Today was my last day at the Yad B'Yad bilingual school. It's been a somewhat frustrating experience. I had two classes: one class of English-fluent 8th graders, and one group of three 6th graders in need of remedial assistance with English. The 8th graders were a lot of fun. We read and discussed The Giver. These kids felt like peers, albeit younger peers, with a different set of experiences: I could communicate with them, and discuss ideas with them. I was sad to say goodbye to them.
The 6th graders were the opposite. I'm not the best at dealing with people who frustrate me, and these kids were certainly frustrating. The fact that they were typically hyper 6th grade boys, combined with the difficulty of communicating with them in their extremely limited English and my extremely limited Arabic/Hebrew, ensured that I dreaded my weekly hour and a half session with the 6th graders.
So today was my last session with them. Their behavior's been especially terrible for the past few weeks, and today, the kids refused to even open their books. As usual, one of the kids, Sham, was the ringleader. His English is the weakest of all, and he tends to respond to his frustration with English lessons by lashing out, which comes in the form of either running back to the classroom or hitting one of the other kids in the group. I'd never figured out how to calm him down, and when he gets riled up, the other kids tend to follow. When this happens, I usually try to push through, walking around the group to open the kids' books and reading the questions aloud to them so that they can't avoid the work. Today, though, I just couldn't muster the motivation.
My co-teacher and I decided we'd play a game with them instead. Hangman. It's the last day, and you always do something fun on the last day, right? Plus it's pedagogically valuable-they can work on their vocab! So Hangman is what we did. We explained the concept, and off we went. We did an example round, and then we passed it to the kids to be the game leaders. The first problem-instead of using the English words from the textbook, they used the names of soccer teams and players. Oops.
So my co-teacher drew up a board. Four letters. They could do this. The kids quickly guessed "G-I-F," but struggled to come up with the last letter. I could see Sham was getting antsy, so I whispered "T" in his ear. "T!" he triumphantly shouted. Gift. He had won the game.
Sham was never better behaved than after his Hangman victory. Sure, he eventually started wrestling his classmate and ran back to class when I told him to stop, but we got a solid half hour of well-behaved engagement from him. 4 months of struggle-28 class sessions in total-and all I had to do to make him behave and take me seriously as a teacher, albeit briefly, was to make him feel like he was smart and successful by feeding him an answer and letting him win a stupid game. I was amazed it could be so easy.
I feel like there's a life lesson for me here.