Monday, May 19, 2008

Crowd control

In my second-largest class (34 students) the noise level can be almost frightening at times. This is one of the classes coordinated by the boss who thinks I'm funny, but it is not the large class I complained about. I do not want to complain about this class. It is too big, but it is fun, because the students are higher level and willing to cooperate.

One of the things that makes this class fun is the class clown. This is a student called 'Osama' (not his real name, but he is a bit of a terrorist and the other students call him Osama). He is like no class clown I have ever had before. I wrote about him briefly after the first class, and he has lived up to my somewhat anxious expectations. I tried moving students around so he was with people he did not know, but that didn't work. You put him in a group of serious, solemn types, and within five minutes they are weeping with laughter and apologizing to me for disrupting the class.

The only option left was to co-opt him. I was afraid this would be difficult, as he is a bit of a loose cannon, but it turned out not to be. Osama likes English, and is pretty good at it. He is also quite respectful when he is not being funny. (Not often, I must admit, but at least he tries.) He is now being funny in English, with the odd Japanese pun thrown in. It is hard not to react to those. Puns are about the only thing I can do well in Japanese – in fact I have a hard time avoiding making them – and I do appreciate a good groaner.

The biggest problem with this class, now, is that when the noise level is high I cannot get their attention. My voice is not loud enough. The room is a bit echoey, and most of the students are guys, and sometimes, when I need to draw their attention to something I have a hard time being heard above the roar. This is not because they are misbehaving – most of the time they are using English, as instructed – but simply because they cannot hear me, and are paying attention to their partners or groups.

On Friday I found a way around this problem. Osama has the loudest voice in the class. I discovered that all I need to do to get the students' attention is to get his attention first, and the problem is solved. This happened by accident the first time. I wanted to tell the class something (about a mistake they were all making) but they did not realize I was trying to speak. I was standing at the podium, staring at the class and wondering whether I could be bothered doing my screeching-into-cupped hands thing, when Osama looked up. I shrugged helplessly. He looked around, then stood up and took a deep breath.

"SHUT UP!!!" he bellowed.

He was extraordinarily loud.

The class did a collective, shocked jump and suddenly fell silent. Thirty-three faces turned to me, waiting to see what I would do to punish the naughty student who had yelled so rudely. A couple of students giggled nervously.

I smiled.

"Thank you, Osama," I said. (I was able to use a normal voice!) "Thank you, everybody, and sorry to interrupt. I just wanted to give you some extra instructions, and my voice isn't loud enough."

I explained what they were doing wrong, and wrote the problem sentences on the board, along with a few examples. Everybody nodded seriously.

"That's all. Carry on!" I said, cheerfully, and they did. Within a few seconds I was being deafened again, this time by correct English.

He did this for me one more time during the class, without my having to ask. It was fabulous. On Friday afternoons I do not have much voice left and sometimes it's easy to let things slide because it's too much trouble to get the attention of the class. It is wonderful that I don't have to anymore.

I have a crowd control officer.


Hebron said...

Teach him to say "Hey Abbott!" and another to say "I hate that guy."
It would be hilarious! XD

But seriously, isn't it nice when people help out like that?