As a teacher of English as a foreign language, I’ve definitely learned the power of body language. Only a few of my students are low-level English speakers, but it helps even those with near-bilingual proficiency–physical cues help not only overcome language barriers, but cultural ones too. Since sometimes it’s hard for them to tell if I’m joking, or if I’m actually going to kick them out if they keep up their shenanigans, I try to give them as much as I can communication-wise.
The biggest part of this is what I like to call Teacher Face.
Putting on my Teacher Face involves a little psyching myself up in the morning, as the authority I have here in Greek high schools is entirely different from the authority I had at past teaching positions: at summer camp it was littered with silliness, at my tutoring jobs I only had one kid to pay attention to, and for all the theatre education I’ve done, I had a secret weapon in that the kids were there to do something they love. Here, many of them hate school, or even English specifically. I have a lot of authority, but not as much as the primary teacher for each class, and I also want to be seen as both a friend and role model for the kids; so, it’s a delicate balance.
Teacher Face takes on many different forms. There’s a Teacher Face for every occasion; you can use it to express everything from enthusiasm to pride to frustration, and comprehension of a given Teacher Face usually only takes seconds.
Teacher Face #1 says, “I see you looking at Maria’s/Thanos’/Yianni’s/Anastasia’s test answers, and unless you stop, I’m going to say something about it in 3… 2…”
Unfortunately, this is a widespread phenomenon around here. If you think plagiarism is big in the States, you have no idea. Recently, I was correcting essays, and was very impressed with one paper until I noticed that there were HYPERLINKS in the last paragraph. Hyperlinks! Not only did they just copy-paste, but they didn’t even care enough to take out such a ridiculously blatant red flag of plagiarism!
Teacher Face #2 says, “This practice speaking test for the Michigan Proficiency exam is going to be FUN!!”
This is where having worked at a theatre camp for eight summers comes in handy. Energy and enthusiasm are a big part of my teaching style, and the kids seem to really appreciate it, even when it’s being applied in the most innocently facetious of ways! Sometimes I’ll accompany this with silly rewards, like teaching them a colloquial English word at the end if they finish their practice test. (They seem to like “spiffy” best so far.)
Teacher Face #3 says, “Dude!”
This is what my coworkers at summer camp and I call the “Dude” face. You use it when a kid is doing something they know they’re not supposed to do, but continues to do it anyway. It’s great because it helps kids assume more self-responsibility; you’re suggesting they change their behavior without telling them outright. Here, in the worst-case scenario, this face is accompanied with sharp words in Greek. They know I mean business when I bust out an “Εδώ! Τώρα!” (“Here! Now!”) or “Ελάτε παιδιά!” (“Come on, kids!”).
Teacher Face #4 says “I’m really, really proud of you.”
I’ve gotten to use this Teacher Face a lot lately. My students are learning! They’re progressing all the time and many of them are working really hard. One girl in particular has done a total one-eighty away from a bad crowd and towards getting really good marks in English! And as of last week, I get to tutor a really special boy every week for the rest of the year. He’s very intelligent and self-motivated, but since he’s a first-year student, the teachers didn’t want to overwhelm him by putting him in the SAT prep class. So they asked me to meet with him and give him a little extra enrichment tutoring. I said yes, of course, especially after I ran into him in the library and found him reading Stephen Hawking’s The Universe in a Nutshell. He’s fifteen! I’m thrilled to have the chance to enjoy teaching in a less structured, more exploratory way; we’re going to look at all kinds of interesting texts, complete some fun creative writing projects, and look into some specific subjects he’s always wanted to learn more about, but hasn’t been able to in school. I’m also loving this opportunity to be a cool girl role model who can help cement the belief that geeky things are totally awesome!!
Well. Things back here are largely back to normal; it’s like I never left. I’m back to a full teaching schedule, gave two presentations on Fulbright last week (stay tuned for a video of my speech!), started training for my half-marathon and also began a series of classes on American-style research papers for my second-year students. I’ve fully re-adjusted, and fallen in love with my life here all over again… and started planning trips again! As for today, it’s going to be a nice little day of grading tests, going to lunch in the city, yoga, enjoying homemade tiropita for dinner at the school, and watching a movie with three friends (and three nationalities among the four of us). Happy weekend everyone!