Teacher Julianne: The Leopard in my Tank

Chatter chatter, mutter mutter, fidget fidget – chairs scraping, pens tapping, texting on phones, listening to music.

Teacher Julianne is troubled.

Our Class Calendar

Troubled because one and a half months into teaching at Flora Tristan School and the usually focused and calm Leopard class, the oldest and most advanced in English in the school, are suddenly deteriorating into a rabble. How did this happen? Is it something I’ve done? Something I’ve not done? Something wrong with the activities I’m doing? Are they bored? Are they pushing the behavior boundaries to test my limits?

When I started teaching my class of around eight students, there had recently been a lot of changes in teachers so when I took over I had a few classes of incessant chattering, fidgeting and general teacher button-pushing. I soon realized, however, that all they needed was a bit of structure and plenty of varied activities to keep their brains occupied, coupled with plenty of lighthearted jokes and fun to allow their personalities to blossom in the class – the wacky cheek of Jesús, Luz’s understated humour, the intent studiousness of Cesar, Alex’s off-the-wall adventurousness with vocabulary and of course Daniel’s shining face, full of sincere enthusiasm, greeting me in class every day of the week thanks to his flawless attendance record.

It’s always been a challenge in this class because of the huge age range of 11 to 21 years old. I’m wary of patronizing the older ones and losing the interest or dampening the energy of the younger ones. Using a varied yet structured approach seemed to engage and motivate them in August and we settled into a routine: reading a few pages of the latest book, revising vocabulary followed by writing, talking and listening activities from the Cambridge Young Learners curriculum. They indulged their artistic talents by making a wall calendar, practiced their singing with the song of the month to perform at the end of August assembly – Here Comes the Sun by the Beatles. Lots of interactive activities where they would draw or write something on the white board to practice their English – or I’d draw some pictures and they’d throw out phrases and words to describe what I’m drawing (clock faces for the time, a person going about their daily activities, animals etc).

Singing the song of the month

This formula made August an enjoyable, productive month where I could actually see their confidence growing and their ability in English improving.

Then it was time to check their knowledge, as is usual at the end of each month. Some little tests to see how well they’d picked up the various topics, which they uncomplainingly completed in silence – students such as Cesar and Esperanza relishing the opportunity to show off their English language talents. The results were excellent – a bright bunch – but for some reason, after these tests, something changed…even the ever-keen Alex started to wind quietly and darkly back into himself. Not what I’d bargained for.

And this last few days they’ve lost the plot…or rather, perhaps I’ve lost the plot. My mistake, I think, was to give them tests and go straight into a new topic. What I should have done was play games, watch a film, look at some photos…something different from the usual routine, something fun, something to relax their minds and lift their spirits to congratulate them for being so awesome in August.

I quickly realized this mistake, thanks to the reliably candid Esperanza who, when I did in fact produce a game for them to play, muttered in Spanish that “finally we’re playing a game instead of always listening, writing, reading, speaking…” I’m not sure if she realized I could understand what she was saying but it was for the good that I did. There was a certain doggedness that had crept into the last few weeks, perhaps also due to me having been under the weather and lacking in energy myself. But whatever the reason for it, this was my first, biggest lesson so far…not learnt from a book or a tutor, but from the students themselves.

 Leopard class

It did trouble me. Perhaps I’m being hard on myself and over-analyzing (as usual) but I think I still have to make up some ground. I have plans for next week involving photos and games which should bring things onto an even keel. Then for the rest of September hopefully we can settle back into a productive routine with that amazingly focused atmosphere I’ve seen the Leopard class achieve before, with very little help from me. This time though, we’ll have a few more games! My next main challenge is to get through what remains of the curriculum before an exam in the first week in October when they have the opportunity to gain the Cambridge certificate to show for their hard work. Then we can move onto the next level of the curriculum. I hope I can find the right combination of techniques to inspire them…they warm my heart with their enthusiasm and I sincerely want them to succeed.

Written by Julianne Ezra

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