I love teaching Japanese elementary school for all the reasons I don’t much like teaching junior high school. The elementary kids are excited to see me, they ask me all sorts of questions (mostly in the vein of “what color do you like?”), and when I ask for an answer or for a volunteer, 20 hand go up in the air with a deafening round of “Hai! Hai!”
Most of my uncomfortable moments at junior high come when I’m doing a dialog with students. Just the other day, in a 7th grade class, the teacher asked me to pick a few students and ask them “What (something) do you like?”. I asked a girl “What books do you like?”; she responded “I like…” and then silence for roughly 15 seconds before the teacher told her to sit down. Maybe it didn’t bother her very much, or maybe she was traumatized will hate English for the rest of her life. This is the game of chance I play whenever I have to call on students.
Fortunately, elementary kids aren’t quite so embarrassed when they make a mistake. Or are they? Today I taught 2nd graders, “How are you?” “I’m fine, and you?” “I’m fine, too.” After making them repeat it 20 or so times with a partner, I asked for volunteers to present. At first, I have them present with a partner, then I had them do the dialog with me. One little boy really wanted to do the dialog, but his partner sat shaking her head “no”. I said, “OK, just me and the boy” but for some reason the girl stands up.
Boy: “How are you?”
Girl: “How are you?”
Boy: “No, you say, ‘I’m fine, and you?'”
Me: *trying to get the girl to repeat after me. “I’m fine…”
Suddenly, tears are just streaming down the girl’s face. Oh Lord, what have I done?! I stood with a slightly panicked look on my face as the homeroom teacher walks over and does the dialog in place of the girl. The girl recovered eventually, but I can’t help but feel guilty.
And thus are the occupational hazards of teaching English to 8 year olds.