The Moment of Truth: After School English Class

It wasn’t until about 5 minutes after class had already started, as I was standing in front of the classroom greeting everyone, that I finally decided what we were going to do that day.

It was Friday afternoon, I was completely exhausted, and the idea of going into my afterschool class and trying to force a lesson that I wasn’t even sure would go well sounded like just about the last thing I wanted to do. Especially after the disastrous class we had together on Monday.

And the fact that it’s roughly ten million degrees in the English room in the afternoons which knocks everyone’s energy levels to about zero.

I had taken the time during my free periods to print out all the materials and I even spent about 25 minutes crafting the perfect groups so that all the troublesome kids and the good kids and the leaders were evenly distributed.

Everything was prepared. And it was a really well structured lesson. But even so I was so tempted to just tell them all to go get their books and we would have a study hall. I was still debating which to do until even after I had taken roll and pulled up the power point.

But some how, from somewhere, I was able to summon up just enough energy to announce to the class that today we were going to do a murder mystery activity.

First though, we’d be getting into groups. That I made. That you definitely won’t like.

That’s of course not how I said it, but the effect was the same.

They were impressed that I knew each of their names and how to spell them in Korean for all of about 2 seconds before they realized what was happening. They complained a bit but eventually made the groups that I asked for and suddenly there was a rare moment of almost silence as they all looked up for what to do next. I explained the activity and they actually followed along, asking questions about each suspect and clarifying that they understood some of the words.

It was amazing. And bizarre. And I hate myself a little bit for not doing this sooner, but better late than never I suppose.

Once I finished the explanation I passed out the first round of clues and they got started.

And they ALL actually got started. There are about two, God bless their stubbornness, who as a matter of principle refuse to engage with anything. But two out of twenty is a ratio I’m comfortable with considering how things usually go. And if they want to sit and stare at the wall while everyone else has fun, then so be it.

All the other students were having fun trying to piece together the story and figure out who did it. And I was so pleased and shocked that it was going well that I could almost forget that we were practically having class in an oven. I’m not kidding. We even had to turn off the fans because they were blowing all the little clue papers all over the place. It was stifling.

The lesson went well throughout the whole class and even the timing worked out perfectly so that the last clues were passed out just in time for them to make their final accusation before class ended. Three of the four teams got the answer correctly and I gave them all a little bit of candy.

I knew, to a certain extent, that the groups would work well. But I also knew that I wanted to explain to the really good kids that the reason they might get stuck with a “bad” group is because I trust them to be leaders and actually do the work.

So as everyone was leaving I called some of the good students over (aka mostly all the girls) and said that I wanted to talk to them before they left. They were all terrified and kept saying, “what is this? so scary!” in Korean as I waited for the boys to trickle out of the class.

I then said very slowly and very seriously, “If I give you a difficult group, it is because I trust you. I know that you are all good students.” And I could see in their eyes both the realization that I had actually orchestrated things that way, and also the pride of being singled out to be praised outside of class.

It turns out, “thank you for always trying your best. I am so happy to have you in my class” has a lot of power coming from a teacher. I will not forget that.

They understood me and I really think that I have them all on my team moving forward.

I’m really glad that I bit the bullet and did the lesson despite everything. I feel like because of how much I didn’t want to do it, the surprise of it going really well was equally as rewarding.

When it came down to it, in the moment of truth, I made the right choice.

Now that I’ve settled into a pretty comfortable routine here, and have the class dynamics kind of sorted out, I’m excited to start trying different style activities and focusing a little bit more on classroom management.

And hopefully in all of the “moment’s of truth” that follow I will similarly make the harder but right decision.

So Friday afternoon I got to say to my after school kids, for the first time this semester, “good job today guys!” and that is worth all the effort and hot English classrooms in the world.

Thanks for reading!

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