also has a hard time saying a word the same way twice. I suspect that it may be dyslexia or another speech problem, but lack the special ed training to actually make a diagnosis. He has the most wonderful attitude towards learning, and he is heart-meltingly apologetic when he makes a mistake. He does have a basic understanding of English as he is able to do very well on the unit assessments and thereby pass through the course. Other students have a more than basic understanding of the language but do not have the mechanics to make the sounds. In particular, one of my students George, who also struggles in Chinese. These two are the students that I look forward to the most. They challenge me and uplift me every day. George also has a twin sister, who has chosen Jerry for her English name. Being a twin myself, I connect with that whole family on a level that is different from any other.
Then there are the students, who intentionally decide they don’t want to learn. In Greek, we have a saying “Αυτά τα παιδιά είναι τα χρυσά μου”. It translates to these are my golden children. Mine are the ones who come into class with their Dino plushies (He’s the VIPKid mascot), Or their Rubiks cubes, or other assorted toys and can’t be made to pay attention at all. It took me a while to figure out that the best way to engage those children was to bring the toy into the class with you. So I would make up conversations with Dino, and pretend that he was the student. In terms of other distractions, I asked the student to play a game. For instance, with the Rubiks cube I would set the timer and find out if the kids could get to the red side in a minute all the while using the target language for the slide that we were working on. So far the strategy has worked really well.
I am a very lucky teacher. I haven’t really had the same trouble that some other teachers have had. Privacy in China is a different animal to most other places in the world. Teachers have reported on Facebook groups that I am a member of that they have seen children running around naked, or have taught children in unsuitable places shall we say, and they have had children do inappropriate things on camera. I have seen half dressed parents walking around, and I have seen parents berating their children on camera. Perhaps they don’t realize that everything is recorded. Or maybe they do. It can be hard not to assign Western cultural norms when teaching online. When does the line cross from parental discipline into something more? It’s a discussion that we have quite a lot with other teachers online.
When my students misbehave it’s usually quite cute. And at least I get a laugh out of it. But even I have a student that I don’t want to see on my schedule. Sookie was her name, and I can’t even tell you her game. I think that an online platform is not the best place for Sookie to learn English. She did not have the attention span to focus on 25 minute classes for even 30 seconds of the first minute. As soon as veteran teachers for VIPKid got priority booking, I started begging other students to book my slots so that I wouldn’t have to see her on my schedule. She wouldn’t participate, she would barely come to the camera, and she was rather insolent. All in a super cute way that was frankly genius manipulation. I wasn’t the only teacher having problems with her. Teacher to teacher feedback indicated that. My strategy with priority booking worked for a while. But then earlier this summer, she reappeared for a time. Even Jasper, the most laid-back person that I know, understood the trouble that I had with Sookie, As he had had his own run in with her.
You can see everything within camera range when I’m teaching so that if someone is walking in the kitchen they can be seen. On one occasion, I had a problem with my headphones and so was not able to use them. It was a Saturday and Jasper was with me. I had decided to teach for three hours and Sookie was one of my students. Jasper walked into the kitchen into Sookie’s line of sight. “Is that your grandpa” she asked.
I simply could not restrain the bubble of nearly hysterical laughter that from my lips. “Sookie, that’s not my grandpa, that’s my boyfriend. ” “Teacher, he’s old. He looks like a grandpa.” “That’s OK, Sookie.”I responded. “I am old, so he should be old.” She got a huge kick out of that. That was one of our better classes. For the most part, trying to get Sookie to respond to anything was like pulling teeth. It’s been a while since I have seen her in my classroom. Probably about six weeks or so, and they have been very stress-free weeks. But students aren’t the only stressors when online teaching. Want to find out more? Keep coming back. That’s up next.
That’s all she wrote for this Inkreadable installment. Stay tuned. As always, there is more to come.