“If people are failing, they look inept. If people are succeeding, they look strong and good and competent. That’s the ‘halo effect.’ Your first impression of a thing sets up your subsequent beliefs. If the company looks inept to you, you may assume everything else they do is inept.” © Daniel Kahneman
I believe this quote makes perfect sense. Of course, we cannot judge a person by his or her looks and base our opinion on our first encounter with them. However, teaching is a different story. It is essential to make a good first impression on your students especially if they are kids. You need to set your rules and expectations from the very beginning of your language journey together. You have to show them that you can be witty and easy-going laughing at your own mess-ups and firm and strict not allowing any misbehavior at the same time.
A few weeks ago I was about to have my first class with the group of kids aged around 9-10 and lower elementary level. Right before the lesson my Vietnamese teacher assistant comes by to talk about the children and says that this class is terrible and extremely mischievous. At first, I even thought she was messing around with me trying to scare me but the look in her eyes proved me wrong. I calmed her down and asked her to help me out to translate some rules and warnings that I wanted the kids to know before starting anything else. She agreed but then it turned out that she had an important call to make so I had to deal with them on my own. I told them that I had many rules which they have to follow if they want the classes to be fun and interesting. I tried to sound as calm and friendly as possible but also very firm and serious. I explained to them all the repercussions that they would get if the didn’t behave. I pointed out that the classes with me can be fun and entertaining but for that I need their cooperation and full attention.
Right after this little briefing we started the lesson with playing games and mixed doing exercises from the textbooks with more interesting activities. So even though the students were all a tad intimidated by my speech they managed to more or less relax and enjoy the class. However, whenever I had to return to being strict with them, I immediately changed my facial expression and the tone of the voice to the one I had used before. That was enough for them to recall the consequences of such misbehavior and return to being sweet and polite students.
Eventually, the whole class figured out what I wanted from them and we had a great lesson. Kids were extremely courteous, considerate and engaged. I was later told that the previous teacher was pretty mellow and couldn’t manage the students’ behavior properly.
This story taught me once again that you should never be afraid to come across as too domineering, aggressive or strict. It’s much easier and more effective to seem very firm in the beginning and then gradually let go of your grip and give the kids the chance to let their hair down than being nice and kind at the start and then having to deal with the kids’ disrespect of your instructions.
Trust me, kids will appreciate having fun with you even more when they know that you can be serious and demanding and they will immediately see the connection between their actions and your mood.