This article appeared in Hedda Tan's weblog Teaching English Literacy in Asia, and is reprinted with permission.
I believe that children will live up to whatever standards you set for them as a teacher, as a mentor, as an adviser, but most especially, as an older ‘friend’ who truly cares about their success, not just in school, but most especially in the outside world.
This, I believe is the true essence of a teacher.
To illustrate this, let me tell you Taka’s (not his real name) story: Taka came to me with very little English. In the beginning, he struggled so much to understand what is gong on in the classroom. I noticed, he didn’t have that many friends either. I worried about him, especially since other teachers have also reported a lack of progress with him.
What’s worse, other students who came into my class later than Taka did, have demonstrated improvement already, except him. At the back of my mind, I was asking myself, “What am I doing wrong?”.
More months went by, still no tangible improvement. In fact Taka seemed to be taking the worse.
My much needed silver lining in a cloud came – Talent Show!
I asked everyone in my class what each one’s talent is and whether anybody would be willing to show it on stage. Everyone shook their heads from side to side. Then typically, they started to tell about their other classmates’ abilities/talents. One student mentioned that Taka actually plays the saxophone.
To make the long story short, I eventually found out from Taka’s mom that he did play the saxophone, but that was when he was in Japan. As I probed further, the mom said they didn’t know where to buy a reasonably priced saxophone.
It dawned on me that the one thing that could help Taka regain his self esteem is to recapture his music. So I took him to the Band teacher, and of course, the band teacher knew a shop, and finally, Taka got his saxophone.
After the problem with where to buy was resolved, we had to find Taka some music that he could play. Again, the Band teacher had the answer. After that he and his classmates got into a debate over whether Taka should play by himself or get another classmate to play with him.
Finally, it was decided that he was playing the saxophone, and another classmate would accompany him on the piano.
The result? Since Taka had to spend time practicing with his classmates over at their homes, he ended up better liked by his classmates, gaining him real friends, not people he shares a class with who thinks he’s from another planet. He also played the sax at the Talent Show, giving his teachers and schoolmates a view into what more he could do, while he still struggles with his language.
► For more than 12 years now, Hedda has been teaching English literacy in Thailand. Besides being a Registered Nurse, she holds a Master of Arts degree in English Language Teaching and a Graduate Diploma in Teaching. She and her hubby Jose Santiago Tan, whose photographs have been featured in this journal, are both living in Thailand. Hedda's weblog can be found here.