I’ve observed my work colleagues and been immersed in our working environment for a few weeks now and I’m no longer sure that I can call what I did in Indonesia last year proper teaching. Yes, I got the required teacher training and received my qualifications, and I undoubtedly did my best with what I had, but my Indonesian teaching situation was a farce compared to what I’ve been experiencing here in Yakutsk. It’s probably a farce compared to anything anywhere, to be honest.
These people are not joking around. They’re running a proper business and they treat it as such. They take their commitment to our students very seriously, they take the delivery of lessons very seriously and they take monitoring and feedback very seriously. They treat their team members well and openly share the vision and strategy of the company with the team. They’re not stingy with positive feedback and are straightforward and matter-of-fact in talking about areas for improvement without being offensive or disrespectful. There’s a logical and well-defined structure around everything. As I said, they’re running this thing like a proper business.
I say all this to make the point that they’re also very serious about marketing the company and closing sales. That’s how I ended up on a live morning talk show two days after I got here. That’s how I ended up as an elf from The Hobbit six days after I got here. That’s how I ended up at a photo shoot for promotional materials two weeks after I got here. And that’s how I ended up as a Blue’s Clues extra two and a half weeks after I got here.
Not literally. Wait, you’ll see what I mean.
A week and a half before I kicked off my official, proper teaching career, my school had an open day. It was held on a Saturday and the purpose of the day was to allow parents to bring their children in at scheduled times so that the children could participate in demo lessons, which the parents observed. The intention was that the children would enjoy the lessons so much and the parents would be so impressed with the delivery of the lessons that they would register their children for classes before leaving the school that day. There were donuts and sweet biscuits, juice and water, and balloons leading up the stairs and into our school. And potential clients could dip their hands into a glass jar and randomly select a discount for lessons when they arrived and signed in. The event was for marketing and sales purposes and was an absolute hit.
What was my part in all of this, you wonder? Of the ten groups that I’ll be teaching this year (my schedule has evolved from eight groups since I last updated you), all but one are kids’ groups. I was scheduled to deliver two demo lessons at open day, one in the morning for little kids between three and six years old and one in the afternoon for bigger kids between six and ten years old.
When my head of department informed me on that Tuesday afternoon that on the coming Saturday, I would need to deliver these two lessons, I calmly nodded my head and said, “OK, no problem,” while inside my heart leaped into my throat. Then she told me that I would be delivering the lessons along with the head teacher for kids and my heart slowed down a bit. Isn’t it funny how having company can allay anxiety? I calmed immediately, knowing that I wouldn’t be alone in that room with a bunch of non-English speaking children and their parents.
The head teacher for kids and I sat down and decided on the topic for each lesson. Then, because she had a lot of other head teacher-type work on her plate and I only had to attend some training seminars during the rest of the week, I offered to prepare the lesson plans for our demo lessons. So on Wednesday and Thursday I spent some time preparing the lesson plans.
Having not taught really little kids before (remember, I dealt mostly with adolescents and teenagers in Indonesia), this was my first time preparing proper lessons for them. It was at this point that I realised that teaching this age group is something that a prideful person cannot do. Guys, I finally understand why Blue’s Clues is so successful. It teaches little kids in the way that they learn – super simply and repetitively. I realised that I would need to get down to their level if I want to be successful at teaching them. This means that I need to sing silly songs, act in overly dramatic ways (“Oh no! Where did the red button go?”), and keep going over and over the same things in different ways in order to facilitate their learning. And there’s no point in feeling cute about it because I’m giving the children need and it’s not about me at all.
During the course of preparing those demo lessons, all remaining traces of Executive Kristine left me absolutely and totally.
On Thursday afternoon, the head teacher for kids and I ran through the lessons that I had prepared and we made some tweaks. On Friday, we prepared the materials we would need (name tags, puppets, coloured paper, things like that). We were supposed to have a rehearsal, with a few admin staff members playing the role of our class members, but I think everybody got busy with preparations for Saturday and we didn’t end up doing the rehearsal.
On Friday night, I slept like a baby. On Saturday, I arrived at school when the doors opened at 9 am. The head teacher for kids came in soon after and we checked over our materials once more then rehearsed the morning lesson in the classroom we would be using. By 9:30 am, the hallways were busy with parents and kids and a few minutes before 10 am we were all standing around in the reception area, giving an “international feel” to the place. At 10 am, all of the morning’s scheduled demo lessons began.
Head teacher for kids and I Blue’s Clues’d our souls out for the little kids. We sang and mimed and puppeted and said, “Good job!” a million times as we taught them four colours. By the end of the forty-minute lesson, we were both sweating like we had just finished working out. But it was worth it because the little kids loved it and their parents were impressed.
At 2 pm, we did it all again for the older kids, this time teaching them “can and can’t”. Again with the singing and miming and running around and “good job!” and high fives. There were a lot more of them and the school’s founder was in the audience but we still ended our forty-minute demo lesson with happy students, convinced parents and an impressed founder.
This all took place just over a week before I would teach my first official class here and will happen every month until the end of the school year. Those first demo lessons broke the seal for me, getting the first classes out of the way in an informal way, particularly because it was the first time I taught a class since I left Indonesia nine months ago. I don’t have a co-teacher in my regular classes; I’m totally on my own with my kids. But it was nice to have the emotional support for those first lessons and to partner with the best teacher of kids in this school (or else she wouldn’t be the head teacher for kids).
I can do this, guys!