Monday, January 23, 2012

Today I made a student cry, playing "Alibi"

From Google Images

The new unit for the week with my Intermediate class is "Crime". After going through some basic vocabulary and group discussions, I asked the class to please close their books as I had something important to talk to them about.

"On Friday after lunch, my nandbag was in this classroom. I stepped out just for a second, and when I got back I realized that my purse was missing," I said.

There were gasps! They really believed that my purse was stolen.

One student had a broad smile pasted on his face as I spoke. I continued...

"When I asked the cleaners about it, they said that they saw two students in the classroom at that time. Do you know who they were?"

At this moment, the tension in the classroom was so thick that I could have cut it with a knife.

"Who was it?" they asked.

"Gabi & Gus," I said...looking at the two students.

"It's impossible," said Gabi shaking her head.
"Teacher, are you serious or this is a joke?"

Gus had a mischievous smile...he knew I had something up my sleeve.

"Will the two students please leave the classroom," I said sternly.

Gus walked out smiling, but Gabi looked extremely distressed.  As soon as they were out of the classroom, the remaining students (and I!) burst into laughter.  They caught on.  

Gabi & Gus who were outside the classroom were the "suspects" and the students inside the classroom were going to play the role of policemen.  I divided them into two groups. Police Station 1 & Police Station 2.

As I was explaining what would happen next, Gus opened the door and announced that Gabi was crying. Oh boy! I had to go outside and tell her that it was all an act...and after being convinced, she burst into laughter :-)

Gabi & Gus had to work on an alibi while the two "Police Stations" prepared questions for each of the suspects, who would be interrogated separately.  The trick? Both stories had to match... about where they were, who they were with, where they went for lunch, what they ate and so on...

The students ended up having such fun interrogating the two, and of course... declared them both guilty!


When my alarm went off at 04:00 this morning, my first thought was, "At last...Monday's here!" I was excited to start the new week, but driving to work this morning, I realized that I would be faced with empty seats in my classroom. I was dreading this.

As I mentioned on Friday, I bade farewell to four of my Brazilian students who have been with me for the past 3 weeks. Friday's have become one of my least favourite days of the week. However, when the new week starts, new students have orientation on Mondays and they join their respective classes on Tuesdays.

When I arrived at my second class for the day, the atmosphere was completely different without my four Brazilians in the classroom.  I missed walking in and seeing Dulciene and Fernando doing their homework; I missed seeing Glauco with his intense concentration on his iPad and of course, Luiz who would trail into class ever-ready for a hug & kiss.

Anyway, before long we will all be back into some kind of routine. No doubt, they are all missing Cape Town just as much! I do hope they decide to visit S.Africa once again in the near future!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

In love...with my work!

Yesterday, I received such a lovely compliment from a young lady I've known for a short while since moving to Cape Town.

"You're happy! Your face is just glowing!" she said.

I jokingly responded, "Does it look like I'm in love?!" to which she replied "YES!"

I tilted my head and said to her, "I kinda am..."

Of course, she was intrigued! "You ARE?"

"Yes. With my work!"

Truth be told, I am loving what I'm doing! I'm so happy to be back in the classroom teaching after a year off. Of course, teaching children was very rewarding, but teaching adults has completely stolen my heart.

I am meeting people from all over the world with such interesting professions and each one pulls at my heartstrings in a way they probably don't even realize.

My special Pre-Int class
This past Friday was a bit emotional as some students ended their course and they were on their way back to Brazil the following day. Four students in particular - Glauco, Dulciene, Luiz and Fernando - all from Brazil, were part of my Pre-Intermediate class who I just fell in love with.

This class was very special, with students from Brazil, Angola, Libya, Turkey and France. We just all got along very well. We laughed a lot and at the same time, while having fun, they were learning just as much.

Their spirit and energy were infectious and seeing them everyday for the past 2 weeks brought such joy to me. Waking up at 4am, working non-stop till 5pm, coming home and working more till 11pm was only a pleasure for them.

I think I can safely say that I was being driven by passion.

My work feels like play!

On Friday, my Pre-Int students had to give oral presentations on any given topic. Honestly speaking, I sat there in awe! These students, at Pre-Intermediate level got up in front of the class and spoke with such confidence in a language they are studying. They spoke with such ease and I was so proud of them!

I know for sure that I will miss their presence tomorrow (Monday) in class, but by Tuesday I will have a new batch of students and new bonds will be formed yet again.

I feel very grateful for our paths to have crossed, and I sincerely wish them all the best for their future endeavors!

Mini breakthrough with my Korean student

On Tuesday last week, during my 30minute break between classes, my student (JY) from Korea said to me, "Sheetal...this will be my last week at school."

Suddenly, I forgot about where I had to be and what I had to do. JY had just been at school for 2 weeks and can easily be described as a model student. He's in class early, does his homework, reads, goes to the Listening Center for extra practice etc... so why did he suddenly want to pack up and leave?

I asked to meet him after school and talk it through. I am so honoured that he opened up to me as much as he did. He felt like he wasn't making a lot of progress. I responded to this by telling him that learning a new language is not magic. He can't expect to suddenly speak fluently within a few days. It takes work...for some, very hard work, determination and a strong drive.

As we spoke more, I found out that he is staying with a Korean family very far from the school. This means, that he has no opportunity to speak English when he leaves school at the end of the day. So when he comes to class in the morning, he hears about what other students got up to the previous night and what they plan to do later that day.  JY was feeling isolated. He told me that he wants to have contact with other students from foreign countries, but he feels shy and not confident enough.

My heart sank for this young guy who traveled halfway across the world, determined to study English, but was feeling completely isolated and lonely. Because he confided in me, I felt obligated to help him.

I told him that I see something very special in him, which he may not recognize himself. I suggested he try moving closer to the school and would be able to socialize a lot more with other students.

The next day, I spoke to the school's director who asked to meet with the student and me later that day to talk this matter through. We gave the options of various accommodation near the school.

On Wednesday, a few of my Brazilian students decided to go to the Cubana, restaurant/bar with me and I asked JY to join us. That night, I could see that given the opportunity...JY would really enjoy his time in Cape Town.

The following day at school, I paired him up with Gabi from Brazil for a speaking activity. The two got along so well and had fun working together.  A week later, I am just delighted to say that JY has decided to extend his stay in South Africa! I told him that one day when he's a father and grandfather, I would hate for him to think back to this time and regret not listening to me...his teacher to not give up.

From a business perspective, it's never good when students decide to quit in the middle of their course to go back home. Teachers know that as long as there are students, there's work.  Having said that, as teachers we simply cannot ignore the fact that our students - our customers - are human beings with real emotions and feelings.

Time is precious to teachers, but spending anything from 10-30 minutes talking to a student, stroking their ego and making them believe that YOU believe in THEM can make a profound difference!

When a student's light is switched on

Last week, my student (Ben) from Switzerland spoke to me after our Intermediate class and said that he felt the level was too high for him and that he wanted to move to Pre-Intermediate.  This almost never happens, because students usually want to move UP a level! He speaks fairly well and I could see that he had potential to do very well. I told him I'd give him extra homework so that he could practice his writing. I was happy that he agreed to this.

Within a week of talking to him and praising him in class when he got correct answers, he completely changed. As a matter of fact, he even started coming to class early and walked in with such a lovely smile on his face.

I'm sure any other teacher will vouch that it's such a wonderful feeling when a student's "light" is suddenly switched on.

I'm very happy that he decided to stay in my class and not move down a level.  Also, he now believes in his capabilities as much as I do!

Monday, January 16, 2012

When students need a boost of confidence

Last week, my Intermediate student (Ben) from Switzerland asked to speak to me after class.

"I think this level is too high for me. Maybe I should move down to a lower level," he said.

I couldn't believe it, because as teachers, we often hear that students want to move UP a level. He said that he understood most of what I was saying, but he felt like he was weak in his reading and Grammar. I suggested he give it a few more days in the class and also urged him to visit the library and listening center in the school.  On top of that, I told him that I was going to give him extra writing homework. I asked him to think very carefully about his request as his speaking is rather good - contrary to what he believes, and I feared that a lower level would just be too easy for him.

When I met Ben the following day, he said he felt a bit better from since he spoke to me.

Today, however - Ben walked into the classroom like a new student. He literally held his head up high, participated in the lesson and seemed much happier than he did last week. As a teacher, I was so thrilled to see him break out of his shell.

In my opinion, all Ben needed was to have his confidence boosted! I told him again today, that I would make it my mission to push him to his full potential in his quest to study English before leaving back to Switzerland in a few weeks time!

Warmer - Ice Breakers using Cellphones

After a tweet from @ShellTerrell (": Ice Breakers Using Mobile Devices   via  "), I decided to try it out with my Intermediate & Pre-Intermediate classes the following day.

My students know the "No Phone" policy in the classroom, so they were a bit confused when I asked them to take their cellphones out.  I asked each student to please find a photograph, video or song on their phones which best represented them. For those who couldn't find anything like that, I asked them to locate something that was special to them. Then, in about 20seconds each student shared their photograph, video or song with the rest of the class

Phones were passed around, there were "Ooohs & Aaahs" about beautiful locales and before long, we realized that our class actually had more in common than we thought.

It was a great ice-breaker to the first class of new students and it is something I will definitely be doing again. We often forget that for many people, the one thing people enjoy talking about the most, is themselves...and when one has an audience, let's face it - they love it!

Teacher's who are willing to spend the first 15-20 minutes at the beginning of a lesson just to get students into "lesson-mode" should try this out!

2012 - So far, so good!

After briefly chatting about my blog during a much-appreciated phone call from a dear friend this evening, I logged onto my blog and couldn't believe that my last post was last year! Unacceptable... However! I have been consumed with work over the  past few days, and by the end of a working day, my brain feels a bit fried.

These days when people ask me, "How's your teaching going?" I can't find enough words to describe just HOW much I am enjoying it!

2012 started off very well and after the (short) holiday, it felt like I hit the ground running! I teach Intermediate & Pre-Intermediate levels in the mornings. I have library duty during the lunch break and just last week, I was given the afternoon class, Survival English.

My days have been rather long - starting at 4am (I try!) when I wake up right till about 11pm when I hit the sack.

"...but teacher, aren't you tired?" my students would ask. I believe that my energy stems from 3 sources:

1) Early morning exercise
2) Berocca Boost
3) I love what I do

I've been fortunate to have a great bunch of people in my class, from all walks of life - from countries like Brazil, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, France, Germany, Italy, Angola, Libya, Cameroon and more! Professions of my students range from teachers to lawyers to an optometrist.

Above all that, I'm also very fortunate to be working with a great bunch of teachers who have such a vast knowledge of teaching - whether locally or abroad.

I've said it time and time again - that as much as *I* am the teacher, I'm learning just as much from my students every single day!