Why teaching primary school is like training Pokemon

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As an apology to real fans I will admit I’ve never been a real Pokemon addict. I love them, but I’ve never been a real player. I thought X and Y was really cool and I bought a copy of Conquests and played it a fair bit, but I am no gym badge laden Encyclopaedia of Pokemon, so let’s get that admission out of the way before I explain to you how I think my students are like Pokemon.

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When you teach primary school especially, your students are hungry. They are new and fresh and they are ready to rumble. If you do your job properly then every new skill matters. Even just the move from being able to ask the simple question “What’s your name ?” to being able to be ASKED that question and actually answer it properly and give their name clearly and follow it up with “Nice to meet you” and a handshake is an almost unfathomable stretch of confidence than what they had the day before sometimes and is so likely to make a foreigner coo over them and say “Oh my God. Your English is SO good!”. Just hearing your students have an answer to “How are you” that isn’t “Fine thank you, and you ?” is something that puts pride in your heart. Because it means they understand and they are thinking in the right language.

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The thing is that just like in an RPG, lower skilled learners are just like lower-levelled characters in that they can level up more quickly. The rapidity with which younger, more hungry students who do it for the thrill and the pride actually learn is a million times more important than the TOEIC student who pushed their test score up by ten points. In the early levels, they have much more potential to grow fast and become a powerful character and take on battles which are more challenging.

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You see, there’s not that many jobs in life where you can see your work actually making a difference. If you build a road, you can see that beautiful shining road stretching out before you and take pride in your work knowing that it’s an awesome road that will carry people to their destination safely. But if all you do is crunch numbers or create content or facilitate other people in getting more wealthy then it’s hard to see what you do as making a difference. But when you teach young minds, you can.

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You know that for every difficult kid who is shy in class and for whom standing out and being a model student is not part of their character and for whom just the chance to casually show off what they know is a big deal because they may not have a whole heap of other skills, you really appreciate knowing that their little bout of Pokemon training that you might only have for thirty minutes once a week at some age when they are so young that the very idea of being abandoned in a classroom with a foreigner to speak another language when some of them are barely past the stage of being toilet trained or willing to raise their hand and talk to the teacher instead of playing the clown REALLY matters.

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That little bit of time is precious and when it could mean the difference between them caring enough to recall what they learned and repeat it outside of school or not doing so, it makes a massive difference to their confidence. When that overly large, boisterous class clown who always wants to be involved during a game but always freezes up when asked a question that his more intelligent peers know really well finally gets that sticker they’ve been dying for after a dozen unsuccessful tries in order to say “Yeah ! At least I don’t completely suck at English because I got a sticker !” … that matters. That matters so much. Because you can see them levelling up as clearly as if there was an XP counter above their heads racking up points with every half-way correct answer. Because you just hope that they’re going to go home and they’re going to talk to a stranger just once in front of their English-illiterate parents who would have no idea how good they are at it but they’re going to see them pull their little English trick anyway and think “That’s my boy. He might not be an A student but at least he’s got some skills”.

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That’s why rewards are so important in my class, because every sticker is a gym badge and they appreciate it so much. The thrill a kid gets from going home and saying “Hey mom… look.. I got THREE stickers in English class today” is worth so much to them and it should be worth so much to their trainer too.

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Every class room is a training ground and every student is a Pokemon and when you teach them one little trick, it’s one trick more than they had before you entered the room and the more tricks you teach them, the more moves they will have in their arsenal and the more confident they become and you just hope that one day it’s a “Pikachu… use Lightning Bolt !” moment that saves their butt and makes them look good.

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I love my students like my Pokemon because I see them level up every day and I just imagine them fighting important but tiny battles in the big wide Poke-world that make them stronger with every chance they get to practice their skills and even if they forget about their trainer, if they use their skills they will grow stronger with every random encounter. Whenever a wild foreigner appears, I imagine them being super effective and making me proud.

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They’re all cards in my deck and I value them all… especially the ones that have the most room to grow and improve. They’re just my little Pokemonz and I gotta catch them all :)

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