Thursday, 25 June 2009

Getting That Marshmallow Feeling

There were times teaching when I felt like I could bottle my classes as essence of banging your head against the wall. At the start of the year, each of my senior classes would present a wall of silent faces before which my perky little plans for discussions and games would wither and die.

The only way I could make them talk individually was to write a question on the board and then walk around the class to hear their responses, making it clear that I would stand in front of you for five minutes waiting for a one word response that was probably the same one word response that I’d gotten from 90% of the rest of the students.

And so I did this, again, and again, and again. Every time someone mocked their classmates efforts they got the rough side of my tongue. Even if a secret part of me wanted to shake them and scream ‘What is wrong with you? I know you can do this, just speak to me before I go completely insane!’, I stood patiently and waited for the answer that eventually grew to one sentence, and towards the end of the first semester I was getting actual answers.

At the end of second semester I did a lesson where half of it was a ‘free talk’ session. The Chinese English teachers told me it wouldn’t work, the students would be too shy to ask me random questions. But we proved them wrong. Apart from one class, I spent the week talking about all sorts of things, from Elizabeth I to tattoos to gay rights to Egypt to eating disorders. I felt incredibly proud of the students and myself, that we’d come so far and together exceeded the expectations of my classes.

Then I received two letters from students that are perhaps some of the best gifts I’ve ever received. This is one of them:

I really got a lot of benefits from you. I used to be very shy, and I become kind of brave with your lessons. And you let me know how to speak English so I’m brave enough to be the first one to make the speech in class 4. There are many more things.

Another student, who I’d normally chatted to for ten to twenty minutes every week between classes, emailed me to let me know that she had gained a prestigious university scholarship to Singapore, and thanked me for spending that time talking to her, which she felt had contributed to her success at her scholarship interview (which was conducted in English).

There were other words from other students too, all of them treasured.

It’s a very strange feeling to know that, in whatever small way, you’ve actually changed someone else’s life for the better, made them more confident of their abilities.


  1. Hey, I keep flicking back to your blog every now and then. This is totally not to the same level, but I understand where you're coming from...

    I used to be a teaching assistant in a primary school. If I ever got time alone with the class, I'd teach them a few songs, and they loved it. I had an email from one of the teachers who worked there the other day, saying the class (thirty 7yr olds) had "taken over" their music lesson by singing my songs, because they were bored of the songs the official music teacher had been making them sing!

    It was so nice to think that, 6 months later, they'd not forgotten! - and for 7yr olds it's even more impressive!

  2. I'm a teacher also (retired now), and I can identify completely with you in the frustrations and joys of teaching high school students. I still treasure the notes I received from kids over the years. Now I volunteer in kindergarten and I get lots of hugs, drawings and compliments from different from teaching 14-17-year-olds!

  3. YAY! I'm so happy for you! I love it when kids finally "get" it and open up. I feel the same way when I'm directing a super-shy child on stage in a play. LOL! Nothing replaces the tears of joy in me when that child finally opens up and hollers her lines to the back of the room (without a mic) and then smiles. Jenni

  4. Awww... how very wonderfully marshmallowy, Jane!

  5. That's beautiful....even with the ups and downs, it appears this was a really good year. Onward to your next adventure!