Teachers’ Stories: Teaching English in The Netherlands
Why move to the Netherlands?
I get asked this question quite often, and have a standard response ready: my mum is Dutch and lives here, my dad moved to America for work, I wanted to be close to at least one of my parents, and after a string of brain-numbing jobs in the UK, I fancied a change. This may not be the most adventurous of reasons, but that’s how I came to move here. Of course, moving country is not something to be taken lightly. It goes without saying, that you should always do your research beforehand! One thing you will learn is that the Netherlands is a country with many expats, and most of them live in the Randstad (Amsterdam, the Hague and Rotterdam). In my case, I was able to start teaching whilst living with my mum in the Hague area. Such a living arrangement may not be for everyone, but having the option can be invaluable when starting off as a freelance teacher. One of my passions is writing, and I take great pleasure in sharing a couple of anecdotes from my experiences here with you.
Seniors: a trip down memory lane
A wonderful activity once transfixed a group of 12 students, who were (and still are) all in their 60’s and 70’s. It had been an experimental homework, whereby they would bring an object into the next lesson that they had some sentimental attachment to, tell a story, and be ready to answer questions from the audience. Their randomly and carefully chosen items were presented to the class, and they nostalgically retold their stories, reliving past moments. The thinking behind this is that memories are cherished and senior citizens particularly like to share their past experiences. By showing their treasured possessions to their peers, they involve their fellow students in the process. One was an old black and white World War 2 photo with a boy on it, and he is now a 75 year old man in the flesh. There was a magic lantern cine camera, 2 ivory statues (now banned), a ring, a model of a beautiful building, a scout uniform from the 60’s complete with dagger, a top hat, and most unusually, an invisible flea show by a student who volunteers for a theatre troupe. She pranced around with a top hat on, pretended a flea was in her hand, and that it then jumped onto somebody’s neck.
Crucially, the unpredictable surprise element made it extra special. I had asked them not to tell each other what they were bringing in and not to disclose that information before they had presented their objects to everybody. To further illustrate the unexpected nature of this task, one gentleman proceeded to try on his scout uniform from the 60’s, which was humorous, as he was obviously not as short as when he used to wear it. When he unsheathed his scout dagger, a few eyebrows were raised, particularly the elderly lady sitting next to him. The whole class thoroughly enjoyed the whole activity and we had a group photo where each person held their items up for all to see. How would you adapt this for your learners?
Business English: all for one and one against all
When teaching custom-made business English courses, it often happens that some people need help with one element of their work, which others do not need for theirs. In this case, one student used negotiations in his work, but his classmates did not. So I decided on the spot to have all the other students gang up on him. Needless to say he lost the negotiation, but he gave as good as he got, and everybody had a great time. It was left to an insurance manager to finish him off, figuratively speaking of course. Improvisation certainly played an important role. After all, if you have 12 intake forms with all the wishes of each student, and you plan a course outline to please everybody, then you cannot always keep track of who needs what. In any case, you don’t always need to. If you are able to think on your feet, then you can potentially work wonders in the classroom. I had asked the class who negotiates at work and one student put his hand up. Originally, when looking at my suggested course outline, the negotiations activity had been agreed upon by the whole class and for this lesson, the type of negotiation task had been chosen by yours truly.
First, I had asked the one being ganged up on if he minded being pitted against the odds, and he said he didn’t. Then, useful negotiating phrases were handed out and the students had a series of questions to answer, as to which type of negotiator they were. This is useful as you can pit certain types against their polar opposites. Next, we decided upon the topic; when picking one, I like to involve the students in the decision-making process, which is a popular, and no doubt empowering, at least for some. The level was upper intermediate, which works well as they a decent vocabulary to choose from and a certain level of confidence. With this in mind, it certainly depends on the group as to whether this can be successful. As this group all work for the firm, and often do similar work, they were able to decide upon an issue relevant to their company. Finally, the negotiations began. The aggressive negotiator who finished the job at the end was chosen by me for dramatic effect, and made the exercise more enjoyable for all. As this was unplanned (in this form), when looking back in hindsight, it is clear to see that as the facilitator, you take a back seat, but you can prompt and lead from the side-lines.
Would you have come up with this dynamic or done it differently perhaps?