Blog >> Thoughts on being a Trial-Only Teacher

Thoughts on being a Trial-Only Teacher

I would like to talk about some of my experiences as a Trial Only Teacher.  For those who don’t know, Trial Only teachers teach only- you guessed it!  Trial classes!  It can be a very different experience from teaching major classes, and I’ll go into detail on what that entails.

By Teacher Josh Wohlbach    

I’ll begin with how I felt about the title change, firstly.  I loved being a Major teacher.  I greatly enjoyed seeing my usual students every day, having fluent conversations in English, and watching them grow.  I was somewhat anxious about changing this routine, as I was afraid I’d not only miss my students, but I’d not be able to have as much fun with Trial kids.  Thankfully, I couldn’t have been more wrong!  The Trial kids are super cute, are often even more enthusiastic, and are deeply interested in what you do.  In the short 25 minutes that you teach them, you can feel their gratefulness for playing games, and teaching them the simple lessons that they just learned.  It’s a different kind of feeling that I never got from Major classes, and a new kind of excitement for teaching a successful class.  That feeling of accomplishment you get when you see that an amazing student signed up for more classes after you taught them is amazing, and I’ve not felt so proud of myself, and someone else, in a long time.

Something else that worried me was the density of my teaching schedule.  I was always fully booked with Major classes, and often had the same students every day.  With new students daily in Trials, I was worried that maybe there would be gaps in teaching, and less pay.  The VIP KID staff has been very generous though, and understands this concern.  They help Trial teachers out by giving them full pay for cancelled Trial classes, as well as most IT problems.  They also offer more opportunities for bonuses, as well as a 5 dollar USD bonus for any student who signs up.  The better you do, the more students sign up!  This adds up, and becomes a great incentive.

The last thing I worried about was that my students wouldn’t be able to communicate with me.  I enjoyed having conversations with my Major students.  I knew most Trial students would be learning for the first time.  This is mostly true.  Something I did not expect, however, was that I’d be able to experience this rare feeling of happiness that you only get from a student who suddenly “clicks” with the lesson.  There is a great sense of joy when the student finally understands a letter, a sentence, or a game.  Even more so when they want to try more, when they want to keep singing a song, or they want to say more things to you.  Sure, you aren’t holding fluent conversations, but you are experiencing something else-  a student who is building the foundation to do so!

One such example, is a common one I’m sure many Trial teachers have come across.  I had a student who clearly did not want to be in class.  Poor kid looked sleepy, frustrated, and a little scared, all at the same time.  For moments like these, I realize that kids need something fun to focus on.  That’s when I find my trusty kitty and monkey puppets.  The kids always love these (Especially the kitty), and thus begins their interest.  “Oh,” they probably think, “This isn’t going to be boring, the teacher has toys!“  We speak to monkey as if he is learning with the student, and kitty pops up to congratulate the student upon a job well done.  The kid loved this, and broke out smiling and laughing whenever kitty jumped into the camera, or monkey tried to reach for his ears (as one of the games asks the student to do, which is difficult for monkey, since his are all the way on top of his head).  The kid felt comfortable at this point, and as we were playing a “yes or no” game, I decided to try letting the student pretend to be the teacher.  Now it was her turn to ask me or monkey some questions.  She seemed a little shocked that she could do this, and with a little help with an example “Say ______”, she tried and, and felt so excited that she got to play the role of teacher!  She also realized she was using full sentences, and seemed so proud of herself.

There are other difficult times that we face.  The first week of Trial teaching was a tough one.  Not only was a bit more difficult with the younger students, but trying to communicate with kids who never spoke English was a challenge.  I found a solution that generally always works, though.  Repetition, and hand gestures.  It sounds obvious, and that’s because it really is that easy.  Most hand gestures can be universal.  “eating” can be seen as putting your hands to your mouth and chewing.  “Rabbit” is the bunny ears over your head with your fingers.  For more obtuse phrases or directions, repetition comes in.  for example, “I can see…”  The kid does not know what this means at first.  If you, the teacher, put on some hand goggles “circles over your eyes with your hands is easy, since the student can try it too), they will think, “Oh, the teacher is looking for something,”.  Keep saying it until it clicks, or you find another technique that might work.  “Please circle…” is another phrase early kids use often.  They must learn to circle a letter, but they don’t know what it means!  Make invisible circles with your finger, draw many circles on the whiteboard, just bombard them with circles.  It sounds silly, but they need to see it many times to understand it.  This has always worked for me.  One last issue that is common, is a student who can’t use the whiteboard.  This is my most dreaded issue, and it can be common.  sometimes the kid has never used a computer, or sometimes they just don’t have a mouse (a lot of them just have tablets).  They can’t draw a circle, or do any activities which require them to draw!  In this case, You will have to do all of that for them.  However, you can still keep them active.  This is where the “Yes or No” game is perfect.  As you circle that images for them, simply ask “Is this a ____?” to the student.  “Yes, or no?”  For an even more fun time, try to ask the wrong item.  “Is this a banana” (when it is clearly a bird).  Kids love this, and they love feeling smart after correcting their all-knowing teacher!  This helps them to build confidence, and lets them participate, even though they can’t use the whiteboard.

One last thing that is small, is a great help, is the reward system.  Trial kids usually need something simple and relatable.  The “Toothless Kid” never seems to fail.  I start by asking if the student is happy.  They generally say yes.  If not, I say I’m happy, and smile at them.  Then, I show them the picture I drew of the boy.  He looks happy, but his teeth are all gone!  “Uh oh,” I say.  “He has NO TEETH!”  The kids love to imitate “uh oh”  I show them the toothless boy, and quite often, they show me their teeth.  Oh, they have teeth, but the boy doesn’t!  “Let’s find his teeth!”  The kids might not know what find means immediately, but the fact that the boy keeps getting teeth as you congratulate them lets them know that they are making progress.  What you do when the boy has all his teeth is usually up to the kid.  If they like animals, I have some cute cat videos on hand, or maybe a song, or if the kid is just super tired and too cool for all that, a strong high five.  Kids love those high fives.  I’ve learned through other ESL jobs that kids LOVE to be able to interact directly with their teacher, and this is the coolest way for them.

I’ve experienced a myriad of different students, from outgoing, to near-genius level, to silly, and even kids just learning English for the very first time.  I can say that these techniques always help in some way.  Not only do they help the student, but it helps classes become more fun, and will also help you to get those kids to sign up for more classes!  Being a Trial Only teacher can be challenging, but with a few simple sure-fire techniques, every class can become like a fun game show for kids, which they will want to participate in daily!