Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

Well, just the one actually 🙂

I wanted to share an example of one of those things which felt really stupid and unprofessional at the time, but which over time has just come to be a good story to tell.

Me before my first lesson at the school

Me before my first lesson at the school (though not the lesson I’m writing about!)

When I was at university studying languages, I spent my third year abroad working as a British Council teaching assistant. In Paraguay, that meant working as a full-time teacher in a private language school. The school had two possible time slots for afternoon kids’ classes. I can’t remember which way round the days were, but it was something like 3:00-4:30 Monday and Wednesday and 3:30-5:00 Tuesday and Thursday.

A couple of months after I arrived I was asked to cover a kids’ class, the first time I’d taught anyone under the age of about 16 there. I was really worried about my lack of experience, and asked the head of teacher training at the school to help me. She gave me a series of activities and worksheets to fill the lesson, and explained how to set them up.

When I got into class, everything went really well. The kids were engaged, and they worked through all of the materials successfully. We got to the end of the lesson and I let them all out.

Except…

I’d made a mistake with the time, and let them out at 4:30, not 5:00 as it was supposed to be on that day! Because they’d completed everything, I didn’t check the time carefully enough and assumed it was the end of the lesson. I walked out of the classroom and realised my students were the only ones outside. I saw the security guard, who asked me what was happening, and I suddenly realised my mistake. I had to go around, gather all of the reluctant kids up, and persuade them to come back into class, while desperately trying to figure out what to do with the last 15-20 minutes of the lesson when I had no activities left. I can’t remember what solution I came up with in the end, but I do remember that I was really embarrassed!

12 years on, it mostly makes me laugh 🙂 And sympathise with teachers who get really hung up on little mistakes like that. I’m pretty sure most of the kids don’t remember that lesson, and that my confusion had no long-term impact on their ability to use English. At least, I hope not 😉

What stupid things have you done as a teacher?

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Comments on: "Stupid things I’ve done as a teacher" (15)

  1. I described a student to her parent as “like a rock”, meaning “reliable”, which in Japanese translates as “stupid and unresponsive”.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. StrayP said:

    I’ve also let out a class early my first year teaching. It was only 20 minutes though and I told the students (A1 kids) to have a good weekend, good bye etc…and they just sat there staring at me and looking really confused. I kept saying go home, class is over and they kept looking at the clock. Finally they used every bit of English they could come up with to get me to understand it was too early. I was super impressed with them that as a group they worked it out in English, we laughed about it but I was embarrassed after lol!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Božica said:

    I’ve always been punctual, even as a child. I’ve never been late for school or for work I did before I started teaching. I’m still punctual but I somehow managed to mix up the shifts at school and to miss all classes on my FIRST day at work! When the phone rang at around 10am and the principal said “Why didn’t you come to work today?” I wished the ground swallowed me up!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Tyson Seburn said:

    Yours is such a simple mistake. No harm done. Haha.

    For a whole term, I called a student “Somewhat” because that’s what I heard him introduce himself as at the beginning–a strange nickname sure, but who was I to judge. At the end of the term, I gave him his evaluation and he said it was not his. I said but it was, Somewhat. He said no, his name was Samuel. Dumbfounded, I asked others in the class if they knew that and they said yes.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I remember in my first YL lesson I was also given all the support, activities, worksheets, you name it. And, just as in your story, the kids blasted through everything with about 40 min to spare. My solution? I couldn’t really think of anything better to do than start the lesson all over again, from the top. Needless to say, the kids were really confused.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I have taught the wrong lesson. I had just started teaching at a language school in Russia and the students would typically come to the school twice a week for lessons. I didn’t check the code properly, so I ended up teaching this class a lesson that they had been taught a couple days beforehand. My DoS was not impressed, grumpy students means spending time listening to complaints, and coming up with solutions. However, thankfully the class were quite forgiving as I was still new, so the DoS only got messages along the lines ‘I think Leslie might have got his wires crossed with the timetable’.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I was invigilating the listening section of an exam and pressed play on the CD player. It was only after ‘I bet you look good on the dance floor’ by Arctic Monkeys started booming out of the machine that I realized I hadn’t put the exam listening CD in the machine.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Gabrielle said:

    I sat on a table, in a tiny class in my school in Spain, and the top of the table wasn’t attached to the frame, so I fell thought it, landed on my bottom, and looked like a right idiot. Later I spotted one of my female students while in the supermarket. As she walked past me she slapped me on the bottom and asked if I was ok now?!!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Kate Smook said:

    I interviewed a potential student in a company and asked what his hobbies were. I heard him say ‘restaurant’ building and was surprised but spent about 10 minutes asking him about his interesting hobby and which restaurants he had built. Slowly it dawned on me that he’d meant building restoration. He thought I was really interested in building and offered to show me photos of his work!

    Like

  10. I used to teach teens and adults, but then one year I was assigned a group of young learners (7 to 10). One of the activities in the student book involved writing, so I explained to my new students what they were supposed to do, and I was happily waiting for them to complete the task. A couple of minutes later I was surprised to find out that two of them (the youngest ones) were just looking around and not doing anything. Quite upset and disappointed, I asked what the problem was. Did they understand what was expected of them? Yes, they did. So why weren’t they doing the task? The answer shocked me: “Miss, but we still don’t know all the letters!” =)

    Liked by 2 people

  11. My first day at a new course location, I walked into the classroom with 20 teens, introduced myself in English and tried to get them to respond to no avail. After 15 minutes, the director walked in to tell me I was in the wrong classroom, these were Design students that didn’t speak at all. Oops!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Once, when I was teaching a group of 5-year-olds, one little professor didn’t give anybody a chance to complete the task by shouting out answers. I remember asking him not to do that and let others play too but he ignored me, so I sticked a sad smiley into his notebook. Later, when his mom came and asked how had the lesson been, he said what happened and his mom asked me: Since when it is a bad thing that a kid is active and eager to participate in a game, moreover speaking ENGLISH? 🙂 I felt I was soooooooo unfair about him 🙂 still do 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • You were trying to teach him social skills. And in that case – he was probably spoiling the game for other kids.
      It’s great to be positive and eager but others might need more time to speak English at all. It was a game, a safe place where kids can try out themselves. If one kid is the only one who takes – the game loses it’s purpose.

      Like

  13. I think it’s common to make bad decisions when one doesn’t understand the culture of one’s students. I remember teaching young adults in Prague in the late 90s and I thought it was so clever of me to teach the students how to express regret as if it were an AA meeting. I start the class off by announcing, “Hello, my name is Gary and I’m an alcoholic.” I then proceeded to tell my sad story complete with four different exponents for expressing regret (“I wish I hadn’t…”, etc.). Then, after clarifying the target language, I asked each student to create their own stories and use the TL. I remember, after the first couple of times I did it, being so impressed at the acting skills of my students and also with how engaged the others were while listening. Some of them looked like they were on the verge of crying. I thought I had created the world’s best role-play until I explained my lesson to a Czech friend. She said something like this, “Don’t you realize how big the problem is in this country and that virtually every Czech family has experienced some degree of tragedy because of alcohol?” I never did that lesson again.

    Like

  14. […] This is a post aimed at candidates about to take a diploma course, but is still relevant to all. It also loosely connects to Sandy’s recent post about mistakes you’ve made in class (click here). […]

    Like

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