I landed three interviews the same week that the CELTA course ended and started teaching the following week. I’d also found a studio apartment in the same building where I was living. More on that in Part 5.
My first “domicilio” session was with two 4-year-olds who made it their mission to not learn English. That class ended badly, mostly with my realizing that working with kids requires a certain level of patience and commitment that I haven’t yet mastered. There’s also the ever-present elephant in the room that you simply can’t avoid. See, as a private tutor, sessions are conducted in homes and offices (and the occasional restaurant), so students are on their own turf. For adults, that means that they’re more comfortable and less inhibited than they would be in a formal setting like a classroom. For kids–or young learners–that means that you’re competing with an overflowing toy box not more than fifteen feet away, and you’re effectively standing between them and it.
Since that experience, I’ve implemented a minimum age requirement of (a mature) 7-years-old, and will lower that to 6-years-old only if the child wants to be there. The thing is–and this is probably the most important lesson that you’ll learn as a teacher–it’s imperative to know and play to your strengths.
I don’t have kids, nor have I ever been around any for more than an afternoon a couple times a year, so I had no clue how to engage them on their level. I tend to treat (and talk to) everyone the same way. I’ve become mindful of “grading” my language (simplifying vocabulary), and that’s because non-native English speakers have trouble with phrasal verbs (“turn down,” “get around to”) and idiomatic expressions (“step on toes,” “ruffle feathers”), two grammar points that are ingrained in American English. The first student interview I conducted during the CELTA course, the students were lost whenever I spoke–and they were Upper-Intermediate.
So, as you might have guessed, running through Romper Room-type activities isn’t one of my strengths, and I’m not sure I’m sad about that. Yes, the demand for teachers in this area is astounding, so I’m in a sense acquiescing to limiting my opportunities. But, as long as I’m forced to compete with that overflowing toy box, I’d rather wave the white flag and admit defeat by the little ones.
The problem is that no (serious) consequences exist for the kid who doesn’t want to learn. In school, being held back a year or getting suspended works well as a deterrent for bad behavior. All private tutors have in their arsenal for managing children is a “points” program that offers up stickers or trinkets as a reward. For a kid who has a mountain of toys and games to climb whenever he wants, a sticker isn’t truly worth the effort to pay attention for an hour.