In the evening library class, which is a free, drop in class for any level of student (yes, very challenging), I’ve been seeing more and more European and South American au-pairs in the class in recent months. They offer horrific stories of spoilt American children and sometimes arrive late to class after last-minute babysitting schedule changes or long negotiations with their host families over use of the car to get to class. They all have good English and the class for them is as much a social opportunity as it is a chance to refine and practice their English skills. They bring a lot of welcome energy to the class but this can sometimes get a little out of hand and it reminds me of why I don’t want to teach teenagers! One student in particular, a Czech student (let’s call her Kristina), is a veritable firecracker in the class. She is lots of fun, is always happy to answer questions and has excellent English. But much as I hate ‘shushing’ students ( I feel too much like an out of control secondary school teacher), I have on occasion been forced to ‘shush’ Kristina as her gregarious personality tends to set off a noisy Mexican wave of chatter through her fellow au-pairs.
Sometimes, I wonder what on earth my oldest student thinks of this lightheartedness. Yelena is a retired school principal from Russia. The babooshka of the group, she is a strong yet caring presence who brings sweet treats to class and although she speaks fairly good English, really struggles with the understanding of spoken English. I imagine her to have been a strict, yet fair teacher and can’t imagine her tolerating the amount of ‘communicative activity’ that I turn a blind eye to. She has sometimes issued stern looks that seem to blow straight off the Siberian planes towards Kristina and I try to avoid this by reigning in Kristina with gentle chides and humour.
In the last class, I had a new Peruvian student (let’s call her Isabel) who was a beginner and insisted on speaking to me in Spanish, seemingly ignoring the fact that I didn’t understand what she was saying to me. As she was sitting next to the Czech au-pair, I decided to pair them together for much of the class, which was about giving and receiving directions. As I monitored the rest of the class, I kept a careful eye on this pair to see how they were doing. They were working well together, Kristina was encouraging Isabel to speak in English and I heard some really nice instructions coming from Kristina. She even managed to get Isabel to write down some sentences and read them back to her. Kristina demonstrated patience and kept encouraging Isabel to speak English. What’s more, the class was working hard at their set tasks, without being disturbed by Kristina’s chattering. For a few minutes, a serene calm fell over the class, the only sound being the rustling of street maps as local landmarks were found and directions checked. For those few moments, I felt a warm glow of teacherly satisfaction with the class.
As the class ended and Isabel offered me her 'gracias' I pondered Kristina’s future. Maybe more beginner students would find themselves with a helpful Czech mate in future classes and Yelena will not have cause to issue her icy Siberian stare again.