The Most Bizarre ESL ‘Class’ I’ve Ever Had

By and large, I generally enjoy the private lessons that I have outside of school hours. I jump at the chance to work with adults and find it more difficult to work with kids for several reasons. Typically, adults sign up for classes of their own free will (and not because their parents make them). Working with adults is different than the teens I usually work with, but not so different that I have to completely change lessons plans and teaching style. I can relate more easily to an adult learner than one who thinks The Care Bears, SpongeBob, and/or Justin Bieber is The Best Thing Ever. It’s obvious that I prefer working with adults–that’s why I took the TtMadrid TEFL course in the first place!

Bizarre ESL

Ok, ok, they’re not all bad. One of my younger students drew this adoring picture of her profe.

Finding a teaching opportunity in Madrid

However, from time to time I end up with a class with the under-10 set. Summer in Madrid is notoriously slow when it comes to teaching English classes. I was hoping to find a job teaching adults, but a job is a job and rent is rent. Soon I found what looked like a fine opportunity working with three siblings aged 3 to 11. The gig was only a few hours a day and a relatively short commute from my apartment. It would allow me to work a bit while still living at home and enjoying free time in the afternoons. How lucky that I snagged a summer job simply playing with kiddos in English! How difficult could that be?

Before I was offered the job, there was a trial run to see how well the kids and I meshed. The afternoon went fine, but I was a bit nervous about the youngest daughter. The older kids had a high level of English but their smallest sis didn’t speak or understand much English. On top of that, I had never taught–nor entertained–a three-year-old before. The reservations were there, but I figured everything would be fine.

An off-kilter start

My positive outlook took a sharp turn the first day on the job. Unbeknownst to me, the two oldest siblings were away at camp….for two whole weeks. The mother encouraged the youngest child to do all sorts of “fun” activities, starting with having me trim, file, and paint her darling child’s toenails. The daughter–let’s call her Sara–was not any happier about this than I was. The first day she refused to breathe a word (in English or Spanish) in my direction.

That second day she actually talked to me. By this I mean she spent most of the morning wailing “DINERO!” and pawing at my pockets. That was the time we were dropped off at a kid’s play area in the basement of a fancy El Corte Ingles. Although there were plenty of kiddy-sized houses to explore and seesaws to monkey around on, Sara ran straight for the coin-guzzling rides. She scowled angrily at me when another nanny obligingly forked over a Euro to her charge.

By the third day I was dreading the job. The mom must have thought I wanted first-hand experience as a nanny for the ‘ole résumé, as that day she asked me to bathe, clothe, and feed my student (who, let’s be honest, wasn’t really a student). By now our relationship was painfully clear: she was the baby, and I was the glorified babysitter.

A brief stint in “Peru”

Each day dragged on, as we attempted to “play” and “have fun.” Notable moments include: Sara trying to jam a slimy plastic cucumber into my unwilling mouth. Sara’s mother encouraging me to jump and down on the (parents’!!) bed with her daughter. Sara explaining how everyone thought I was a “mala persona.” Sara asking me to play princess with her, only to find that with a flick of her wand I was actually destined to be the pet “cerdito” (little pig). Sara’s mother handing me the vacuum cleaner and insisting that I really ought to clean up better after her daughter.

I was on the downward slope for week two when Sara came to me with an unexpected request. After shutting herself in her room (“NO PUEDES ENTRAR!!!”) and doodling for ten minutes, she had had a change of heart. Pointing at her drawing, she asked (ok, demanded) me to write my name on the top. She dutifully traced each letter before copying my name on a separate sheet of paper. “Well, that’s cute!” I thought as I watched her work. Finally, we were getting somewhere.

That “somewhere” turned out to be Peru. Sara informed me that this piece of paper was my ticket to a whole ‘nother continent. She led me to an easy chair, buckled me in, and whispered that I wouldn’t be returning for several weeks. “Oh!” she suddenly remembered. “Here’s your second ticket.”

The return ticket, it turned out, wasn’t even for Madrid. It was to her grandparent’s tiny village in Murcia.

Bizarre ESL

Next summer, it’s adults or nothing.

Have you ever had a bizarre ESL student or class? Share your horror stories below!