Future ESL Teachers Beware! (or, The Worst Teaching Day Ever)

By: Polly Barks

I watch wearily as one of the many Svetlanas reaches into her Chanel purse, touches up her MAC lipstick (Russian Red, obviously), all while typing apathetically on her iPhone. It's 8:30 AM and I'm already questioning my sanity.

I've been teaching English in Moscow for three years now. I've worked in two private schools that cater to wealthier clientele and their offspring. If you want to regale your friends and family with inspiring tales of helping impoverished children learn their alphabet, or about the struggles of teaching 30-40 children per class, central Moscow is not the place to do it. Instead, you'll give them other kinds of horror stories: how the rich and privileged ran you ragged, and inevitably the worst teaching day ever.

This is not to say that every student at such schools is a monster, or that days like this will be common. But this is no time for positivity. Back to Svetlana.

I had stumbled into the school at 7:45 and prepared a nice, communicative lesson for my elementary, self-proclaimed “housewife” class. By 8:00 I was sucking down a coffee at the front of the room, prepping my materials. By 8:10 one of my students had showed up, a kind if totally clueless woman named Anya. We chatted painfully for a few minutes. At 8:20, a rush: four students come in, chatting loudly and totally unconcerned by their lateness. It's Svetlana, Svetlana, another Anna, and Alisa. I greet them, relieved that I can finally get going.

As I ask them to open their books to the correct page, they all simultaneously whip out their iPhones and begin typing. I ask them to shut down the phones. They pretend like they don't understand (I never quite figured out if they were clever or really that dense) and begin to talk about their weekend, filled with shopping, fine dining, and – the horror – one driver being late to pick them up for a hair appointment.

An hour later, I've finally pried them off their phones and got them speaking about their hobbies. Just in time for the class to end.

Well that's too bad, you say, but surely not every class can be like that.

And you'd be right, reader. All classes are uniquely painful during your worst teaching day ever.

My teenagers can be condensed into one long, torturous period: a constant, Herculean effort to get the students to do even one page from the textbook and the navigations of teen social dynamics that I'm far too uninterested in to try to navigate. Oh, and every essay from every boy, regardless of theme, always ends up being about burning down his school. Or shooting people.

Unsurprisingly, I'm always happy to hustles these awkward teens out as fast as possible. I'm sure they're happy too. The girls branch off into aggressive factions in the nearby park as the boys tag along behind, likely hoping to set something on fire.

My day ends with a stretch of 45 minute children classes. Packs of overstimulated, over privileged, and overtired children troop into my classroom. Exhausted from long days of private tutoring and the incessant micromanaging of various nannies, these three-year-olds have had it. Classes generally consist of something like this:

Green. Everybody point to something gre-- no, Vika! Well, yes, Vanya's eyes are green but we shouldn't poke them out... Ok, everybody, quack like a duck. No, Sasha, a duck. A DUCK. NOT A RABID DOG. Oh God...

Classes are considered successful if less than fifty percent of the class has burst into tears and no one's broken any of the classroom materials. Oh, and if we managed to review the few words we've been learning for the past three months.

Finally, after ejecting the last tiny miscreant, the day is over. If my last class ends at 7:30, I'm out the door at 7:32, relishing my freedom. I hurry to the Metro, ready to jump into bed and end the day as soon as possible.

And as I consider just skipping past home and heading straight to the airport, I realize I need to fight the feeling. Not for the eager minds I'll surely let down with my departure, but because I have at least another week until I get unimpressively compensated for my worst teaching day ever.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingPolly Barks is an American expat living in Russia. Blog description: A blog about a long-term American expat living in Moscow. A focus on teaching English, photography, and food!
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Contest Comments » There are 5 comments

Linda wrote 10 years ago:

Great post! I feel your pain! I taught a Russian teenager called Misha before. All he did was make origami weapons and bomber planes. He'd come up to me at the end of the class and present it to me, explaining in gruesome detail the ways the weapons could kill people and how many people would die. Heart-warming stuff!

Olga@The EuropeanMama wrote 10 years ago:

That sounds scary, and indeed your day was really hard! I hope it won't repeat itself, but it seems like the class you're teaching is not one of the easier ones... teachers who teach underprivileged children also complain of siilar problems,but I think not everybody knows that it happens in privileged schools as well!

Rhea wrote 10 years ago:

What a great post! It's kind of a trick-topic... EVERY day is the worst ever when teaching EFL ;)

Ian Mac Eochagáin wrote 10 years ago:

Perhaps teaching isn't for you. It doesn't sound like you're interested in your students as people.

Gerald wrote 10 years ago:

I think this post is probably a way of you letting off steam whilst going through a slump period that every teacher or worker abroad goes through from time to time, but because this is the internet and I can, I'm going to throw in my two cents about your worst day ever. For your kids, it seems you need to invest in some classroom management techniques. Teachers that don't exercise them properly will be run ragged in class, but once you make it clear to your students that you are the boss, and that if you say "jump" they f***ing do it, they will be little angels, meaning you have to only give intructions once rather than 5 times to take into account various issues arising around the class all the time. As for your housewives, roll with it! Join in the chat about their weekend!Some people don't want a structured class, they just want to have a break from their daily lives while speaking English, so take an interest and have a chat with them, correcting them as they go along. Finally your teenagers; again, roll with it! They're not interested in the book, so ditch it, and plan a lesson around how to best burn down a school!

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