Today’s article is written for the Reach To Teach Teach Abroad Blog Carnival, a monthly series that focuses on providing helpful tips and advice to ESL teachers around the globe. I’ll be posting a new ESL related article on my blog on the 5th of every month.
OK, so I had a really hard time with this topic. Mostly because I have a terrible memory of what went well in lessons and happen to remember more of what went wrong (yes I know some people would call that negative thinking, just the way my teacher brain is wired I guess). Anyway, I could not for the life of me think of even a lesson plan that was above average in any regards. So, I am going with the lesson that I remember leaving and being thankful for my sanity.
Most of you readers can guess where this lesson took place…? Yep, good old Georgia (the country). I realize a lot of what I say about teaching in Georgia is negative, but while it was mostly negative and an example of what not to do, there were some good lessons, good students, and good times (I just can’t remember specific examples).
Anyway, this specific incident occurred during one of my three times a week lessons with the 5th graders. The 5th graders were an interesting bunch, to say the least. They had probably the worst classroom in the school, despite actually having minimal heating, a blackboard, enough desks and chairs and electricity. They were on the same hall as the “toilets”.
Here is where I have to make a disclaimer that after having smelled the “toilets”, I never once in the entire school year used the school “toilets”. They were holes in the ground with a bit of tile around them (which now thinking about it, is pretty average for Georgia). I don’t think that there was even toilet paper (also normal). I don’t think they were ever cleaned (probably normal).
So, the poor 5th graders were just up the hall from the “toilets”. The classroom had a wall of windows out into the wide world of Kutaisi and a row of windows along the ceiling facing the hallway. That same hallway where the toilets where. Being Georgia, most of those windows were broken or were lacking glass. Guess what that means? Frequent wafts of fragrant human excrement. It was Terrible. With that pungent odor permeating the classroom, no wonder the 5th graders were grumpy.
On top of having a horrendous learning environment, the 5th graders were a terror. There was one student who actually had some disorder and was often violent and eventually was medicated somehow (he only calmed down a bit while on whatever it was). Then there were two more incredibly disruptive students who had no regard for rules, regulations or any respect for teachers. The rest of the class was just as likely to chatter away and ignore what was going on. Out of 17 students there were three who maybe listened.
This particularly hot and stinky lesson the boy with issues was particularly violent and aggressive. He happened to aim his wrath at one of the two disruptive lads. This boy then of course had to prove his manliness to the other students and rise to the bait. A fight broke out between them. Pencils, chairs and tiny fists where used as weapons. Then the other disruptive student started shouting abusively at the instigator of the fight, I think. He might have been shouting at them both actually. As a teacher, I was not supposed to get involved. My co-teacher ran to get the Madatori (school “disciplinarians”).
In a fit of fury mixed with madness brought on by days of having to deal with disruptive and disrespectful students, I was going to do something. Something very Georgian. I picked up a huge pile of books. I walked calmly (or at least with suppressed rage) to the desk where the boys were fighting and I slammed the books down. Right. In. Their. Faces. They paused. And looked at me. They were used to Georgian teachers doing this, but not the American teacher. It was enough of a break for me to take the pencils out of their reach. Then I grabbed one of the students arms and physically sat him at the back of the room (as far away from the other boy as possible). The boy who had been shouting at the two combatants, continued to shout and be disruptive. I took his arm and the boy who had started the fights arm and lead them into the hallway. That very same odoriferous hallway. I then made them stand in the stinking hallway until the end of the lesson. They begged to be let back in the classroom. They promised they would be quiet (or at least the loud one did, the boy with the disorder stared sullenly at me). All the while doing the Georgian pulling on the skin under the chin and saying “oh Mas! Gtovet” (teach please!) The pulling the skin under the chin is their way of begging. How in the US we would put our hands together as if praying. I ignored all pleas and entered the classroom.
My co-teacher and the Mandatori arrived to see order restored. For a moment at least. I think they were impressed.