Adventures in Teaching: My teacher is a rabbit !

I’ve had great fun at school this week. I mostly have pretty short classes of only 30 minutes, and while you’re supposed to teach a certain topic every class, you’re also told that you should play games with the kids because private schools rely on the students going home and telling their parents they love their class and have lots of fun so that the parents continue to send them as long as possible. Being a foreign teacher makes this even more important because even though you might teach each class for only 30 minutes a week, it represents the largest part of their tuition fees as the schools have to pay foreigners much more to secure their services.

But.. I found games to be a waste of time. They were fun, but I felt guilty doing them, like I was just a babysitter, not a teacher. But after taking a stuffed cat along to throw at them as part of the lesson I realised that it was possible to entertain the kids without playing any games at all. Throwing or hitting each other with the cat became the class’s reward for their attention and correct answers.

But after a few weeks of the same “throw the cat” thing, sometimes they got bored. Many classes loved it, but being so used to playing games, some of the younger aged students would call out “play a game” and I’d say “No ! I don’t play games !” and they’d saw “awww”.

But then, at my request, I started being given longer classes. I just needed more work hours to make ends meet, and the school thankfully obliged by stretching many of my classes out to 45 minutes and also giving me new students. Faced with a fairly boring and simple lesson for 45 minutes, the old cat routine wasn’t going to cut it. But no way was I going to resort to playing idiotic games like “slap the board” or “hangman”, and things involving flash cards didn’t seem like much of a game, even to me.

But I knew some of my students could draw. It was one of the time-wasting things I would engage them in. If I had to have them recite a phrase like “thank the bank for the tank” in order to have them learn the enunciation differences required to differentiate the words “tank” and “thank”, I would pick one student to come up and draw a tank on the board. Then another, while simultaneously throwing the cat and having students recite the phrase and occasionally turning to watch the student who was drawing.

So, this week in my longer classes, since I had a short lesson I asked “Does anyone know the game Pictionary ?” Noone did. I explained how it worked. They said they’d never done that before. I said “Ok, I’ll give one of you a word or a sentence on a piece of paper and you have to draw clues about it without saying anything and the rest of the class have to shout out guesses, but only in English ok. No Vietnamese language allowed”. They were hesitant. This sounded hard.

I started with simple things like “racecar” and “sailor”, but it was hard as sometimes the student who was doing it didn’t even have the vocabulary to know what a “sailor” was. But some of my longer phrases were actually the best. During my class, I’d been taking my wife Yi’s rabbit ears that I bought her for New Years to class. It was my way of refreshing my “hey, I have a cat in my bag” joke, because they all KNEW I had a cat in my bag by that point. Even if they weren’t my own students, they would sometimes stop me in the playground and say “Hey, can I see your cat ?”

So I would pull it out and say “Here’s my rabbit” and a couple of students would look at me puzzled and say “That’s not a rabbit. That’s a cat”. I’d reply with “No. It’s a rabbit. It looks like a rabbit” and someone would always say “No it doesn’t. It doesn’t have long ears”. At which point I would quickly whip out the sparkly-pink ears and put them on the head of the cat and say “Yes it does !” and the class would erupt in laughter and delight and say “Oh it’s so cute !” Because I couldn’t throw the cat with the ears or they would fall off, I ended up wearing them at times.

So I wondered if I could get away with a sentence with some more complicated grammar. I called up one 12 year old girl who some of the others pointed out as being able to draw well and slipped her a piece of paper that said “My teacher is a rabbit” on it. She smiled and nodded. She had no hesitation. It got guessed precisely very quickly to my disappointment, but not before she drew the most ADORABLE fucking picture of ME that I’ve ever seen.

After class I was pleased to see why a number of the teachers had been standing outside peering in through the windows … As I passed another classroom I saw that one of the Vietnamese teachers who had been watching me was inside, playing Pictionary with the kids in the same way.

So this picture has become my Facebook profile picture. David, the teacher who is a rabbit, as drawn by one of my very talented students !

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