A unique language and skills training centre in the vibey suburb of Observatory, Cape Town, South Africa.
We provide English language training to local and foreign students (EFL/ESL), English teacher training (TEFL/TESOL), computer literacy training, skills development workshops and study assistance (tutors) to school learners up to degree level.
We all know that movie scene. It goes
something like this:
a)A shaggy-haired teenager hops
over the neighbour’s fence to visit his girlfriend and….
b)A dumb robber (think Home Alone) attempts a stealthy break-in
…out dashes a snapping yap-dog – breaking
the silence and incriminating the intruder.
Last Sunday, after spending most of the day
in bed, I decided it was time to venture outside. It so happens that the
highlight of social entertainment in my town boils down to a few cramped bars
and a handful of supermarkets. Being a Sunday, my boozing options were limited –
so shopping it was!
So off I went, trekking up the hill, over
the intersection, past the elementary school and towards the local GS25
Being the highpoint of the day’s enjoyment,
I wanted to take my time – spend a leisurely hour or so roaming the aisles,
consulting ramyeon packets, trying to decipher the Korean wording on packages,
or pretending to be planning a recipe for a well-to-do husband waiting at home.
No such luck. Korean store attendants have
a habit of following you around – a most overly helpful habit. (Beauty stores
are a nightmare when you just want to try on all the free samples and a teller
follows your every move. In these cases, I end up feeling obliged to buy
something useless and cheap that I don’t really want – like a tacky lip icekey
The first interesting sight – a repeat
source of amusement in these instances – was the fish counter. If you can get
over the smell and the eyeballs, there’s always an interesting creature or two.
A common sight is live octopus (eating squirmy raw octopus is in fact a Korean delicacy). There are usually also some phallic-looking sea cucumbers or an aquarium
On this particular trip I discovered a group of squids, bobbing up
and down in the cold water. I watched them for ages, until my front-row seat
was taken over by an equally interested 4-year old.
Next stop: the meat counter. I’ve recently
located chicken breasts in Korean supermarkets – a versatile ingredient to have
in the fridge (and a regular meal back home). Just moments after locating said
chicken, a handsome Korean man strolls over.
“Can I help you? What are you looking to
Considering there are only whole chickens,
breasts and beef strips on the shelf, this conversation is really unnecessary.
“Umm I just want to make something for
dinner…Maybe bulgogi?” I reply.
I spy another glance. He really is very
handsome. Why of all possible days, was today the day I decided to venture out
sans make-up and sans bra. I suck my stomach in a little.
“For how many?” he enquires.
“Two,” I respond.
What a joke. It’s literally just me. Eating
for two. Again.
“This should be enough then,” he says,
lifting up a packet of beef strips.
I had no intention of buying this. I lower
it into my basket with a cheesy grin. I linger a second longer.
“Are you American,” he asks? (This is such
a common question here you’d think white people only lived in the big ol' US of
He looks at me like I should mention
something about the place– like my favourite Chicago deep-dish pizza restaurant
(poef). All I can think of is a Sopranos
accent. And I’m pretty sure that’s not even right. I take it as my cue to
leave, wondering if I should circle aisle 7 until I can safely put the meat
Anyway, as most
shopping trips go – where I plan to buy just one or two ingredients to complement
my household supplies – I come back with 400 000 won worth of goodies. Including the meat I didn’t want.
Laden with two overflowing shopping bags, I
decide to explore the other side of town and take a detour home.
15 minutes in, I realise I’m walking
through a residential area and the usual landmarks are nowhere in sight.
Realising I should double back and head
towards more familiar surroundings, I take a narrow lane in the direction of
Cursing the ghastly humidity, I carry on.
It starts to rain. Soon I am drenched in both rain and sweat.
As I round the corner, a prophetic sign rushes
towards me in the form of two stricken teenage boys. They duck into an alley. I
quickly see why they are running – a golden-haired yap-dog is speeding towards
me, teeth gnashing and nails clipping the tarmac.
I turn on my heels and run. My two shopping
bags bob awkwardly at my sides.
When the sound of the tiny yapper dies
away, I drop my bags of sodden groceries and laugh. Who cares if I get wet?
“I am going to make things simple for my teacher,” said no one, ever. - by Shannon Norman
There is no need for me to point out the obvious. We all know that everyone is different. But I AM going to point out the obvious – EVERYONE is different!
Since working at The Knowledge Workshop, I’ve had to juggle many different student personalities. I’ve also come to realise that students won’t necessarily always agree with the way the teacher does things. Yes, I said it. Sometimes, your students want to be the teacher because they have their own idea as to how English should be taught and this mindset is like a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. Is there a specific way you should handle this sort of situation? I don’t know if there is ONE way, but I think, as a teacher, you’ve got to go with your gut, a lot of the time.
What happened, you may be thinking. I’ll tell you.
Learning is not limited to the classroom. If it was, then I’d be quite disappointed. So, every now and again (typically on a Friday), I absolutely love to remove my students from the classroom and plonk them in a situation they can’t experience in class. But this is where shit hit the fan – luckily not literally.
I planned to take my students on an “Obs walkabout” seeing as our theme for the week was “experiences”. After hearing my plan, one of my students said that he thought the class would benefit more from conversations in class as opposed to ones out on the streets. Basically, he just hated on my outing idea and hinted at it being rubbish. I could feel myself getting defensive and that’s when that gut feeling I was telling you about kicked in. I can’t describe it, but I knew what to say…
Students on the Obs walk-about
“There is nothing more valuable, in my eyes, than placing you guys in an authentic English situation, where you will not only speak to your classmates and hear my accent, but you’ll speak to other people with different accents. Yes, this can happen on your way home, or while you’re shopping, but at least we can experience it together and I can guide you and you can ask me questions.”
Thankfully, one of my other students had my back and tried convincing that particular student, and another student (bloody pressure) that it was going to be great.
Anyway, after a successful outing, the students in doubt walked away with a smile on their faces and realised how beneficial it was to expose themselves to the beautiful, but annoying language we all call, English.
But, the dark days didn’t end there. Another little something happened…. I started to notice just how distracting devices were becoming in the classroom. There were two students who were very quick to rely on their device for translation. I let it slide once or twice in the beginning, but I quickly realised that this was a no-go. I then spoke to Marian and we agreed on a rule: no devices in the classroom. So, the next day I politely informed the class of the new rule. I explained to them that using a device every other second was only going to destroy their confidence and it would ruin their strategic ability in the language. I also told them that they were not always going to have this “magic wand” with them and that they should rather concentrate on developing their competency from the get-go.
Let’s put it this way, I wasn’t their best person, especially when I said that they were only to use a paper-based dictionary. “It’s the 21st century,” so I was told. Nevertheless, I stuck to my decision and I made it explicit that they were more than welcome to use their “best friends” outside of the classroom, but while they were in my classroom, this rule was going to stay. Tough love, right?
Shannon in the classroom
Would you believe it, a few weeks later, I caught one of my students using his phone in the middle of the lesson. I proceeded to ask what he was doing, and before I knew it a metaphorical cloud of smoke appeared in front of me – something had exploded. And that, my friends, was my student. He got so mad, an army tank might as well have been in the classroom, destroying everything in its path. That old saying, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out the kitchen,” needed to be applied. After my student and I exchanged some words, I casually left the classroom and had a slight meltdown. Don’t worry, if this happens to you it’s not a sign of weakness – everything but. However, this battle was a long time coming. I gathered my thoughts while in the comfort of my mentor and then stepped back inside as if nothing was wrong. This was difficult…this was so difficult! But it needed to be done. Immediately my student’s attitude changed. I then realised that stepping out the classroom was the best thing I could possibly have done. I had time to think, he had time to think and most of all, he realised that how he had spoken to me was no way to speak to a teacher; or ANYONE for that matter.
Despite these turn of events, our teacher-student relationship improved to the point where we were able to laugh about the “no device rule”. We developed a really good bond and that’s what teaching is all about I guess – learning through discovery. Building rapport with your students can come in many different forms and I’ve come to realise that the hard way. Therefore, my advice to you: pick a fight with your students, it’s what you need.
(I’m joking. Don’t do this, but if it happens – it’ll be for the best).